By Jason Lloyd
Beacon Journal sports writer
It was right about this time last year when former coach Byron Scott raised eyebrows by declaring Tristan Thompson should average a double-double for the season. Now Mike Brown is challenging Thompson to be one of the best defenders in the game.
Brown has spoke glowingly of Thompson since returning to the organization during the summer. In summer league in Las Vegas, Brown called Thompson one of the hardest workers he has ever been around — lofty praise considering he has been with Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Now as the Cavs prepare to play the Philadelphia 76ers tonight at Value City Arena on the campus of Ohio State, Brown believes Thompson can be one of the league’s elite post defenders.
“He’s so athletic and so long, he can be one of the best in the league if not the best ever,” Brown said. “The biggest thing he has is a work ethic. In order to be great, the game of basketball is not easy and you have to have the mindset you want to outwork your opponent.”
Thompson has never shied away from work, which is one of the reasons the Cavaliers drafted him fourth overall in 2011. They knew he wouldn’t fail and bust out of the league because his work ethic wouldn’t allow it.
His numbers improved in nearly every category from his first year to his second year, and now Brown is expecting Thompson to take another leap this season, particularly defensively and rebounding.
“He’s got a lot in the tool package to be one of the best, if not the best, when it comes to defending the post, defending weak side, defending pick-and-roll,” Brown said. “And if he switches onto a small, he has good enough feet to move his feet, keep the guy in front of him and not let him dribble drive by him.”
Thompson stumbled to a slow start last season while searching for a role. He averaged 8.3 points and 7.7 rebounds and shot 47 percent and 55 percent from the free-throw line playing alongside Anderson Varejao. But when Varejao was lost for the season, Thompson flourished. He averaged 13.1 points and 10.3 rebounds over the final 58 games (the double-double Scott was expecting). In addition, he shot 50 percent and 62 percent from the free-throw line.
“I think that’s why I’m in the NBA is just my energy and playing hard,” Thompson said. “I have to come in every day punching the clock, put the hard hat on and play hard.”
Brown hasn’t run a play for Thompson throughout the preseason, similar to how Scott rarely ran a play for him, too. Thompson and Varejao are expected to get all of their production off rebounds, tips and dunks.
Defensively, Thompson has been defending the pick-and-roll how Brown likes. Whereas in previous years he jumped out on a “hard show” just long enough to say that he did it, then retreat to find his man, now Thompson is staying out on the wing, drawing contact and at times even forcing turnovers.
“I was taught to show and just stick your chest out,” Thompson said, “but with coach Brown it’s a hard show, like a double team.”
The Cavs ranked 22nd in the league in rebounding last season, but with a healthy Varejao, an improved Thompson, Anthony Bennett and an eventual return for Andrew Bynum, Brown is confident the Cavs could be one of the league’s best rebounding teams.
They are ranked seventh in the league during the preseason and Bennett earned his first double-double in the preseason loss Saturday to the Indiana Pacers.
“I think we have a chance to be a very good rebounding team,’’ Brown said. “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.