52. Tristan Thompson, PF, Cavaliers
LeBron James said this summer that he’s interested in potentially becoming an NBA owner one day, pointing to his interest in player evaluation. On that note, hats off to James and his agency for seeing and cultivating Tristan Thompson, a critical piece in Cleveland’s back-to-back runs to the Finals. The 25-year-old Thompson (7.8 PPG, 9 RPG) was easy to dismiss as he stacked up meaningless double-doubles on poor teams early in his career. James’s 2014 return to Cleveland coincided with some blossoming and refining from Thompson, who took a step back as a scorer to focus on rebounding and defense. The results have been extraordinary: Thompson has put his special nose for offensive rebounding to full use giving James extra possessions while also emerging as an undersized force with enough versatility and quickness to handle defensive assignments on the perimeter. After filling in admirably for the injured Kevin Love in the 2015 playoffs, Thompson supplanted Timofey Mozgov as Cleveland’s starter last season. With a James/Love/Thompson frontline in place alongside starting guards Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith, the Cavaliers truly hit their pace, posting a 119 offensive rating against a 106 defensive rating during the regular season, per NBAWowy.com. While there’s no doubt that Thompson (and his pocketbook) owes much to James’s game and influence, he’s held up his end of the bargain by becoming an indispensable two-way contributor on a championship team. (Last year: No. 70)
+ He led the NBA in offensive rebounds per game during the 2015 and 2016 playoffs
+ NBA-best offensive rating (130) in '16 ranks top 10 all-time (per Basketball-Reference.com)
– Less than 4% of his field goal attempts last season came from outside 10 ft.
– His undersized nature can be exposed around the basket