When Tristan Thompson signed a five-year, $82 million deal in the fall of 2015, many NBA fans surmised Thompson got such a lucrative contract simply because he had the same agent as LeBron James, and LeBron is the law in Cleveland. Those baffled by Thompson’s contract failed to see the intrinsic value he brought to the Cavs.
It’s hard to quantify Thompson’s effectiveness on the court at times, as he doesn’t stuff stat sheets like James or pile up points like Kyrie Irving. But Thompson’s effort and basketball IQ allow James and Irving to continue making those highlight-reel plays.
Thompson has averaged more than three offensive rebounds per game in all six of his seasons in Cleveland, gaining valuable extra possessions for the Cavs’ nearly unstoppable offense. This past regular season, Thompson averaged 3.7 offensive rebounds per game (9.2 total), tied for fifth in the league with DeAndre Jordan and only behind other seven-footers like Andre Drummond, Dwight Howard, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside. His offensive rebound percentage (13.5) was eighth among players who averaged at least 20 minutes per game, according to NBA.com stats. Through eight playoff games, Thompson is averaging 4.9 offensive rebounds per game, the top mark among players remaining in the postseason.
Thompson is below the trees at 6-9 but has a 7-1 wingspan, great lateral quickness for his size and an impressive second jump. (These are all traits that have also made him a force on the defensive end this postseason.) The biggest part of his offensive rebounding success, though, is his ability to read the ball. Thompson explained the process at Wednesday’s practice.
“Just watching the ball and watching where guys shoot,” Thompson said. “If a guy is shooting a shot in the corner, 70 percent of the missed shots usually come off that other side, and 30 percent hits off the front rim. So just playing the percentages and kind of studying your teammates’ shots throughout the course of the game.
“For instance, a guy like Channing (Frye), if he misses a shot, he has a lot of arc on his shot, so if he misses it’s probably going to be close. J.R. (Smith), his shot is a little bit more, not as much arc as Channing, so if he misses, it might be a little bit more long rebound. Just understanding your teammates. But I’m hoping they make every shot. But if not, I tell them, ‘Don’t worry, there’s a good chance I will be able to get that offensive rebound.'”
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue also credited Thompson’s constant energy and activity under the basket for his success in grabbing boards on the offensive end, saying he “treats every shot like a miss.”
“Even when Kyle Korver is shooting the basketball or even when Kyle Korver is at the free throw line,” Lue said (via Cleveland.com). “He’s crashing the glass every single shot. His motor is unbelievable. He’s one of the guys that can crash from the perimeter and still get back on the defensive end. He treats every shot like a miss and he has the motor to crash the glass and also get back on defense.”
Thompson may not be considered elite at his position, but when you look at what he adds on the offensive boards as well as his flexibility on the defensive end, it’s hard to argue he isn’t elite in his role. He has earned his money.