INDEPENDENCE: When the Cavaliers were poring over potential draft candidates two years ago, they kept circling back to Tristan Thompson because of his work ethic.
No one in the front office was convinced Thompson would develop into a superstar, but most everyone agreed he wasn’t going to fail and flop out of the league in five years. His work ethic wouldn’t allow it.
Whether or not Thompson was the right choice with the fourth pick still isn’t known and won’t be for another few years — Toronto Raptors rookie Jonas Valanciunas, drafted right after Thompson, debuts this season. But the other side of it, the side where the Cavs were convinced Thompson wouldn’t fail, was on full display during the summer.
Coach Byron Scott called Thompson the hardest worker during the offseason, and as a result he now is the early favorite to open the season as the starting power forward. The competition obviously isn’t over, it’s actually just starting. A slimmed down Samardo Samuels and newcomer Jon Leuer remain in the mix to start, Scott said Wednesday, but the clubhouse leader is the hardest working guy in the room.
“As of right now, I would have to give him the edge” to start, Scott said. “He worked his butt off and you’ve got to give him credit for that. As a young guy, you hope it manifests itself on the basketball court because then it gives him added confidence knowing that everything he worked on this summer was well worth it.”
Despite his incredible athleticism, Thompson has plenty of flaws. He shot 55 percent from the free-throw line as a rookie, a drastic improvement over his college numbers, but still well below average by NBA standards. His left-handed, side-spinning jumper made any shot that wasn’t a dunk a bit of an adventure.
It’s why he added about 15 pounds of muscle and spent hours developing a midrange game. If Thompson can consistently knock down shots from 12 to 15 feet, his range and ability to get to the basket would cause nightmare matchup problems for opponents.
It’s part of the reason why Scott made it clear during the spring exit interviews that he was expecting Thompson to average a double-double this year.
It’s a lofty expectation and difficult to accomplish. Anderson Varejao averaged a double-double last season, but he played in just 25 games. Still, he was the first Cavs player to accomplish it since Carlos Boozer averaged 15.5 points and 11.4 rebounds during the 2003-04 season.
Only nine players, including Varejao, averaged double-doubles in the NBA last season.
Thompson started 25 games, primarily at center, averaging 8.2 points and 6.5 rebounds as a rookie. The return of a healthy Varejao and Antawn Jamison’s departure now allows Thompson to return to his more natural position.
He believes grabbing 10 rebounds a night will be more difficult than the offensive side, which was why he bulked up a bit over the summer.
“Playing with Kyrie [Irving], offensively that’s not a question,” Thompson said. “The defensive rebounds is what I have to work on.”
Still, Thompson spent plenty of hours at Cleveland Clinic Courts the past few weeks working on hook shots and face-up jumpers.
“Not having Antawn, guys gotta step up and make shots,” Thompson said. “That’s what I was working on this summer. … If Kobe is working on his game, I for sure need to be working on my game.”
Stop the flop
The NBA is cracking down on flopping this season, warning first-time offenders before the fines begin. A second violation results in a $5,000 fine and the fines grow increasingly stiffer. A fifth violation comes with a $30,000 fine and players can be suspended if it happens a sixth time.
The league will use game films to review potential flop calls.
“Flops have no place in our game,” Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Stu Jackson said in a statement. “They either fool referees into calling undeserved fouls or fool fans into thinking the referees missed a foul call.”
The Cavs’ most famous flopper is Anderson Varejao, but Varejao insisted earlier this week he doesn’t flop anymore.
“I used to flop a little bit,” he joked.
Scott believes only a handful of players around the league were the worst flopping violators.
“I don’t know how much it’s going to affect the game because I don’t know if really a whole lot of people were doing it,” he said. “It’s probably a handful of guys that did it on a consistent basis. We’ll see how it goes. It’s just a few guys I think have to change the way they’re taking charges.”
Omri Casspi posted a picture on his Twitter account Tuesday night of nine Cavs players — nearly half of the 20-man roster — soaking in the cold tub following the first day of training camp, dubbed “Camp Scott” for its intensity.
“It’s a good thing it’s a big tub back there,” joked Luke Walton, who was one of the nine pictured. “I don’t remember many training camps with that many people in the ice bath after Day One. I woke up thinking about ice baths this morning.”
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.