Everyone knows about the Cavaliers “Big Three” of Kyrie Irving, LeBron James and Kevin Love. But three players don’t win championships by themselves, no matter how talented they may be. The supporting cast around a team’s core is arguably just as valuable as the core itself. All of the pieces have to fit together just right in order to achieve success at the highest level in the sport.
That is why Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, said a major part of his plan for the team was to lock up power forward Tristan Thompson for the long term. That is, he was hopeful the Cavaliers would be able to reach a deal with Thompson before the Oct. 31 deadline, preventing him from becoming a restricted free agent and essentially securing the former fourth overall pick to remain with Cleveland for years to come.
That deal, however, never materialized. The two sides apparently valued Thompson differently. As such, Thompson’s agent, Rich Paul (who also happens to be LeBron James’s agent) elected to steer Thompson towards the free agency market, where Thompson will become a restricted free agent come July 1, 2015.
And this summer, Paul’s phone line will no doubt be ringing. A lot. Thompson is a young, athletic forward that attacks the offensive glass like a madman, relentlessly grabbing offensive rebounds and giving his team second or even third chances at a possession.
That attribute alone is highly coveted by NBA general managers. Offensive rebounding is an art, and Thompson has continuously developed the craft each year he’s been in the league.
Drafted fourth overall in the 2011 NBA draft, Thompson entered the league alongside future running mate, Kyrie Irving (who was selected three picks ahead of Thompson at the number one overall slot). A physical specimen, Thompson entered the league at 6’9’’, 227 pounds and with virtually no offensive game. He was a raw talent that the Cavaliers viewed as a project, but his potential was enormous.
Three years and a hand change later, the Cavaliers have to be pleased with how the young forward has progressed.
As it turns out, Thompson had been playing with his wrong hand his entire career. Many scouts had noted Thompson’s footwork in the post catered to players that were right-handed, but Thompson always used his left. He drove left, he shot jumpers with his left, etc. Last year, Thompson finally made the change to using his right hand, and his offensive game started to come around. While has ppg average of 11.7 in 2013 exactly mirrored his average in 2012, his game had much more fluidity and his jump shot became more reliable.
But scoring isn’t the reason why Tristan Thompson is valuable on the hardwood. Thompson’s value lies in his unrelenting energy, hustle, and knack for grabbing offensive rebounds.
Earlier this season, Thompson hauled in a franchise-record 12 offensive rebounds. That is an unbelievable statistic when you sit back and realize that Thompson was able to give the Cavalier’s 12 extra possessions of offense that they otherwise would not have had. His defense is invaluable too, as his high energy level and lengthy arms frequently cause problems for whomever he is guarding.
He also doesn’t need to shoot the ball a lot, which bodes well when you play with players like the Big Three and Dion Waiters. Those guys are the offensive workhorses, and they chuck up a ton of shots. Tristan understands his role of rebounder and high energy defender, which allows him to gel perfectly with the other players on the team. Essentially, they shoot the ball, and he eats up the rebounds should they miss.
That is why it’s disappointing the Cavaliers weren’t able to strike a deal with Rich Paul and Thompson. It’s likely that they asked for much more money than the Cavalier’s were willing to give up, but other teams this summer will surely be lining up to fork over large amounts of cash in order to pry Thompson away from Cleveland. When gauging Thompson’s value, his individual statistics don’t reflect his actual worth to the team. Being a restricted free agent, the Cavaliers can match any offer that other teams propose to Thompson and he will then remain a Cavalier.
Until then, this season is the main focus for Thompson. Hopefully, next season will see Thompson returning to Cleveland for many more.
Joey Arko is a current senior at Case Western Reserve University working towards his degree in English with a Marketing minor. Aside from The Observer he also writes for CavsNation, submitting articles pertaining to the analysis of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Born and raised in a suburb just outside the city, his love for Cleveland transcends beyond just it’s sports teams. He also really loves Cleveland bars.