Tristan Thompson is off to a fast start for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Will he keep up his impressive play or is a drop off expected?
Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson galloped behind Collin Sexton as he blitzed to the bucket in the team’s impressive win over the Bulls last week. Sexton’s layup was blocked from behind. No matter, as Thompson leaped into the air, neatly chucking the ball through the hoop for a monstrous put-back slam.
The play highlighted Thompson’s 23-point, 10-rebound, five-block performance. The performance highlighted Thompson’s vastly improved play this season.
Picked fourth in the 2011 NBA Draft, you could call Thompson’s career underwhelming to this point. He’s never been close to making an All-Star team. The big man drafted right after him, Jonas Valanciunas, has certainly been a better player to this point. Yes, Thompson helped Cleveland win a championship in 2016. But he was nothing more than a role player.
The 2019-20 Thompson, however, looks like the player Cleveland expected from big-man factory Texas. As a Longhorn, Thompson used his brute strength and quick feet to often score in double figures, earning Big 12 Freshman of the Year. Same at Findlay Prep, where he dominated as one of the country’s best high school players.
Yet, he’s never been a “bull in a China shop” destroyer until recently. Thompson’s game is still awkward with a weird, body-contorted flick shot at the rim when he’s out of control. His jumper, albeit improved, still appears painfully uncomfortable.
Check out his first career 3-pointer. Thompson looks like the untalented fan a sponsors choose to shoot a 3-pointer between quarters for a free product or something.
Good players, however, turn more opportunities into positive production. Thompson has always been an efficient scorer, taking painted-area shots and hitting 50 percent of them in four of his last five seasons. Naturally, he’s turned 13.7 shots into 16.5 points per game, both easily career bests.
Those are outstanding numbers for a player who has never averaged more than 12 points a game in eight NBA seasons.
Thompson’s 11.5 rebounds per game is a career-high. His 2.5 assists a contest is a career-best. No longer just a rim runner, coach John Beilein is running plays through Thompson. And he’s speaking like a team leader. Just listen to his post-game interview after the Cavs recent win over the Bulls.
“We can’t quit at all. At the end of the day we are a team fighting. Lots of teams don’t expect much from us. We try to come in every game with an ‘f-you’ mentality,” he said.
Thompson is playing with a chip on his shoulder coupled with a level of confidence and focus that comes with experience. He’s hit the extreme high of winning and NBA championship. He’s also more numb to criticism after a few lackluster seasons and chides from the outside over his personal life.
Now, probably in the center of his theoretical prime at 28 years old, Thompson is blossoming as maybe Cavaliers’ best player and a potential All-Star.
Will the Cavaliers big man sustain this level of play? Or will we see him relapsed back to the lackluster seven points on eight attempts type of performances like what happened Friday against Indiana? Which Tristan Thompson is the real Tristan Thompson?
It’s safe to side with the Thompson that notched a double-double in each of his first four games, and followed his dud against Indiana with an 11-point, 12-rebound performance against Dallas.
That’s the player we should see going forward and that’s the player Cleveland needs. Kevin Love is on the back nine of his career. Sexton and Cedi Osman are still building towards their prime. Darius Garland looks like a lost rookie.
Thompson is the one player on this team that’s smack dab in the sweet spot of his career. He might be the rosters most reliable option, committing the fewest turnovers (0.3 per game) among the starters by a wide margin and near the top in effective field goal percentage.
He’s earned Beilein’s trust and will continue to play big minutes. Expect him to keep putting up positive numbers.