cavaliers nation

Why Tristan Thompson’s Injury Has Been a Blessing in Disguise

George Hill, Larry Nance Jr. and LeBron James

One of the few remaining players from the 2016 championship team, Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson, has been a valuable team member over the past several years.

Unfortunately, according to a report from Jason Lloyd of The Athletic, he will miss at least two weeks due to an ankle injury he sustained during the Cavs game versus the Denver Nuggets on Saturday. With the team already shorthanded in the frontcourt with the Kevin Love injury, losing Thompson is bad news for the Cavs.

Or is it?

No one in his or her right mind wants any player to be injured, especially for an extended period. But Thompson’s injury may be a blessing in disguise for the Wine and Gold as it gave Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue the excuse he needs to put Larry Nance Jr. in the starting lineup and possibly keep him there for the rest of the season.

Fans had been clamoring for Nance to replace Thompson as the starter for a while and now we get to see their wish come true for at least the next two weeks.

In his first game as a starter for the Cavs, Nance had career-highs of 22 points and 15 rebounds in just 32 minutes of playing time against the Detroit Pistons. He faced off against one of the best big men in the league in Andre Drummond and won the personal matchup with the All-Star center.

Nance led the team to a 112-90 rout, serving notice to everyone, including his coach, that he deserves to play more minutes. The 6-foot-9 forward/center kept defenses honest by nailing midrange jumpers, something that he rarely displayed during his time with the Lakers. This opened up the lane for the Cavs’ penetrators to score or find him for alley-oop dunks and putbacks.

Lue has been loyal to Thompson to a fault, giving the big man plenty of minutes over the recently acquired Nance, who has been playing superbly since he came over to the Cavs. But statistics have shown that it is more prudent for the Cavs to start Nance and allow him to play more minutes than his frontcourt mate.

Bleacher Report’s Greg Swartz explained how invaluable Nance is to the Cavs and how terribly Thompson has been playing this season.

“Larry Nance Jr. is now 5th [among all forwards] on ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus, slightly behind Draymond Green and Anthony Davis and ahead of Al Horford, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Paul Millsap,” wrote Swartz. “Tristan Thompson is ranked 76th among centers behind Dirk Nowitzki, Greg Monroe and Jahlil Okafor.”

Chris Barnewall of CBS Sports was also among those to point out how well Nance has been playing thus far.

“Through nine games, the Cavs have a net rating of 17.5 with Nance on the floor,” Barnewall said. “That’s spectacular and just speaks volumes to how well he is playing in this new situation.”

As for Thompson, Barnewall says that he’s been a liability whenever he plays.

“This season has been one of Thompson’s worst,” he added. “He’s been unable to hold up the defense and the Cavs are giving up 112.7 points every 100 possession when he’s on the floor.”

Much of Thompson’s issues may be due to the calf injury he had suffered earlier this season that sidelined him for more than a month. The injury may have still been bothering him even after he had returned to the lineup.

But what if it wasn’t? What if Thompson was really having the worst season of his career and there was no excuse for it?

Consider these statistics:

The Cavaliers are 19-3 without Thompson in the lineup, a winning percentage of 86.3 percent that would place them atop the NBA standings. Among those 19 wins was a 13-game winning streak, the best stretch the team has had all season.

With Thompson in the lineup (whether coming off the bench or starting), the Cavs are 19-23 with a winning percentage of only 45.2 percent. That would place them 10th in the Eastern Conference and out of this year’s playoffs.

It’s good that Lue recognizes Thompson’s contributions to the Cavaliers’ championship run over the past three seasons when he was a beast on defense. He was the main reason why the Cavs’ pick-and-roll defense was so effective because Thompson would cover smaller players and get back in the paint to either rebound the ball outright or grab the loose ball.

But his reputation from years past shouldn’t be an an excuse for why he continues to play heavy minutes despite Nance showing himself to be more capable of playing Thompson’s position.

While it’s in everyone’s best interests that Thompson regains his old form, losing him for a couple of weeks gives the coaching staff an invaluable opportunity to evaluate how much playing time he deserves once he returns.

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