Coming off a career best season it appeared like Tristan Thompson had established himself as a starting center in the league. However with the Cavs looking to maximize Kevin Love, as well as play a more fast paced offense, Thompson will once again come off the bench.
While some players may be apprehensive after losing their starting role, Thompson is embracing the position he’s in and putting the team’s needs ahead of his own.
In a recent article, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin shared what Tyronn Lue had to say about telling Thompson he would no longer be starting:
Lue said he told Thompson, who started all 78 games he played last season, about his planned lineup shift late last week.
"Tristan has been a big part of what we do. I hated having that conversation, but it was great," Lue said. "He was phenomenal. That's what it's all about. You hate having those conversations, but he was great. He was like, 'Man, whatever you need me to do, Coach. I'll just go for Sixth Man of the Year. I understand what's going on.' ... When you have those talks, usually they don't go that good. But he was great about it."
The sixth man of the year award traditionally has gone to the top scorer off the bench. However, the understanding of a player’s impact beyond the box score is growing around the league. More and more statistics and metrics are available to help capture what is happening on the court. It may be possible for a player like Thompson to seriously be in the running for the award.
In his own words, Thompson talked about putting the team first and accepting his role off the bench:
Tristan Thompson said he's a guy that Ty Lue doesn't have to worry about when it comes to coming off the bench. Said he's "team first." pic.twitter.com/GgujoWtThN— clevelanddotcom Cavs (@PDcavsinsider) October 3, 2017
In all likelihood, Thompson’s role won’t change too much even with this change. Even last season after switching to a starting role he only ended up playing two minutes more per game than he did the year before.
With Thompson as the only proven center and a ton of wing players that need minutes, Love was always going to log a significant amount of minutes at center. Those minutes now will just begin at the start of the game.
One advantage to Thompson coming off the bench may be that it will help keep him fresher, as he plays fewer minutes against starting centers. It also allows the Cavs to consistently have a high energy role player on the court with Jae Crowder and Thompson working with different units. When you have to game plan for Love at center, dealing with what Thompson brings off the bench is even harder to handle.
Not many 26 year old players would accept this role as easily as Thompson. But throughout his time with the Cavs we have seen him do whatever the team asks of him. Ultimately it’s a reflection of who he is, and the trust he has in Tyronn Lue. Lue has shown that he isn’t afraid to shake things up if something isn’t working. If this experiment doesn’t work, Lue and the rest of the coaching staff will adjust. But for now it appears to be a smart maneuver by the team.