The 2017-2018 NBA season was the most tumultuous season for Tristan Thompson since he entered the league.
Once one of the most reliable options the Cleveland Cavaliers had, Thompson had significant issues staying healthy. He strained his right calf early in the season, which could have been a result of overcompensating for discomfort he was dealing with early in the year.
He experienced more soreness in his calf after returning and dealt with a sprained ankle in March. When he was available, it was clear that his signature mobility had been compromised and his explosiveness was sapped on nights without rest.
Health seemed to be the biggest theme for Thompson throughout the season. In the 11 games played without any rest, he struggled to do anything positive. He only pulled down 8.6 percent of available offensive rebounds on those nights. A percentage that increased to 13.2 percent with a nights rest, and 14.9 percent with two nights of rest.
But the lack of consistency and reliability for Thompson made it tough for Tyronn Lue to find a place for him in the rotation. With Kevin Love starting at center, Thompson was forced to try and make it work with an up-tempo bench unit. Only problem was that with Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Jeff Green, and the rest of the bench, the spacing made it tough for Thompson to be effective even when he was moving well.
It became impossible to trust Thompson moving forward due to this inconsistency and after the trade deadline, it appeared as though Larry Nance Jr. was ready to take over for him.
While Nance doesn’t possess the defensive instincts of Thompson, he brings the offensive rebounding and rim running of a healthy Thompson. His can move his feet quicker, and has the potential to grow into a similar player on defense.
When the Cavs put Nance into the starting lineup, it looked like the end of Thompson in the rotation. But after Nance suffered a hamstring injury late in the season, then re-aggravated it against Indiana, the team had few options to turn to.
Facing elimination in Game 7 against the Indiana Pacers, Tyronn Lue went to the guys that had been there before. Thompson replaced Jose Calderon in the starting lineup alongside LeBron James, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, and Kevin Love. As LeBron turned in a performance for the ages, Thompson gave him the help that was needed to sneak past the Pacers with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Al Horford and the Celtics offense was neutralized with Tristan Thompson on the floor. Boston put up a 100.8 ORTG and -6.3 net rating when they shared the floor, compared to 110.8 and +23.8 net rating with Horford on court without Thompson.
Nobody knows what the future holds for Thompson in Cleveland. As well as he played in the playoffs, his ability to stay healthy is now a major question. The team may be forced to move on from him for a more reliable option, unless they feel Nance can be the guy moving forward and help manage Thompson’s minutes.
But if this is the end for Thompson, it’s one hell of a last chapter. He is came up big when the Cavs need him most and provided reliability in a season where that’s been in short supply. Without his presence, the team probably doesn’t make it out of the first round.
He sacrificed his body playing through pain and was an essential piece in bringing a championship to Cleveland. The business of the NBA may cut his time with the team short, but his legacy as one of the most important role players in franchise history should already be secured.