The Cleveland Cavaliers had already drafted Kyrie Irving in the first round in the 2011 NBA Draft when they took Tristan Thompson with the fourth overall selection.
At the time, the select of Thompson was a bit of a surprise, since he averaged just 13.1 points and 7.8 rebounds a game at the University of Texas.
We were hoping for Enes Kanter to fall to the Cavs, but he was taken by the Jazz at #3, and Jonas Valanciunas was still on the board, but remember, he was not going to play in the NBA that season, and the Cavs didn’t feel like they could wait a year after a 19-63 record in the first year after LeBron James departed for Miami.
As a rookie, he averaged 8.2 points and 6.5 rebounds, and increased those totals to 11.7 and 9.4 in his second season.
He stayed at those numbers in year #3, and it began to look like Thompson was a disappointment as the second best player on a team led by Irving.
Then, LeBron James and Kevin Love arrived, and that pushed Thompson down the food chain, where he became a role player on a title contender, a role he can and did excel in.
As a big man, Thompson had an ability to be able to guard smaller players when switching in pick-and-roll situations, a very valuable skill, and one that was a key in the Cavs’ 2016 NBA title.
He was also a relentless offensive rebounder, averaging 3.3 per game for his career and upping that total to 4.1 in the playoffs.
He was durable too, playing every game from his second year in the Association through his fifth year.
However, the last two seasons have seen a drop in Thompson’s game. First, he’s never developed an acceptable jump shot from around 10-15 feet out like former teammate Anderson Varejao did.
He has always been and still is a liability on offense, as his main skill is crashing the boards. Other than that, he doesn’t have to be guarded.
His defense has slipped as well. He had a defensive rating of 108 in the three years he played before James came back, and improved that to 106, then 104 in the championship season.
Last year, it fell back to his rookie level and is now a career worst 112.
Perhaps Thompson’s playing through the bumps and bruises all those years is coming back to bite him, because he’s missed 22 games this season.
Unfortunately for Tristan, the Cavs are 19-3 in those games, which brings into question Thompson’s role with the team not only this season, but going forward.
Since Larry Nance Jr. arrived at the trade deadline, there is a discernable difference in how the wine and gold play with Nance in the game as opposed to Thompson. Nance is more active and definitely a quicker leaper than TT, who needs to gather himself before jumping.
Thompson can still be an important piece for the Cavs, but he needs to be fully healthy, and it looks as though it should be as a guy coming off the bench.
We know coach Tyronn Lue has loyalty to the guys who won a title, both Thompson and JR Smith, so will Lue be willing to make the change for the good of the team?
The other issue with Thompson is his contract, which pays him $16.4 million per year this season, and increases by roughly a million more in each of the next two campaigns.
That’s far too much for what the team is receiving in return, leading to speculation the front office would like to move him this summer.
The point is Thompson may have been the 4th or 5th best player on the team, a key piece, two years ago, but he isn’t that anymore.
Can he fix that this summer? Of course. Do we think it is likely? Our guess would be no.
It comes down to back for the buck. It is likely that Thompson performance and role this post-season determines his fate.