Can We Talk About How Good Tristan Thompson Has Been for the Cleveland Cavaliers?
In all honesty, there's really no reason that the basketball world would focus its collective attention on a player who averaged just 8.5 points per game during the 2014-15 season.
When you throw in the fact that he plays on a team with three superstars (one of whom is LeBron James), that he wound up eighth in points per game on his own team, that his usage rate (14.0 percent) ranked tied for 99th among players with at least 2,000 minutes this year (among 107 players), and that he will forever be second-fiddle in some sense to his fellow 2011 NBA Draft peer (Kyrie Irving), and that his team traded for an All-Star player at his own position (Kevin Love) in the offseason, his impact is understandably lost.
Such is the case for Tristan Thompson.
Why, then, does he warrant attention while he's on the floor?
It feels long lost that Thompson was a top-four pick in an NBA Draft even if Cavs fans will always know that he's a bit of a package deal with Irving. But the attention away from Thompson and onto the rest of the squad has allowed him to improve his efficiency marks this year.
Thompson's rate stats haven't changed much, but his Effective Field Goal Percentage, Offensive Win Shares, Win Shares, Win Shares per 48 minutes, and nERD all took a noticeable climb this season.
In fact, according to nERD, which is our in-house metric for measuring a player's efficiency, Thompson's campaign fared favorably with other young big men. nERD, which indicates how many wins above or below .500 a player would add to a league-average team during a full season, suggests that Thompson (4.9) was as valuable as Nikola Mirotic, Andre Drummond, and Greg Monroe, all of whom had a nERD of 4.9.
Thompson's minutes dropped from 31.6 to 26.8 this year, but his per-36 numbers don't indicate that he's playing at a higher production level exactly.
Then again, his usage rate has continued to decline, and he is now one of the last options on the team when it comes to offense. His Offensive Rating of 120.5 ranked 14th in the NBA this year -- both because of and despite -- his very low usage rate.
So, Thompson had a good regular season on an elite squad. What can he really bring to the playoffs?
Well, in two games so far, Thompson has averaged 6.0 points and 8.5 rebounds, though the tallies weren't collected evenly. In fact, Thompson followed up a 12-point, 6-rebound game with a 0-point, 11-rebound game, staying between 25 and 27 minutes in each contest.
More than half of his rebounds, though, came on the offensive end. Thompson posted four offensive boards (to two defensive ones) in Game 1 against the Boston Celtics and five offensive boards (to six defensive ones) in Game 2.
That's not a fluke. Thompson finished this season fifth in offensive rebounds (274) and fourth in offensive rebounding rate, gathering 14.5 percent of available boards on the offensive end this year.
The team's offensive rebounding rate spiked to 28.7 percent with Thompson on the floor as opposed to 24.4 percent with him off the floor this season.
This efficient way to secure more offensive possessions has led to an Offensive Rating of 112.6 with Thompson on the floor this year -- 3.6 points per 100 possessions better than their Offensive Rating of 109.0 without him on the floor. The Cavs' Defensive Rating is a little worse with him on the floor (106.7 compared to 106.0), but he's still netting the Cavs 2.8 points per 100 possessions.
As the playoffs wind down, star players will step up their game. But, oftentimes, the team with the role players who step up the most ultimately claim the NBA title. If the Cavaliers really do make a championship run -- our algorithms give them a 7.4 percent chance to do it -- then LeBron, Kyrie, and Love will likely be the keys why.
But Thompson's efficient offense will almost assuredly help.