Players in a contract year historically have always put their best foot forward in hopes of securing another big payday. That may be the case for Tristan Thompson who is in the final year of his five-year $82 million dollar contract.
The 28-year-old is off to an incredible start for the Cleveland Cavaliers averaging 16.9 points, 11.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists shooting 53.% from the field. If he were to finish the year at or around those number they would be well above his career-best averages.
While it's still early in the season it is worth asking the questions: Can Tristan Thompson sustain this level of play?
Offensively, Thompson has always feasted off garbage buckets - and quite frankly he's done it well. He's averaged double digits in three of his eight previous seasons with the Cavs. This year, at 16.9 points per game he's been able to be a reliable scorer for Cleveland behind Kevin Love and Collin Sexton.
Rookie head coach John Beilein was confident pre-season about finding ways to win with a "non-shooting" big.
"Obviously, the ideal thing is to have a post guy that can shoot and rebound and play in the post," Beilein said in early October. "I don't know how often we've had that.
"Usually, you have one or the other and you just adapt."
"When you have a guy like Tristan Thompson, who is still working on his shooting, you have one thing. When you have one of our shooters - you've got John Henson, you've got Kevin (Love) - you play off that. It's a different element."
For all the limitations Thompson has as a modern-day big, he has been pretty effective scoring within nine feet of the bucket. In the two previous seasons, he shot a combined 56.6% from nine feet and in. This season he's shooting 62% from nine feet and closer.
The field goal percentage in close is impressive, but what's more impressive is how he's getting those looks. Thompson is isolating - yes you read that correctly, he's isolating. According to NBA Stats, Thompson is averaging nearly two iso plays per game, which is good for second on the team.
Plays like this one against the Bulls was something you'd never see Thompson execute - at least on purpose. The Cavs clear one side of the court to allow Thompson to go to work on Wendell Carter Jr. for two.
While isolation plays are a nice addition to Thompson's game those aren't the types of plays that will allow him to keep his scoring average at a career-high level all season. The pick and roll however will. Thompson is averaging 5.0 possessions as a roll man according to NBA play type stats. That's amongst the top ten in the entire league. It's the most he's been used in that situation when he averaged 2.0 possession in 2016-17 playing alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
LeBron and Kyrie have since moved on but with rookie Darius Garland and Collin Sexton in the backcourt, Thompson still has ball-handler to screen for.
Beilein has also encouraged Thompson to run screen and roll action with Kevin Love of all people. In fact, Love has assisted Thompson on more made field goals than any other Cavalier to start the year.
This play here shows that a Love-Thompson two-man game can cause nightmares for opposing defences all season long.
Thompson declined an invitation to play for Team Canada at the FIBA Basketball World Cup this past summer citing his wanting to work on his game. Early returns indicate that Thompson has indeed added some layers to what was an almost pedestrian offensive repertoire to begin with.
In turn, the Cavs are benefiting in the final year of his deal and ultimately Team Canada may benefit this summer if Thompson once again represents the country at one of four Olympic Qualifier Tournaments in June.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.