“Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”
The saying is already a cliche but still an undefeated one and that has been the story of Tristan Thompson’s young career so far.
In the 2011 NBA draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers, devastated by the departure of LeBron James, found themselves in a rare situation which offered the opportunity to jumpstart their rebuild. They were the owners of two selections in the top five of that draft. The first overall was a fairly easy one as they opted for an up and coming point guard out of Duke University in Kyrie Irving, despite playing just 11 games in his freshman season.
The fourth pick was a surprise to many as names like Jonas Valanciunas, Kawhi Leonard, and Klay Thompson were the ones making rounds heading into the 2011 NBA Draft. Then it happened, David Stern opened his mouth and one of the Cavaliers’ bigger pieces to their championship puzzle, three years after, has arrived. Tristan Thompson was met with a good amount of boos as he climbed the steps to symbolize his entry to the Cavalier universe.
The 6’9″ power forward out of Texas was known for his motor and shot blocking ability in college but his offensive game was, to be generous, very limited. He had no go-to moves and was horrendous at the stripe. He was a safe pick to be fair as, in spite of his shortcomings, was much loved by the analytics community.
Right off the bat, in his first season, Thompson got the opportunity from former Cavalier coach Byron Scott and he showed his potential by becoming a solid presence off the glass. He continued his workhorse approach to the game and earned the respect of his teammates and coaches.
Tristan established the reputation of being all about hard work and professionalism. He showed flashes of brilliance and the capability to become a double-double machine when given enough minutes. He was an excellent locker room presence and a consummate professional who did whatever the coaches asked of him without a bat. In 2013, the Cavaliers, who held the number one overall pick, selected Anthony Bennett who played the same position as Thompson, but there never was a residue of negativity that came out of TT. He’s also popular for doing the unthinkable by switching shooting hands, from being a lefty to taking shots with his right, and it significantly improved his free throw shooting.
A lot of good things were said about the Canadian power forward but his numbers still did not show strides that were good enough for the Cavaliers to proudly claim that they did not waste their pick on him. He seemed to be another one of those hardworking players who are just not good enough to become significant difference makers. Unfortunately, he still hadn’t found his niche.
When LeBron James decided to return to Cleveland, he wrote a letter, or an essay, to address his decision. In that letter, he specifically pointed out to Tristan Thompson. He knew right then and there that in order for the Cavaliers to contend, they will need the effort of Thompson. It can be argued that James already knew Kevin Love was a very good possibility for the Cavs but the 4-time NBA Most Valuable Player and 2-time world champion recognized the importance of what Tristan brings to the table. The King has already seen the top, not once but twice, and he knew what is needed to get there. He knew the role that Thompson will play in order for the team to accomplish that feat.
Being around LeBron James greatly benefited Tristan Thompson as he now has someone to show him the ropes. But he needed to learn all these on the fly as the Cavaliers have placed weighty expectations on their shoulders. Tristan responded by embracing his sixth man role and the boundless bundle of energy from the Great White North became one of the league’s best offensive rebounders.
Tristan Thompson has finally found his niche.
He finished the regular season as the third best offensive rebounder in the NBA despite playing bench minutes. Thompson earned the trust of Coach David Blatt who had no problems in fielding him during crunch time over The Kevin Love. Despite being in his rookie NBA season, Coach Blatt is one of the greatest winners in modern day basketball and all that wealth of experience told him that Thompson is an asset that needs to be utilized.
“The way I approached it at the beginning of the season, I felt like I had a cheat sheet,” said Thompson. “Coming off the bench, I’m able to view the game, see how their bigs are playing. And what I bring to the table is energy. The starters go in and run their bigs for a bit. When I check in it’s time to punch the clock and play hard. Whatever the team needs me to do to help us succeed, that’s what I’m about.”
Thompson has already made a name for himself in the NBA’s winners circle by being the bench leader for one of the strongest teams in the league. His rebounding tenacity was projected to be one of Cleveland’s main weapon in the playoffs and he was definitely a bad man off the glass.
He started to display his playoff material by lording it over the entire Boston Celtics team in the first round with his knack for offensive rebounds and when Kevin Love was declared out for the season, all signs pointed to Tristan to step up. His name was called and he delivered by putting up even greater effort in doing what he does best and that is in getting those golden offensive boards.
In the Cavaliers’ Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup against the Bulls, a team who flaunted a an extremely deep frontline, Thompson proved to be undaunted. He continued his unbelievable effort as he averaged 11.2 rebounds, 4.0 offensive, as the starter for the Cavs and his team up with center Timofey Mozgov was a very successful partnership as they combined rebounding and rim protection that eventually frustrated Chicago.
Thompson talked about the season and the responsibility he and the Cavs have had with the expectations and best player on their team.
The way we approached the season is that we have a chance to play with somebody that’s going down as one of the best ever. It’s motivated us to work harder. At the same time we want to be great in our own way. It started on Labor Day. LeBron was the first one in the gym working out, getting ready for the season. As a young player, it just shows you he never stops working on his game. He’s in two hours before practice, two hours after practice. Getting treatment, watching film. For us we got to catch up. We gotta do the extra things. If he’s doing them, we need to do double, triple them. This opportunity has definitely been a blessing. And we have to make the most of it. And help him, especially in the playoffs, to have success.
As the Cavaliers go further in the postseason, Thompson’s importance to the team grows bigger as the road to the championship makes possessions a lot fewer thus becoming more valuable than ever. His ability to present Cleveland extra opportunities gives the team virtually 10-15 points that are unaccounted for in his personal stat-line, but that hardly matters to him.
The battle becomes harder by the day. The game gets more physical. The mental aspect becomes more tedious. But if there’s one thing that Tristan Thompson has proven about himself, it is the fact that he is built for the grind.