Tristan Thompson: Rim Protector, Sort of

Tristan Thompson has improved his block numbers significantly this season. The numbers are not quite as clear-cut as that, though, so the jury is still out on how good a rim protector he really is.

With the departure of Timofey Mozgov, Tristan Thompson has moved into the role of full-time starting center. He casually took hold of that position late last season and has not looked back for a single moment. However, the one knock on TT (and the Cavaliers as a team) has been that there's no shot blocker or rim protector on the roster. Birdman was a decent shot blocker, but his best days are behind him.

Remarkably, only one player on last year's championship squad averaged more than 0.8 blocks per game, and that was Mozgov. 

(Technically Dahntay Jones averaged two blocks per game but he played in exactly one game last year. I don't think that counts.)

This year has seen an outbreak, and it's been Tristan Thompson leading the way. He has averaged 1.5 blocks per game through the first 20 — more than doubling any of his averages from the past three years. 

You might be thinking 'Hey wait a minute, maybe it's just that he's playing more now.' That's partly true. Thompson's minutes are up from the past two years as he's getting just about 30 minutes a night, but he's still doing notably better as a shot blocker. TT's rookie year was the only time he got more than one block per 36 minutes and he was all the way up at 1.6. This year? 1.8 blocks per 36 minutes.

The guy is really doing it.

Opponents are shooting just 48% at the rim against Tristan, which is markedly lower than in years past and puts TT in good company. For context, here are some notable rim protectors and their defensive FG percentage at the rim:

  • Dwight Howard, 46%
  • Anthony Davis, 47%
  • Bismack Biyombo, 47.3%
  • Boogie Cousins, 49%
  • Karl-Anthony Towns and Paul Millsap, 49.7%
  • Marc Gasol, 50%
  • Serge Ibaka, 51.8%
  • Andre Drummond, 53.5%

Those are some serious names, and Thompson is at the right end of the list. He's always been great at using his body for rebounding position, and we've seen him explode for dunks here and there, but this season has been different. Tristan Thompson's 1.5 blocks per game are good for 17th in the NBA (through December 9) and have him ranked ahead of Drummond, Cousins, and Draymond while only fractionally behind Marc Gasol (1.6), DeAndre Jordan (1.7) and even Ibaka (1.8). Basically, Thompson is putting himself in the discussion as being one of the best interior defenders in the league.

While his shot-blocking and rebounding have both gone up — rebounds are up to 12.7 per 36, up from 11.7 last year which was a career best — Tristan's offensive game has largely disappeared.

Since the beginning of the 2012-2013 season, Tristan has played in every game. During that time his field goal attempts per 36 have decreased every year. He was at 11.2 during each of his first two seasons and has dipped all the way to just 5.5 this season.

Blame Kevin Love for taking more shots, I guess. Or you could blame Kyrie. Who cares. The Cavs are winning games, and Tristan is getting paid crazy amounts of money to take five shots a game and pull down every rebound in sight. He's good enough that he'll get a little bit of All-Star talk and then not make the team because he doesn't score enough.

He'll drown his sorrows by looking at his championship ring, and I think he'll get through it.

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