Back around the time he was signed, and even into the start of the season, it was reasonable to imagine Tristan Thompson’s signing was largely for veteran leadership and his locker room impact. The Cleveland Cavaliers have long been complimentary of what he’s provided for the team from an intangibles perspective, and for that, he can help this group.
Thompson was of course with the Cavaliers for nine seasons, was drafted by the team in 2011, and he was a significant role player for a Cleveland team that made four straight NBA Finals in the LeBron James return years and won the NBA title in 2016. Thompson has carved out a quality career in the Association, and while he bounced around in recent prior seasons and was involved in regular season action last year, he still was a sensible add via low-cost deal.
Now, one still wouldn’t expect big things necessarily game-to-game from Thompson at this stage. That’s fair to say; he’s not what he once was, say, in those LeBron return years.
To his credit, though, Thompson is still capable on the defensive interior, he’s a high IQ contributor, and he’s still great when it comes to rebounding positioning. And of late, with the Cavaliers still without Jarrett Allen, Thompson has given the team a lift, which has been encouraging for the team’s big man depth.
In the last three games, Thompson has had some meaningful minutes in the Cavaliers’ rotation. The traditional statlines have been as follows in those outings, on this past Saturday in a loss versus the Indiana Pacers and in the last two games against the New York Knicks in a miniseries back-to-back where Cleveland split:
- Four points, five rebounds and two assists in eight minutes versus Indiana
- Four points, two rebounds and two blocks in 19 minutes versus New York
- Six points and five rebounds in 13 minutes at New York
Thompson is not going to provide what he did for the Cavaliers during those earlier days in LeBron’s second stint with the team, and one shouldn’t expect him to have the splits he had in his time after the second LeBron departure from Cleveland. He’s not nearly at those stages, and Thompson was not involved in the past regular season before he was picked up by the Los Angeles Lakers, where he played some playoff spot minutes.
That said, Thompson can still provide the Cavs with some quality minutes off the bench, and with Cleveland having been without Allen, he’s given Cleveland some nice play.
Thompson’s splits haven’t necessarily popped out, but he’s been realistically better than Damian Jones was in his minutes to this point for the Cavs, and with Thompson just being a more disciplined player defensively, he should be playing over Jones from here.
Thompson has been physical, however, not out of control in his minutes on the interior, and his activity and rebounding gave the Cavaliers a boost in their road win over the Knicks on Wednesday night.
In some relief of Evan Mobley in the last two contests, he has made an impact on the glass, and though Cleveland has been playing essentially without a point guard of late sans Garland and Ty Jerome, Thompson has been a decent situational roller. He had two nice buckets in the post on Wednesday, too.
As he gets more comfortable playing with others like Donovan Mitchell and/or Caris LeVert, Thompson should tighten some things up with his screening as well, and the same goes for off-ball screens for Max Strus and others.
Granted, when Allen is back in the fold, Thompson won’t likely be playing nearly as much in meaningful action for Cleveland.
Still, even with that realization, his play from recent games has been encouraging, as it seems he still has something to give the Cavaliers. And his playoff experience, vet leadership qualities and fortitude are all things that will help with the Cavs this season.
Thompson’s team-friendly deal isonly guaranteed for $200K currently until Jan. 10, but the early-season signs from him have been good and he should stick.