Why Tristan Thompson Has Legitimate Shot to Win Most Improved Player in 2013-14

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterOctober 9, 2013

Oct 8, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Milwaukee Bucks shooting guard Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) defends Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Tristan Thompson (13) in the second quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland CavaliersTristan Thompson has given us reason to believe that year No. 3 could be his big breakout. A player's third season is typically when he starts putting it all together, and Thompson showed slow but steady signs of growth as a sophomore.  

For Thompson to become a better offensive player, he'll need to become a bigger threat to score from more spots, positions and angles on the floor. In an effort to do so, he decided to make a little change—a change that's been well-documented, considering nobody's ever done it before.

Some players change headbands; some switch diets. Tristan Thompson is switching shooting hands. 

And it seems to be working out fairly well for him so far: 

Thompson shot a dreadful 48 percent from the stripe as a freshman at Texas and 55 percent as a rookie. 

If this new shooting hand turns out to be the real deal, it's not only going to give him an extra few free points at the stripe, but it should also make him a more multidimensional offensive threat. 

Expanding Scoring Range

As a rookie, Thompson was simply a finisher—waiting for a guard to lob it up or dump it off. 

In 2011-12, 182 of his 194 made field goals came directly at the rim:

But follow the green. As a sophomore, Thompson expanded his scoring position around the key, even finding some success in the short-to-mid range. He's developed a really soft touch, which he uses to score on the move, over the shoulder or with the one-handed push shot. 

I'm going to operate under the belief that the trend doesn't stop here. With a new handy-dandy righty jumper, Thompson should see his scoring range and chances expand. By the end of year No. 3, I'd expect to see his shot charts filled with even more green in areas where he's failed to capitalize from in the past. 

And that doesn't just mean simply making shots he's missed. I'm talking about taking shots he hasn't taken from spots on the floor he hasn't occupied. 

Generating, Creating Offense 

Thompson became a bigger threat with the ball in his hands last season. No longer just a finisher, he starting showing some ability to create his own shot, though in limited doses.

From year No. 1 to year No. 2, Thompson took more shots and raised his field-goal percentage in the process. He's finding a way to get better looks for himself, which has ultimately increased the quality and frequency of his scoring opportunities. 

For the most part, Thompson has seen his scoring production gradually increase by the month since entering the NBA. The slope is moving in the right direction. Thompson easily had his best month as a pro this past January, when he averaged 15 points and 10.9 boards a game on 52 percent shooting.

Online Graphing

This upcoming year, the bar has been set to January's production. He should be a more dangerous scorer, and based on his summer, Thompson appears on track to improve his free-throw accuracy. 

With a few more points at the line, in the post and around the key, we could be talking about a potential 15-point scorer and double-digit rebounder. And if Thompson does hit his stride this year, it could go a long way in the Eastern Conference standings. 

The good news for Thompson is that he's got two guards in Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters who can attack the rim at will. That should result in four to five free buckets a game off dump passes, lobs and offensive boards. 

But now in his third year, Thompson should have enough confidence and refined skills to generate a few more points on his own. And with the return of Anderson Varejao, as well as the additions of Anthony Bennett and Andrew Bynum, he won't need any extra motivation to produce. 

I wouldn't make Thompson my favorite for Most Improved Player, given the depth Cleveland has up front, but he'll certainly be in the running as long as he continues to grow his offensive services and maintains an excellent rebounding rate. 


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