If I were to ask Cavs: The Blog readers to tell me what Tristan Thompson’s number one skill is, I would likely get three different answers. Tristan is great at staying healthy, switching on pick and rolls, and getting offensive rebounds. I won’t argue that he hasn’t been healthy. For his entire career, TT has missed just six games. I would also agree that Tristan is effective switching onto little guys in pick and roll situations, although I have no stats to back that up.
I do, however, take issue with saying Tristan Thompson is a great offensive rebounder. In the most simple terms, an offensive rebound is just catching a missed basket on the offensive end of the floor and Tristan does that quite well. Last year he grabbed 3.3 offensive rebounds per game in the regular season, good for fifth best in the NBA.
An offensive rebound matters to a team because it results in an extra possession and every possession is a chance to score points. If the offensive board were a meal, the act of getting the board is loading food on a utensil. Ultimately, though, it’s getting the food into your mouth (or, in this case, scoring points) that really matters.
Let’s look at the league as a whole to gain some perspective on offensive boards. During the 2014-2015 regular season, 246,035 total points were scored, 26,781 offensive rebounds were sucked up, and 32,533 second chance points were dropped. On average, 13% of a teams’ points were second chance points and an offensive board was worth about 1.21 points.
The Cavs scored 8,457 points during the season, and 1,047 of them were second chance ones, about 8% overall. The Wine & Gold were ranked 18th for second chance points total. The Thunder ranked number one in this category and second heaves accounted for nearly 15% of their baskets.
From a per o-board perspective, the Cavs earned 1.14 points for each one.
Statistically speaking, the Cavs were below average at both grabbing offensive boards and getting points from them. Even though the -.07 point differential doesn’t seem like a lot, it’s significant considering that all teams are separated by about just .25 of a point in this category. Seeing as Tristan Thompson accounted for 42% of the Cavs second chance boards, his difficulty converting easy put-backs deserves some of the blame for the Cavs second-chance struggles.
Let’s look at Tristan Thompson specifically now. It’s a bold accusation to say he isn’t a great “offensive board” (in the complete sense of the word) getter; Rich Paul is requesting a $94 million dollar contract for this skill after all. The best way and the only way available to me to analyze this strength of Tristan is to look at his putback stats (a putback occurs whenever a player gets an offensive board and goes up with it again). I would love to look at exactly what happened after each and every Canadian offensive rebound to find out exactly what they’re worth points wise, but I have a girlfriend, a job, dogs, and a life.
To narrow down the number of players that looking at putback stats spat at me, I put a filter in to eliminate any guys who played less than 45 games and had less than 100 putback possessions. 33 players come up under this criteria, and the results don’t paint Tristan in a flattering way. On putbacks he got just .82 points on each of his possessions, which tied him for 33rd with Tyler Zeller. He was 32nd in shooting percentage making just 40% of his attempts. Big T turned the ball over 7.8% of the times he went up with it, earning the 30th spot on a 33 man list. And, all of that data looked at together placed Tristan in the 11th percentile for putbacks last season.
Ed Davis was on this list with Tristan too and is an interesting player to compare him to, considering he had an identical per 36 offensive rebounding number of 4.5 last year. Davis was in the 71.1 percentile bracket on this list. He hit his putbacks 62.2% (6th) of the time, turned the ball over at a 3.3% (8th) rate, and got 1.18 points per putback (9th). What’s even scarier about comparing these two guys is that they each take about 25% of their shots after a rebound. Davis and TT are almost the same player, and TT is failing at offensive rebounding when you look at his numbers next to Davis’s.
Now, some readers might say that all the above paragraph proves is that TT just couldn’t finish his second chance attempts. They could say that TT is kicking the ball out to the King and playing garbage shot clean up man, but that’s not entirely true. Tristan only passed out of his offensive rebounds 39% of the time (107 total passes) he grabbed an o-board last year. He’s hunting for points, but just can’t get them to drop and neither can his teammates on those second chances, as shown by the Cavs’ below average points per board stats mentioned above.
It isn’t that big of a stretch to infer that being able to finish second attempts is what makes a team above average at being a complete offensive rebounding machine. Remember, a meal is no good if you can’t get any of the food to land in your mouth.
Hear me out for just a few more paragraphs. Organizing players’ putback stats by field goal percentage places LaMarcus Aldridge at the top of the list. Hassan Whiteside and Tyson Chandler then followed. The Blazers earned 1.25 points per board in the 2014-2015 season, while the Heat and Mavericks got 1.32 and 1.25 points per o-board, respectively And, just to bring up TT’s double again, Ed Davis’s Los Angeles Lakers put up 1.23 points per offensive board, while ranking 12th overall for offensive boards. Efficiency matters for a team to actually gain anything from offensive rebounding players. The Heat had just 747 offensive rebounds, which was 29th in the league, but they were more efficient at utilizing them then most of the league.
The Cavs need to really examine what Tristan’s offensive rebounding ability brings to the team because there is a chance it’s not as much as it seems to be. TT is asking for $94 million over five years right now. Of the players on the putback list that was generated for me, only Brook Lopez, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan, and Anthony Davis are slated to make more per year than what TT desires. The above list features guys like Jonas Valanciunas, Ed Davis, Serge Ibaka, Gorgui Dieng, Robin Lopez, and DeMarcus Cousins. Those players all are better than TT, in some way, at a skill Rich Paul is arguing Thompson may be one of the best at. They’re also better at skills such as blocking shots and getting their own shots.
Where ever you stand on TT’s contract situation, this is information you should consider. As cool as Canadian TNT looks jumping into a herd of giants to get back a leather ball that he shouldn’t be getting back, it might not affect the game as much as you think.
In part II, I will look at Tristan’s clutch offensive rebounding data and how he performed in the playoffs.
I pulled putback data, offensive rebounding data, and points data from NBA.com. The information about second chance points came from FoxSports.com. All stats in this piece are from the 2014-2015 regular season.