CLEVELAND – As the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ leader in field-goal accuracy through fives games this season, at 60.7 percent, it’s only natural that Tristan Thompson’s missed shots draw more attention than his makes. They’re rare.
There was one miss by Thompson in the Cavs’ 96-86 win over the New York Knicks on Wednesday that stood out because of its location. A possession after throwing down a signature alley-oop dunk off of a Matthew Dellavedova feed, Thompson launched a one-dribble pull-up jumper from just beyond the foul line.
It hit the back iron and New York grabbed the defensive rebound.
It’s not the mere fact that Thompson attempted a 17-footer that was noteworthy. It was the confidence with which he put up the shot, letting it go with 17 seconds on the shot clock as the Cavs were in their transition offense.
The miss brought his season shooting tally from between 10 and 19 feet to 2-for-6. While the 33 percent connection rate pales in comparison to his overall field-goal percentage, the couple of makes represent a change in Thompson’s game.
“I’m just feeling good,” Thompson said earlier in the week when asked about his extended range. “I’m not going out there searching for it. Like I said, it’s within the flow of the offense, time and score. Guys are, and LeBron [James] is, telling me if it’s within the offense and it’s a good play, shoot it. Same as K-Love [Kevin Love]. They seem me working on it and practicing it, so if it’s open, I’m going to shoot it. If not, I’m going to make a play or attack the rim and do what I’m here to do, which is play hard and be an animal.”
Love is considered perhaps the best stretch 4 in the league. What does he think about Thompson taking a page out of his book?
“He’s been working on it,” Love said. “We’ve been down there shooting quite a bit. He’s a work horse. I don’t know if he’ll be 100 percent every single night, but we have a lot of confidence in him and everything that he does.”
Thompson already had a couple nights going 100 percent this season on shots that weren’t around the rim. In the home opener against Miami he hit both jumpers he took. A couple of nights later in Philadelphia he had the chance to hit James with a lob pass but instead opted to throw up a midrange floater in the lane, which swished through the net.
“I was glad that he made it,” coach David Blatt said of Thompson’s shot versus the Sixers. “It probably was a good decision, even had the ball not gone in. Tristan works really hard on his game every day, and players that have a particular skill set that don’t go away from that but still try to add small elements to their game are professionals, are guys that know that each year you should come back with a little something more or you should at least work on improving a certain aspect. It doesn’t take you totally out of the mold of who you are, but that was a pleasant surprise what we saw on that particular play. And he can make that shot. I’ve seen him make it in practice.”
It’s a tricky balance for Thompson. The part of his game that sets him apart more than anything is his ability to grab offensive rebounds. If he is setting up outside, it takes him out of position to grab his teammates’ misses. At the same time, one of the major criticisms hurled Thompson’s way after the Cavs signed him to a five-year, $82 million extension is that they were overpaying for someone who was so limited offensively, toting a career scoring average of just 10.1 points per game. Thompson, to his credit, is trying to earn his keep by expanding his game – while not forgetting what got him paid in the first place.
“You got to come back better every year, so for me, I definitely worked on my jump shot and footwork and moves in the post,” Thompson said. “So every year you got to bring something new to the table and the only way you’ll know if it’s going to work out for you is if you try it out in a game, right?”