Ten Things to Like About…Tristan Thompson

September 20th, 2012 by Kevin Hetrick

Admittedly, this was not as easy as Jon Leuer and Alonzo Gee.  Expectations for a recent fourth draft pick obviously rise above waiver wire pickups and undrafted free agents.  Cleveland is building a great supply of depth, but two players need to ascend to “star” status along Kyrie.  As a high lottery selection, certainly hope resides that Tristan Thompson fits that bill.  Let us skip TT’s rookie shortcomings for the time-being and start with a focus on ten likable traits.

Tristan T pities the fool who questions his ability to take a leap forward this year.

  1. Much hand wringing ensued as Tristan plowed through the first third of last season making sub-40% on free throws.  His touch improved every month though, rising to 62% for March and 63% over April.
  2. Barely legal drinking age, he is young enough to improve significantly.
  3. He possesses the work ethic and attitude necessary to reach his full potential.
  4. Of all NBA players, he finished with the sixth best offensive rebounding rate last season.
  5. In his 2011 – 2012 rookie awards, David Thorpe declared Thompson the most likely to break out this year.  John Hollinger ranked TT third in his 2011 Draft Rater.  That must be a good thing.
  6. He’s not Marcus Morris or Jan Vesely, two players often ranked above him pre-draft.  In the two weeks before selection day, Morris decided he played small forward and proceeded to struggle mightily. I could not get excited about the idea of Vesely at #4.
  7. Tristan is Canadian, which reduces any worries about summer injuries while playing deep in the Olympics or World Championships.
  8. Of 143 forwards who played 30 or more games, he ranked 17th in blocked shots per minute.
  9. Explosive athleticism allows for sequences like this.
  10. His max vert reach is 12 feet.  That’s really fricking high.

Mr. Thompson provides youth, explosiveness, and a willingness to improve.  While some certainly carry higher hopes; I  consider him most likely to peak as a high quality role player.  Last season, for every strength his game harbored corresponding weakness.  Alongside the shot blocking, he ranked 70th of forwards for defensive rebounding, 104th for taking charges, and 124th collecting steals.  Three of those four outcomes always result in ending the opponent’s possession.  The one where Tristan currently proves most apt is not one of those three.  He finished 90th of the 143 forwards for per minute foul frequency, and Cleveland’s defense allowed 3.5 points more per 100 possessions when he played (certainly not helped as one of the only healthy players remaining in April).  He needs to learn balance on defense, between disrupting shots and grabbing boards.  Everything that can be learned from Anderson Varejao about pick-n-roll snuffing must be absorbed like a sponge.

For all the offensive rebounds, his effectiveness remained restrained in part due to poor finishing, as he ranked 116th of all forwards for field goal percentage at the rim.  This barrage of “out of 143 forwards” data may prove as overkill, but at other locations, his field goal percentage sat at:

  • 3 to 9 feet – 91st
  • 10 to 15 feet – 119th
  • 16 to 23 feet – 140th
  • Free throws – 134th
  • His assist rate nearly hit bottom at 140th, with assist-to-turnover ratio at 142nd.

Even his true shooting percentage over March and April (47.6%), when he peaked as a rookie, placed him 122nd.  I am not saying that Tristan can not reach whatever level he aspires to…but he has a ways to go.  On offense, he needs to keep the ball high when in the paint.  Obviously a fifteen-footer and consistent arc on his freebies would prove helpful.  An explosive face-up move from both elbows seems most readily available as an offensive skill, but some post / countermoves also could reside on his wish-list.

This season serves as an important glimpse of TT’s ability to either reach elite levels or towards settling into valuable-rotation-player status.  I will definitely be rooting for the former.