Season in Review: Tristan Thompson

July 9, 2012
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Season Overview: For Tristan Thompson’s impressive rookie season to be almost completely overshadowed by another Cavalier freshman illuminates just how bright the Wine and Gold’s future actually is.

A perfect microcosm of that future took place in Orlando last February, where Thompson and rookie classmate Kyrie Irving took part in All-Star Weekend’s BVAA Rising Stars Challenge. In that Friday night affair, Thompson led his squad with 20 points, going 10-for-11 from the floor, dunking everything in sight. The game’s MVP, however, was Irving – who went 8-of-8 from long distance and finished with 34 points.

That exhibition was the first time the two Cavalier teammates faced off against one another since they were high school rivals in New Jersey. A few weeks after the Break, fans got a glimpse of what they could do on the same team – coincidentally in New Jersey – when Thompson scored 27 points to Irving’s 26 in a 105-100 win over the Nets. (Thompson also grabbed 12 boards.)

Just over a year ago, the pick of Thompson at No. 4 stunned pundits. But the high-flying forward from Texas proved his detractors wrong all season long and had worked his way into the starting lineup just after the midway point. A natural power forward, Thompson manned the center spot in the final 25 games, concluding his season-long baptism-by-fire.

On the year, Thompson averaged 8.2 points and 6.5 boards in 23.7 minutes per contest. As a starter, he improved to 10.4 points and 7.5 rebounds (3.8 offensive) per contest. Thompson finished 12th in scoring among all rookies; third overall in blocks. But on the boards, he was the freshman class’s top dog.

His 3.1 offensive rebounds and 6.5 total rebounds each rank first among all qualifying rookies. His offensive rebound mark was good for 12th in the NBA; his nine double-doubles was third among all first-year players.

Free throw shooting was a big concern for the Toronto native coming into the league, but the Cavs coaching staff worked with him – having him eliminate an extra dribble at the stripe – and the results were tangible. Before his 21st birthday, Thompson shot an even 50 percent from the line. He shot 65 percent for the remainder of the season.

The affable Thompson established himself as one of the squad’s hardest workers and has been diligent at Cleveland Clinic Courts since the season wrapped up. After entering the league as a 20-year-old, Thompson had no Summer League, an abbreviated Training Camp and a condensed season that saw him play well, albeit out of position.

Thompson accepted all challenges and surpassed expectations as a rookie with Cleveland. Irving may be the club’s young superstar, but the guy picked three spots after him may have the biggest upside of the 2011 Class.

Highlight: Thompson’s 27-point, 12-rebound outburst against New Jersey was part of a solid set of games immediately after the former Longhorn was inserted into the starting lineup. Tristan put together two more strong outings and in a three-game span 18.3 points and 9.3 boards per game as the Cavs new starting center.

Lowlight: Thompson didn’t struggle much during his first year with the Cavs. He notched double-figures in three of his first five games, but didn’t have a double-digit rebound game until mid-February. (He had 11 double-digit board games from that point on, however.)

Odds and Ends: … The ambidextrous Thompson bowls, throws a football, plays tennis, kicks a soccer ball and hammers a nail right-handed. He eats and changes channels with a remote control left-handed. He can dunk and shoot a basketball, arm-wrestle, swing a baseball bat and sign an autograph with either hand.

By the Numbers: 21.0, 13.5 … Thompson’s scoring and rebounding averages against the Nets in his old high school stomping grounds of New Jersey.

Looking forward: The sky is the limit for Thompson, who will return to his natural position and have an entire offseason to work on it. It should be fun to see what he and Anderson Varejao (not to mention Tyler Zeller and Samardo Samuels) can do on the court together.

Quotable: Thompson, on his post-Draft detractors …

“I always feel like I have something to prove. A lot of people questioned the Cavs’ decision on picking me No. 4. What I have to say to critics is that they weren’t in the workouts and didn’t see what I had done. Seeing what I’ve been able to do this season so far, they can bite their tongue. And I’m smiling.”