When considering some of the recent successful NBA playoff runs, a theme tends to emerge fairly quickly: role players stepping up.
For the Cleveland Cavaliers thus far, it has been a combination of several role players who have stepped up to fill various holes, help overcome injuries to stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, and reach the NBA Finals in spite of some sub-par shooting performances from LeBron James.
Perhaps the most intriguing of them all is Tristan Thompson. The 24-year-old big man has played so well in this postseason that it prompted James to publicly say that he believes Thompson should play in Cleveland for the remainder of his career.
His athleticism and explosiveness are two obvious reasons why he has had success in the paint, often battling for second-chance points, tip-ins or soaring to clean the glass with put-back dunks. The guy’s motor is relentless.
But playing in his first season with James, his overall offensive improvement was remarkable – he shot 54.7 percent this season, a career high and quantum leap from the 43.9 percent he registered his rookie season.
Thompson’s true shooting percentage in the playoffs is a sparkling 61 percent, which is even more impressive given he has played 34.3 minutes per game – only DeAndre Jordan has logged more among centers on playoff teams. (Thompson starts as a power forward but plays a lot of center in the Cavaliers’ small ball units.) His 9.4 points per game isn’t all that impressive, but he picks his spots well and scoring isn’t where his true value lies anyway. Rebounding and defense represent his biggest strengths, so any offense Cleveland gets from him is a bonus.
Thompson made a bold gamble by turning down a four year, $52 million deal, and he ended up quietly having the best season of his career, peaking on the game’s biggest stage with general managers everywhere watching.
James wants to keep Thompson around, and while LeBron usually gets what he wants, a rising star in Thompson may need to see the deal upped significantly to remain a Cavalier, as his performance is sure to attract interest from other teams.
The reality for Cleveland is that Thompson is going to be a long-term investment, and it could be an especially necessary investment with Kevin Love possibly out the door this offseason and Anderson Varejao unreliable because of injuries.
The presumptive Finals matchup with Golden State (which is all but mathematically certain at this point) would potentially mean clashing with Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut. All three of these players are different and provide various challenges, and of course, Thompson would also be needed to help defend the MVP and his Splash Brother.
Cavs fans should be thrilled about Thompson’s future, because come June 4, they may see him rise to the occasion and join a long list of role players whose contributions were instrumental in winning a title. And title or no title, he’ll be rewarded with a nice hefty raise for his outstanding play.