The Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Tristan Thompson with the fourth pick in the 2011 draft, shortly after picking Kyrie Irving with the first pick in the same draft. Since 2011, Irving has become a superstar and Thompson has become a solid starting power forward. Thompson won’t ever achieve Irving’s level of play or fame, but he has plenty of room to improve on an already impressive game in the next few years.
In his rookie season, Thompson came on slow, playing limited minutes at first and producing limited stats. By the end of the year, however, he was starting and averaged close to a double-double in April 2012.
Last season, Thompson started every game and averaged even closer to a double-double, scoring 11.7 points and pulling down 9.4 rebounds per game. It is important to note, though, that Thompson’s stats improved significantly after Anderson Varejao went down last December. Varejao had been tearing it up, leading the league in rebounds until his injury, and once he was out, the Cavs really didn’t have any other bigs for Thompson to share stats with. For most of last season, Thompson started alongside rookie Tyler Zeller, who didn’t do much.
Varejao is always an injury risk, and Thompson should be able to play well regardless of who starts with him in the front court this season. As a fairly small power forward at just 6-foot-8 225 pounds, Thompson would work best paired with a big rim protecting center. The Cavs may get that in Andrew Bynum if he’s able to return from injury this season. Bynum’s return is a big “if”, but it could create competition for minutes at the four, as Varejao can play power forward, and the Caveliers’ top draft pick this summer was another 6-foot-8 power forward in Anthony Bennett.
If Thompson can develop some sort of mid-range game, it will help him tremendously. He took the majority of his shots at the rim and was an average finisher. He shot 38.8 percent from mid-range on the few shots he took which isn’t terrible for a big guy. As of right now, though, Varejao is the better shooter, and while Bennett is still untested, his skill set seems pretty close to Thompson’s. Thompson’s field goal percentage improved substantially from his rookie to his sophomore year, and it’s pretty reasonable to expect it to improve again as he continues to adjust to the league.
A position battle may be brewing in Cleveland, but for now Thompson will get plenty of minutes and every opportunity to show off any improvements he’s made to his game. For now, Thompson is a slightly undersized power forward with a knack for pulling down rebounds and decent ability at getting to the rack. All signs show that he is getting better, and he should be a valuable player for the Cavaliers no matter how Bennett develops.