Since October 22, 2015, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson has had to deal with living up to his 5-year, $82 million deal he signed to stay with the wine and gold. While many may argued that Thompson was not worth that amount of money due to the minimal threat he possesses with the ball in his hands, the big man seems to be every bit worth that contract according to head coach Tyronn Lue.
From Cavs.com's Joe Gabriele:
”(Thompson)'s the heart and soul of our team – his toughness, his versatility defensively, his offensive rebounding ability,” praised Lue after Thompson’ s monster effort in Game 3. “And he just puts a lot of pressure on teams, especially if they're going to go small. When we keep Tristan on the floor, he should be able to outrebound most guys. He did that [in Game 5], and he brought a lot of energy and a lot of toughness.”
While his offensive game may be limited, Thompson brings so much more than that. Whether it's his offensive (and defensive) rebounding, being able to switch onto guards on defense—whether it be via a pick-and-roll or off-ball screen—and stay in front of them, or just creating more second-chance opportunities for his teammates, the 6-foot-9, 238-pound forward knows how to contribute to the game and help his team be the best they can possibly be in more ways than just putting the ball in the basket.
In his five-year career so far, the 25-year-old has averaged 9.7 points 8.5 rebounds (3.4 offensive) in 28.5 minutes per game in 388 regulars season games (238 starts). In 2015-16, the big-man averaged 10.2 points (career-low) and 11.7 rebounds (career-high) including 4.3 offensive rebounds in 27.7 minutes per game (34 starts). Over the last two years in postseason play, Thompson has averaged 8.7 points, 10.9 rebounds (4.9 offensive), and one block in 32.7 minutes per game (39 games, 34 starts). During last season's postseason run, he averaged 10.6 points and 12.1 rebounds while taking the place of Kevin Love (shoulder) in the starting lineup. During the first five games of this year's Finals, the big-man has averaged 9.6 points and 10.4 rebounds through five games.
Along with what's on the stat sheet, Thompson brings plenty of energy as well, whether he's starting or coming off the bench. No matter what role he is given, he knows that he must be one of the players on the team that brings a spark, so his teammates can rally around him.
”I bring the same mentality every night -- bring the spark, bring the energy, I think that’s what I have to bring to this team. That’s my game, that’s what makes me the player that I am. If I do that, guys will feed off my energy.”
Whether it's his energy, versatility, or just the fact that he gives 100 percent every second he's on the court, Thompson is well worth the contract he received during last off-season. Many may disagree with that, but he is the type of player this current team needs. With so many stars, the Cavs need someone that will put their body on the line, along with snagging offensive rebounds and giving the team a second chance to score. He knows how important offensive boards and second chance points are, along with what he can do on the defensive side of the ball as well.
“(Offensive rebounding) is huge for our team -- it creates second-chance opportunities, whether it’s for me scoring or getting it out to our shooters to get a good shot up. It’s definitely one of our offensive keys, especially if guys are missing shots. They’ll have the confidence knowing I’m going to go get the rebound to get us a second chance.”
While his length is bothersome to most opponents, the fact that he is good at protecting the room, Thompson has earned a reputation of being the Cavs big-man down low, and being a good one at that. Luckily for the wine and gold, he knows his role on this team and doesn't try and do anything more that may be outside the box.
”I think that’s my job to be a little nasty – to bring that energy, protect the paint and really just protect our guys/ That’s the role of a big man. It’s not cute; it’s not pretty being a big. You have to come in and do the little things, do the dirty work.”
Don't forget, along with contributing in more ways than just lighting up the scoreboard, Thompson has played in every single one of the Cavaliers games since midway through his rookie season, 370 consecutive regular season games in case you're counting. In total, for this season alone, Thompson has played in 101 games with the 102nd being Thursday's Game 6.
Heading into Game 5 Thursday night, Thompson admitted that although he has plenty of experience now, he's never seen any type of situation where the team is down 3-1 in the series. But either way, the Cavs fought back to win a game at Golden State and now return home to try and even up the series at 3-3.
“I’m definitely more experienced, but I’d never been in a situation where we’ve been down, 3-1, so this is definitely new. By the same token, you just have to give it everything you’ve got right now – because this is what you live for.”
If Thompson can continue to provide second chance opportunities along with playing well on defense, the wine and gold have a legitimate shot of tying the series up and sending it back to Oakland, California for a Game 7 Sunday night.