We have reached the point of the NBA off-season where there just isn’t a whole lot to talk about. So in what has become something of a tradition, various outlets have chosen to project where players rank heading into the upcoming season.
One of the best lists from year to year is put together by Sports Illustrated. The criteria used for their rankings is as follows:
Given the wide variety of candidates involved and the deep analytical resources available, no single, definitive criterion was used to form this list. Instead, rankings were assigned based on a fluid combination of subjective assessment and objective data. This list is an attempt to evaluate each player in a vacuum, independent of their current team context as much as possible. A player's prospects beyond the 2017-18 season did not play a part in the ranking process.
The initial unveiling of the rankings was for the players ranked from 51-100, which saw Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson come in at No. 52. Here is what SI had to say about why Thompson is so valuable:
There are players in the league who make a show of their effort level. Thompson makes a job of it. All game long he works through second, third, and fourth actions, always toward some targeted purpose. There is no activity in his game merely for activity’s sake; Thompson (8.1 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 1.0 APG) both draws from an incomparable motor and uses it judiciously. That smart hustle wrings everything out from a functionally limited skill set. Thompson is never suited to take more than a dribble or two, doesn’t have range beyond eight feet, and doesn’t contribute much of anything as a passer. Still he earns his keep, one hard-fought rebound or unexpected floater at a time. One of the best offenses in basketball played to its potential when Thompson was involved, and through him came Cleveland’s best chance of mounting a stout defense. Thompson gives a team options in its defensive game-planning. He demands nothing in the way of style or system, which in a postseason setting makes him a valuable chess piece. Trapping, hedging, dropping, and switching are all on the table. Simply dictate the terms of engagement and let Thompson go to work.
Thompson struggled in the first three games of the NBA Finals last season, which may have left a bad taste in the mouth for some. However, it’s hard to deny just how important he has been to the team over the last few seasons.
He has been a workhorse and last season he was the team’s only true center. He has consistently improved from year to year, with last season seeing a serious improvement in his rim protection numbers. While he is limited offensively, he is an effective pick and roll threat and can be counted on to not try to do more than he should on most offensive possessions.
There are very few centers in today’s game that are skilled and efficient enough to demand a high volume of touches. Pace and space has become the name of the game and having a low-maintenance center that can run the floor, be a threat in the pick and roll and find ways to create extra possessions is a major advantage. If you can’t have a Karl-Anthony Towns or Anthony Davis, having a player like Thompson can fill in the gaps for a perimeter based offense.