When Cavs G.M. Chris Grant drafted Tristan Thompson with the fourth overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, it surprised me and a lot of other people throughout the NBA. He was a very raw, inexperienced basketball player without any offensive skill other than to dunk the ball. But the Cavaliers felt he had untapped potential and was an above average athlete and a hard worker, who they could mold into what they wanted for their team. What was that? Another Anderson Varejao! They wanted an energy guy, who would play defense, rebound, run the floor and not worry about having plays run for him on offense. Well that’s what they’ve been getting over the last nine games with Varejao out with a knee injury. Thompson has averaged 13.2 points per game and 12.9 rebounds per game during Varejao’s absence, while also shooting 50% from the field and 72% from the free throw line. Those numbers are very similar to Varejao’s 14 points per game and 14 rebounds per game, which lead the NBA.
This has been a breath of fresh air for doubters like me who looked at Thompson like Bambi or Rudolph. A baby deer, falling down, looking lost and running awkwardly through the forest. His offense still has a long, long way to go, but he’s started to provide everything else that the Cavs expected of him. He’s already surpassed his total number of double-doubles from a year ago with 11 heading into last night’s game at Chicago. His scoring average is up 1.5 points over last year, while his rebounding average is up 2.5 boards per game. His field goal and free throw percentages are also on the rise. Chris Grant and Byron Scott told us in the preseason that no Cavalier worked harder on his game over the summer than Thompson. Early on in the season those comments seemed ridiculous, as Thompson still looked raw and confused. But with the injury to Varejao, it gave Thompson the opportunity to step up and show that the potential the Cavs saw in him on draft night two years ago is indeed there, and starting to develop. It gave him a chance to be a bigger part of this team and he’s taking advantage of it and making the most of it. “I’m just playing. Just being active. That’s my role,” said Thompson after the Cavs loss to the Rockets. “Play hard, rebound and run the floor.” That’s exactly what he’s doing now and he’s doing it with confidence and the organization loves it.
While the Cavs still have the second worst record in the NBA at 8-27, they are 3-6 in the 9 games that Varejao has missed and Thompson providing a larger role. So maybe, just maybe, there’s a little bit of sunshine peeking through that forest and that baby deer isn’t running lost anymore, but is starting to mature and develop. The Cavs can only hope!