When Tristan Thompson challenged coach Byron Scott to a 3-point shooting contest following a recent practice, Thompson made 3 of 5 — shooting right handed. When Thompson dribbled into the lane in Wednesday’s win over the Charlotte Bobcats, he flipped up baskets over Bobcats center Byron Mullens with his right hand.
Thompson has been a left-handed player all his life, but he worked on his right hand over the summer. Now his teammates are convinced he’s been playing with the wrong hand all along.
“He’s right-handed, he just doesn’t know it,” C.J. Miles said.
Despite his impressive work with his right hand, Thompson continues to insist he is indeed left-handed. He writes and brushes his teeth with his left hand, but he brushes his hair with his right hand.
“I’m left-handed,” Thompson said. “I’m positive.”
Wayne Ellington, who arrived only a couple of weeks ago, has the locker next to Thompson at Quicken Loans Arena. He chuckled overhearing Thompson insist he is left-handed.
“You’re right-handed, man,” Ellington said.
Regardless of what hand he is shooting with, Thompson is perhaps the feel good story of the Cavs’ season. He has certainly made the most progress from the end of last season until now and he’s still getting better.
Since Anderson Varejao was lost for the season, Thompson is averaging 14.3 points and 10.6 rebounds in his last 26 games. He is shooting 53 percent and even knocking down 71 percent of his free throws.
He is more assertive in the post, he isn’t getting nearly as many shots blocked and, thanks to his work over the summer, he is comfortable finishing with either hand.
“I used my left a lot more last year, but I just wanted to add something new to my game,” Thompson said. “They’ve gone down with the right hand, but I love my left, too. I’m ambidextrous. I’m amphibious.”
Yes, Thompson understands the difference between ambidextrous and amphibious, he’s just having a little bit of fun these days. It wasn’t long ago fans were howling how he was a bust after the Cavs selected him fourth overall two years ago. He was praised as the hardest worker over the summer, but the results weren’t evident early in the season.
He was averaging 8.2 points and 7.6 rebounds prior to Varejao’s injury and shooting just 46 percent. He was only making 56 percent of his free throws, too, because he had gotten away from what made him successful at the line as a rookie.
Thompson shot less than 50 percent from the line in college, but about halfway through last season, Scott noticed Thompson’s alignment was off. Every basketball court has a nail at the center of the free-throw line and Thompson would line up with his right foot on the nail. But since he was shooting left-handed, his alignment was off by a few inches.
Scott told Thompson last season to put his left foot on the nail instead and his percentages increased, but Thompson had gone back to lining up with his right foot early this season. Scott spotted it, moved him over again and the percentages are soaring.
“You put the time and effort in, it’ll start showing in the games,” Thompson said. “I want to keep getting better from the free-throw line, especially in crunch time [when] the better free-throw shooters are in the game.”
Thompson’s progress from the start of the season until now is fairly remarkable. The Cavs always expected him to be this type of player, but Thompson is about a year ahead of their schedule. Part of the reason they selected him fourth in a thin draft was because they knew he wouldn’t bust out of the league. He was a hard worker who would put in the time, and his projection floor was at worst a key big off the bench.
As for which hand he shoots with, Scott said they wouldn’t even think about making him a right-handed player until after the season.
“We joke with him that he’s a right-handed player,” Scott said. “I don’t know. If you try to turn a young guy like that into a right-handed player completely, you’d probably mess with that a little bit and you don’t want to mess with him right now.”
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.