Tristan Thompson played for the Cavaliers for most of his career, leaving in 2020, but to call him a franchise legend would be absolutely wrong.
Tristan Thompson never lived up to his potential. That’s the sad truth about Thompson’s career in the NBA that no one ever talks about. Whether it’s with Cleveland or Boston, the former Cavaliers big-man was simply just fine for the team. More akin to the legacy of Matthew Dellavedova than Brad Daugherty.
You might be wondering why Thompson is being so harshly graded, and honestly, it should be pretty obvious. He was taken in the same draft class as Kyrie Irving, just two picks apart. Irving went No. 1 overall, Thompson went No. 4 overall.
To have two top-four picks is really impressive. To waste one on a top-four pick who only started 70% of his games is a sign that maybe you got the wrong guy. Let’s first just look at his stats. In his career, he averaged 9.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, 0.5 steals. Despite playing time at power forward, he never developed a reliable three-point shot and never was an offensive presence or a defensive one.
If the Cavs never won an NBA title with him on the court, honestly, it’s hard to imagine him being seen as fondly as Anderson Varejao. For the number four overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, those are borderline bust numbers. That doesn’t even factor in how injury-prone he’s been, which affects availability and reliability.
What makes all of this so much worse is who the Cavs could’ve had.
The Morris twins were in this draft, so were Bojan Bogdanovic, Jonas Valanciunas, and Tobias Harris. All better players than Thompson. Do you know who else was in this draft? Five All-Stars. Nikola Vucevic, a better big than Thompson, Kemba Walker (could’ve easily played Kyrie at the two), Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, and Jimmy Butler.
It’s not like the Cavs were a team that didn’t have holes everywhere in 2011. The team actually thought Thompson was the guy.
He wasn’t, and you can’t judge a player off of potential, only off of execution. The best Thompson’s career will ever reflect of him, is the guy that filled a spot on the floor on teams with significantly better players. He’s the Samaki Walker of the 2016 Cavaliers title win.
If Varejao and Dellavedova aren’t franchise legends then neither is Thompson. After all, the only thing that separates them was where they were drafted (if at all).