Follow the Leader

March 6, 2014
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Tristan Thompson
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images

The media’s coverage of the NBA can be a little backwards. We’ll focus hard on a player who played well on a certain night or maybe over the past few games. If a guy gets hot for two weeks, he’s likely to be branded The Next Big Thing.

But when a player is as consistently good as blue-collar Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson, his performance strangely tends to slip through the cracks.

Thompson, who turns 23 in a week, seems like he’s been with the Wine and Gold for a decade. He’s respected by the squad’s coaching staff, its youngsters and its veterans. Making ESPN’s Top 10 is great, but consistency is king in the NBA. And no member of the Cavaliers does it every night like Double-T.

So far this year, the third-year forward from Texas (via Toronto) has notched a team-high 29 double-doubles, including seven in Cleveland’s last 11 outings. He ranks third in the Eastern Conference in double-doubles this season, is 6th in the East in rebounds per game (9.7) and 3rd in the Conference in offensive rebounding (3.5).

Last year, Thompson finished second in the NBA in offensive rebounds, simultaneously setting the Cavaliers single-season record – topping Zydrunas Ilgauskas with 206. This year, he made the unprecedented move of switching from shooting left-handed to shooting right-handed – and his numbers have gone up almost entirely across the board.

But as impressive as his stats have been, the number 0 has been equally impressive – that’s the number of starts that Tristan has missed over the last two years – starting 169 straight contests for the Cavaliers. (Although he actually hasn’t missed a game since February 10, 2012.)

Thompson has become one of the leaders of the Wine and Gold – and he’s earned that role through his actions both on and off the court. He’s one of the Cavaliers best players and he’s one of the Association’s best individuals.

As the Cavaliers gear up for a big weekend – and an even bigger month ahead – Cavs.com sat down with Cleveland’s Mr. Consistent to talk leadership, the streak and even Big Z’s huge night at The Q …


Do you feel that sometimes your play is so consistent that you’re almost underappreciated?

Tristan Thompson: I do what I need to do, which is my job – to rebound and play hard and compete and be productive. That’s the name of the game, it’s the NBA. It’s about being consistent. In terms of being underappreciated, I think it just comes with – it’s kind of a media-based question, really – I think if we had a little better record, like say top four in the East, maybe there’d be more notoriety behind my name.

But it’s part of the game, it’s part of developing a franchise and helping this team grow. We’re going to go through bumps and bruises, but once we become a contender in the East, I think I’ll get my fair share of accolades.

What’s been different about this team since coming off that six-game losing streak – and going on a six-game win streak – around the All-Star Break?

Thompson: I think the whole (front office) change was an eye-opener. I think it was just the mindset and our approach to the game, knowing that whenever a change happens like that in an organization, it affects everyone. And it was a wake-up call saying: This game continues with or without you – so if you don’t come out every night and do your job and do what’s asked of you, it’s either A. You don’t play in this game anymore, or B. You do it somewhere else.

Do you see yourself as one of the leaders of this team?

Thompson: Well, I always want to lead by example, because that’s the way you get the respect of your teammates. I feel like as I continue growing as a player and as a person I’m going to become more vocal. But it’s one step at a time. You know, Rome wasn’t built in a day – and leadership comes from within.

Since you’ve been drafted by the Cavs, you’ve been the team’s iron man. How important is it to continue that streak?

Thompson: The streak is very important to me. When I had a little ankle sprain against New York, what was big for me, what kind of motivated me, was to keep the streak alive.

And I think whenever you can be durable, that that says a lot about you as a person. It says a lot about your character. It says you’ve been taking care of your body and just being a professional. So it means a lot to me to keep this streak going and to able to play the rest of this year. I’m going to do whatever I can to stay productive and stay consistent and help my team win.

Again this year, you’re one of the top double-double guys in the league. What’s more difficult: putting up double-digit points or grabbing double-digit boards?

Thompson: I think it depends on the team you play. No disrespect to the Western Conference, but it’s a higher-powered offensive conference and when you play teams like that, there’s more opportunities for misses and makes. And when we play the East teams, you have a better chance of scoring because there aren’t as many big bigs. So when we play against the West, I look at it as there’s no reason why I shouldn’t have 10 boards and when you play against a team in the East, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t have at least 10 points.

Although you’ve been a constant at power forward, you’ve had three – (four, counting Andrew Bynum) very distinctly different big men start alongside you. How have you adjusted to playing with each?

Thompson: It’s an adjustment to whoever’s in the lineup with me. Playing with Andy, he’s definitely an active big, but he’s almost like a “point center” because he’s so willing to pass the ball. Spencer, he’s a stretch five and he opens up the paint for me, where I can rebound, play my game, finish around the rim. I think we have a good connection and we’ve played well together. And with Tyler, he’s a little bit of both – although he’s more like a traditional center.

So they bring different things to the table, but they all help my game. They don’t hinder what I do on the court. So it’s a good problem to have – to have that many bigs.

Speaking of unique big men – on Saturday night the Cavaliers franchise honors one of the best who’s ever done it here. What are your thoughts on Big Z’s big night?

Thompson: This is a great night for Z, obviously. But also definitely for Cleveland and the franchise – having Z being here since the late-90s and him being so loyal to the city of Cleveland, especially after retiring, coming back. He’s someone who definitely deserves this night.

He’s meant so much to this franchise and he’s helped me a lot – just talking to him, picking his brain and him giving me pointers every time I see him. It’s priceless. You can’t ask for a better guy. And I’m excited for this night – for Big Z and his family.