July 31, 2014

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Cavs rookie Tristan Thompson healthy again, making strides

CLEVELAND — Tristan’s got his groove back.

After a sprained ankle forced him to be inactive seven times in a 10-game stretch in late January and early February, Cavaliers rookie Tristan Thompson is healthy again and making an impact.

The 6-foot-9, 227-pounder had the first double-double of his career Sunday, scoring 15 points and pulling down 12 rebounds as the Cavs beat Sacramento 93-92.

That followed a 12-point, six-rebound effort Friday against Miami, one of the few bright spots in a 111-87 loss to the Heat.

“Whenever you go down, especially as a rookie, you just have to get your groove back,” the 20-year-old said.

Still coming off the bench, Thomson will attempt to make it three good games in a row tonight when the Cavs (12-17) host the Detroit Pistons (11-22) at Quicken Loans Arena.

“Whenever Coach (Byron Scott) calls my number, I’m out there working hard,” he said. “I’m not worried about starting.”

The primary concerns right now for Thompson, the No. 4 pick in the draft, are rebounding, playing defense and running the floor. A raw offensive player, he’ll get his points if he does those things.

That’s what happened against the Kings, as Thompson grabbed a career-high seven offensive rebounds and turned many of them into buckets.
“I thought he did a lot of good things for us, especially in the rebounding department,” Scott said. “He’s just got to continue to be aggressive on that end of the floor.”

Much like he did with J.J. Hickson last season, Scott is drilling into Thompson’s head the importance of staying focused, playing hard and taking care of the little things.

He’s also trying to teach the Texas product that just because he gets a rebound, he doesn’t have to shoot the ball, particularly when he’s in a position to get stripped or have his shot blocked.

In many ways, it’s the “Be Like Andy” campaign, as Scott wants Thompson to simulate injured teammate Anderson Varejao’s knack for chasing down rebounds, then quickly tossing the ball back outside.

“I’ve tried to tell him to be a little more like Andy,” Scott said. “Andy gets a ton of (offensive rebounds), but most of the time he brings them right back out.”

It’s taken awhile, but Thompson appears to be getting the message, both when it comes to pursuing offensive rebounds and not shooting every time he gets one.

“(It’s) just having the desire to get the ball,” he said. “You just try to outwork your guy and give your team second-chance opportunities. In a tough game like (Sunday), second-chance points can decide the game.”

So, too, can giving someone else the chance to score those points after getting the rebound.

“That’s a basketball play,” Thompson said. “You have to know the game. Just because you get an offensive rebound doesn’t mean you go up (for a shot). If I can dunk it, I’m going to go up with it. If not, I’ll kick it out.”

Because Thompson is quick, long-armed and a great jumper, Scott is also trying to teach the youngster to turn and face his defender and quickly attack the rim, rather than try to slowly back down bigger, stronger players in the low post.

“I love it when he catches and turns and goes quick, uses his speed,” Scott said. “It’s a work in progress. He’s a very good student and tries to apply what you give him. I think he’ll be fine.”

With Varejao out with a fractured wrist, Thompson has averaged 28 minutes over the last two games and responded with 13.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. He’s seeing more and more time at center and has even started to make his free throws, going 7-for-11 over the last two games.

That area remains a large work in progress, however, as Thompson is shooting .462 at the line (30-for-65) for the season. After making 4-of-5 vs. Miami, he was 3-for-6 against the Kings, but said he had several “good misses.”

When Scott was asked what a good miss was for Thompson, he laughed and said hitting the back of the rim instead of barely grazing the front, because the ball at least has a chance of going in.

In actuality, it’s just another way to help the affable, eager-to-please youngster stay in the groove.

“We try to tell him there are good misses, which I truly don’t believe,” Scott said between chuckles. “But don’t tell him I said that.”

Tonight

  • Who: Cleveland vs. Detroit
  • Time: 7 o’clock
  • Where: The Q
  • TV/radio: FS Ohio; WTAM 1100-AM

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.