While the Cavs already have a few problems on their plate with Isaiah Thomas coming back and trying to integrate him into their lineup, they also have lost five of their last seven games, including a drubbing by the Minnesota Timberwolves to the tune of 127-99. This is a-near Jekyll and Hyde transformation for the Cavs, who had at one point had won nineteen of twenty-one games, simply due to the fact that the return of Tristan Thompson from his calf injury has been a detriment for the Cavs.
Thompson himself is by no mean’s a bad player, he just is not a good fit for how the Cavaliers and head coach Ty Lue want the team to play, with a more trigger-happy three-point shooting team. In his entire time with the Cavaliers, Thompson has never been much of an offensive juggernaut, with his only major transformation in his game is switching his dominant shooting hand to his right hand. He has never added anything close to a reliable jump shot, a jump hook, any kind of post game, anything at all. This has been a detriment for Cleveland, who cannot rely on Thompson on offense and it only gets worse when opposing teams resort to “Hack-A-Thompson” and he clunks easy free throw shots as Thompson has a career free throw percentage of 61.0%.
Instead for the Cavs on offense, they utilize Thompson as a recipient for lob passes in the pick and roll but that still has limited use for the team. Thompsons lack of an offensive threat also can allow teams to force him towards the perimeter and double-team players like Kevin Love, LeBron James, or even Jae Crowder (a player who is also struggling mightily for the Cavs). The only other thing Thompson brings to the Cavs on offense is a nose for offensive rebounding, something that got him PAID by the Cavs after he ripped out the hearts of Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics fans during the Cavs first playoff run after the return of LeBron James. But this season, Thompson just does not seem to have the same knack he used to for offensive boards, and the Cavs have suffered mightily from it as they currently rank towards the bottom of the NBA in total team rebounding.
Besides on offense, Thompson also muddies up the Cavs defensive scheme as well. An undersized player at 6’9″ who came into the NBA originally as a power forward, Thompson has no rim protecting ability at all and because of this, it has created the fact that the Cavs have one of the worst defenses in the league, only a little bit ahead of the lowly Sacramento Kings. Throughout his career, Thompson has averaged 0.8 blocks per game and that does not necessarily jump off the page in terms of rim protection. Unless the Cavs somehow, some way, find a way to land a player like DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol, or even Nerlens Noel, they are stuck with Thompson acting as the team’s primary defender in the paint and they will continue to suffer if they do so.
Before the 2017-18 NBA season, Thompson was the Cavs starting center and after the team shipped off Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and the coveted 2018 Brooklyn Nets first-round draft pick. With the acquisition of Crowder, Coach Lue elected to start Crowder as the team’s new power forward and promoted Kevin Love to the team’s new center position. With the roster shakeup, Thompson was then relegated to the Cavs’ bench and was producing mixed results until he was sidelined with a calf injury.
Because of the injury, Lue then turned to veteran stretch-five Channing Frye and the bench, and the “Dinobots” (something Frye nicknamed the team’s bench) quickly rose to one of the best benches in the entire league. During their thirteen game win streak, Frye alone shot exactly 50% from beyond the arc by connecting on 39 of 78 three-point shots. The bench was so insane during this stretch that highlights like these were fairly commonplace:
But after Thompson returned, Frye saw his minutes in the Cavs rotation evaporate and along with his return, the Cavs lethal bench has lost some of its punch With Thompson on the floor, the Cavs have an offensive rating of 96.8 and a defensive rating of 96.1 while with Frye they have an offensive rating of 116.5 and a defensive rating of 100.0. The numbers are pretty damning towards Thompsons’ spot in the Cavs bench, where they would be much better off rolling with Frye as the team’s primary backup big.
So, after being sent to the bench, being outplayed by Frye, and overall being a problem on both offense and defense for the Cavs, the other problem Thompson brings to the table is his current contract. He is currently the team’s third-highest paid player, only behind LeBron James and Kevin Love with $52,408,695 guaranteed over the next three seasons. Since he really kills the Cavs with his inability to properly mesh with what Ty Lue wants, he also kills the team on their massive payroll. It would be tough but it would be in the Cavs best interest to move on from Thompson to avoid paying a player that just does not work here.
A few teams would be able to appreciate and utilize Thompson’s talents and abilities include the LA Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, and even the Milwaukee Bucks. All three of these teams have players that would pique the Cavs’ interests in Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, or Bucks star guard Khris Middleton. All three players would be a better fit for for the Cavs, with both Gasol and Jordan being traditional centers that would pair perfectly with Kevin Love or Middleton who would be amazing in helping an anemic Cavs perimeter defense and create a better version of what Isaiah Thomas had last season when he started in the Celtics backcourt with Avery Bradley.
As mentioned before, Tristan Thompson by no means is a bad player but he just does not fit what exactly the Cavs need when it comes to a player at the center position. What they need is a player who can actually score outside of basic offensive plays, and they will ultimately try to move him and his massive contract by the NBA’s trade deadline. But until then, Cavalier fans better get ready for more of the same as according to Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com head coach Ty Lue does not plan to change the Cavs rotation or lineup, even after their latest embarrassment against the Timberwolves. If it takes another nasty loss, this time to the Toronto Raptors, maybe Ty Lue will shake things up and elect to give Frye Thompson’s minutes and the team can start winning like it did during their thirteen game winning streak.