Tale of the Tape:
Name: Tristan Thompson
Years Experience: 2
Years with Cavaliers: 2
Weight: 238 pounds
Contract: Signed through 2014-15 season (Cavs recently picked up option) and will make $5.4 million in 2013-14
Thompson ha to be the most interesting player to observe on the Cavaliers roster this past offseason due to the big switch that the Cavs forward went through. Switching shooting hands doesn’t seem like too much of a deal for Thompson because he shot a putrid 60.8 percent from the free throw line and just south of the 50 percent line from the field. The switch from left to right, again, shouldn’t come as too much of a shock because Thompson only started playing basketball when he was 16-years old, so now is as good a time as ever to make a change.
Thompson seems to be improving in this category, but he still has a long way to go if he wants to be the physical presence that the Cavs wanted when they drafted him as the only one-and-done player in the 2011 NBA Draft. If he can fix the stutter problem down low – where Thompson hesitates to get up once fed the ball, which usually results in either a). a blocked shot or b). a free throw attempt. In college, nearly 25 percent of Thompson’s possessions down low ended with a free throw attempt. That bodes well for a player that can convert from the stripe, but hopefully the hand switch aids in his horrible free throw shooting. But let’s focus on the most important physical aspect of Thompson’s game this season: the hand switch. Struggling with his outside game, Thompson wanted to try something different so he would no longer be the most blocked player down low in the league. Although a small sample size of five games, Thompson has improved 15 percent on his free throw shooting from last season. If he can stay in the high 70s, I would mark that as a win.
Tristan’s lower body makes him already primed to be a defensive force in this league, but his footwork still plagues him. This flaw led to him being one of the most blocked players in the NBA last season, and the shuffling problems that he had with his feet last year seem to have not let up so far. In order for Tristan to get the most out of his 35 minutes per night, he needs to be able to not go missing as a third-year player. It’s time for him to call the shots. He’s looked amazing in three games and like a rookie in two, so I’ll leave the major criticism aside for now. But Tristan is at the stage in his career that he is ready to step up and be a veteran leader. He just needs to be a grinder. In the two games in which he shot 1-of-5 from the field in 35 minutes of play, he went up frontcourt mismatches in Milwaukee and Indiana. He needs to toughen up his mentality, or we’re never going to see Tristan step out of the 10/8 territory into the 14/10 territory where I believe he belongs. Thompson’s court awareness and basketball knowledge isn’t where it needs to be yet, but remember, he started playing basketball at age 16. He’s grown A TON since then. This is the area I think he will grow the most in this upcoming season.
Upon being drafted, the rationale behind taking Thompson was defensive, but I’ve been more impressed with his offensive game in his time here, despite lacking any outside game before this season and being one of the most beat upon players in the NBA. Tristan came out with a huge 18/9 opening night, while shooting over 60 percent from the field. On a balanced performance from the Cavaliers, Tristan played the most efficient performance. His right hand looked to be aiding him on a great third quarter surge. He obviously senses more power in his right hand, so he wants to be able to expand his game outside of the paint, while making his shot stronger at the same time. We’ll see Tristan improve on his 11.7 PPG average this season with his increased role in the offense because of the switch. We’ll also see the shot percentages, especially from the charity stripe, rise at least five and 15 percent respectively this season from this past season. I’ve always liked Tristan better as an offensive player, and this is the season where we really find out if he’s built to be effective night in and night out.
Tristan struggles against veteran stars; that’s for sure. But even after Kevin Garnett bossed him around last season in Boston, Tristan got his just desserts in the season opener. He held the star in check, and had one of my favorite performances from him yet against the Nets and KG in Cleveland. That’s a good sign, but then Tristan melted against the Pacers frontcourt and the Bucks (!) Wednesday night. When Andy carries the frontcourt load, as he did against the Bucks, this team struggles. Obviously Brown thinks he’s doing a good job, because he’s keeping him in for 35+ minutes. Maybe it’s because Anthony Bennett hasn’t proven much yet (it is). Regardless, Brown knows what tools to use when building on Thompson’s defensive game, and it’s going to start with making him more of a physical brute. He has the lower body to match up with bigger players, but he has to watch out for hybrids as well.
How does Thompson fit in on the Cavaliers?
Right now, he fits in as our only qualified starting power forward, because Bennett has yet to prove that he can log excessive minutes on offense. Brown has been satisfied with his defensive play, but it seems for now that Thompson and Bennett are the only qualified true fours on this roster. Andy is seeing starting time at center, so Thompson will continue to see around 30+ minutes as Bennett continues to grow. So for anyone talking about trading Tristan this season, I think you should rethink that statement. We’re not sure what’s going to become of Bynum yet, and Zeller has been on the pine for almost all of the season, so we won’t see Andy sliding over to the four anytime soon. But what I like about Thompson’s fit with the Cleveland starting five this year is that he is gaining valuable playing time beside Wild Thing. This was something that didn’t happen much, or at all, during his rookie and sophomore campaigns. This will only aid Tristan’s development on defense, so the consistency issues will (hopefully) not persist deep into the season if Andy and Tristan can stay a healthy frontcourt unit.