CLEVELAND — With LeBron James gone, center Tristan Thompson knew the Cavaliers had no voice.
Not only has Thompson taken over that role in the locker room, but he’s surprised coach Larry Drew by vocally directing his teammates on the court. Following the most disappointing season of his eight-year career, Thompson is backing up his words with consistent performance.
“Tristan is laying it on the line,” Drew said Tuesday. “Every game he’s been out there, he’s being Tristan, banging and rebounding. He’s actually more vocal, which is very surprising. He’s done a phenomenal job despite the start we’ve gotten off to. He’s talking to the guys and he’s encouraging the guys. I really applaud his effort.”
Thompson, 27, admitted that he’s revealing a side he knew he had, even if others didn’t. But he was also quick to acknowledge that he, J.R. Smith and Kevin Love learned much from James, who departed in July.
“I think I’ve always just had it in me, but obviously having 23, LeBron, I learned a lot from him,” Thompson said Tuesday. “I think Swish learned a lot from him and Kev learned a lot from him.
“Obviously with Kev out right now, myself and Swish are the voice of the team, we’re the guys that have the most experience and I know what’s going on on the court. I think if you know what the teacher has on the test, you can go out there and say what’s going on. That’s what I’m doing. I’m just trying to help these young guys and help the guys that are new that might not know what LD wants. If I can do that and help our team win games, so be it.”
Five-time All-Star Love is out for at least another month after left foot surgery and Thompson has done his best to fill the void during the Cavs’ league-worst 2-12 start.
His streak of four consecutive double-doubles, which tied a career best, was snapped in a 119-95 loss Wednesday at Washington, and afterward he blamed himself for the defeat. Thompson told Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com that his early foul trouble disrupted the flow of the game and robbed the Cavs of their toughness and energy. Thompson played 19 minutes, contributing nine points, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals and a blocked shot. His plus/minus of minus-5 was second-best among Cavs players and best among the starters.
In the past eight games, beginning with an Oct. 30 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, Thompson is averaging 12.5 points and 12.4 rebounds. That's a much bigger contribution than last season, when calf and ankle injuries limited him to a career-low 53 games and he averaged a career-worst 5.8 points and 6.6 rebounds, his second-lowest.
Numbers aside, Thompson’s leadership been just as valuable as his performance.
“Him and J.R. [are] doing a really good stepping up as leaders and talking and making sure we stay on our P's and Q's,” Jordan Clarkson said Tuesday. “Talking and calling guys out. Tristan comes with so much offensively and defensively, so [he’s] a good guy to follow, good example. They really doing a good job of helping us.”
Larry Nance Jr., who has started alongside Thompson for the past three games, called Thompson “big-time for us, both on the court and off.”
“Obviously, we know the numbers he’s putting up on the court,” Nance said Tuesday. “He’s been outstanding and he’s been the leader for us there, but more so off the court and in the locker room. Pretty much everybody needed a voice, needed a force and he’s taken part of that role. He’s been the leader we’re looking for.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.