INDEPENDENCE: There is a whole chapter in Byron Scott’s playbook that has gone virtually ignored the past three seasons. The Cavaliers haven’t had a big man who could score consistently with his back to the basket since Scott took the job, but Tristan Thompson’s development the past few weeks is changing that.
Until now, players like Anderson Varejao, Thompson, Tyler Zeller, Samardo Samuels and Ryan Hollins were face-up big men who scored the bulk of their points facing the basket. But Thompson’s developing post moves have gained the trust of both his teammates and Scott, who is starting to dig a little deeper in his playbook and blow the dust off some ideas previously unused.
“Right now he’s doing a hell of a job down there,” Scott said. “A lot of times what he’s doing is just getting down there on the block and guys have confidence in throwing it to him and letting him go to work. Design-wise we have some plays we’ve been calling for him that he feels comfortable running.”
If there is a bright side to Varejao’s injury, it is the development of Thompson. Only a month ago, Thompson looked lost at both ends of the floor. Prior to Varejao’s injury, Thompson was averaging 8.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and shooting 55 percent from the free-throw line — numbers well below the double-double Scott expected him to average this season.
Since Varejao went down, Thompson is averaging 13.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and shooting 71 percent from the line. The hot stretch has improved his overall averages to 9.7 points and 9.1 rebounds, much more in line with where he was expected to perform this season.
“I feel like the same player, it’s just the opportunity is there,” Thompson said. “Obviously I’ve been working on my game a lot and I guess it’s showing a little bit offensively because that’s what everyone wants to hear about, how my offensive game has been better. But defensively I’ve gotten better, too.”
Thompson has worked exhaustively with assistant coach Jamahl Mosley since the Cavs drafted him two summers ago. But it’s hard to ignore the impact Zydrunas Ilgauskas has made the past couple of weeks.
Ilgauskas’ primary role with the Cavs is in the front office, scouting and assisting General Manager Chris Grant, but he has put the T-shirt and shorts on more often in recent weeks when his schedule allows and joined both Thompson and Tyler Zeller on the practice court.
Ilgauskas has taught Thompson how to use his body effectively and how to get his shot up quicker. But perhaps Ilgauskas’ best role is simply as a defender. After both Mosley and Ilgauskas discuss moves and strategies with both Zeller and Thompson, then they can implement them against Ilgauskas’ 7-foot-3 frame in practice.
Thompson appears to be getting his shot blocked less since Ilgauskas began showing up more often on the practice court.
“It’s a little different when you have somebody 7-3 with his wing span guarding you,” Scott said. “You have to learn how to get it up quickly and how to maneuver around a guy like that. Just in that instance, it’s really helped both of those guys.”
Luke Walton is expected to rejoin the Cavs in Denver. He has been away from the team all week dealing with a personal issue. … Varejao had successful surgery Thursday to repair the split in his quadriceps muscle. He is expected to miss six to eight weeks. … Daniel Gibson (concussion) and C.J. Miles (low back strain) are probable for tonight’s game against the Nuggets. Assuming Miles can play, Scott said he will start at shooting guard and Dion Waiters will return to the bench.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.