Cavs' Thompson taking 'personal challenge' on D

Spencer Davies

Last season, before the Cleveland Cavaliers made their historic championship run, many spectators were skeptical because the team didn't have an "enforcer."

Tristan Thompson is taking it upon himself to end that narrative.

"One area that people say that we could be better in is definitely protecting the rim," Thompson said at practice Tuesday. "It’s not just myself. I think Kevin [Love]'s been blocking shots, Channing [Frye]. The bigs across the board have been changing shots around the rim.

"Even though I might not get the block—the rule of verticality or just being there contesting—it creates the opportunity for us to go down on the next end.”

It's early--only 12 games in the year to be exact--but the fifth-year big man has made noticeable strides, as he's averaging a career-best 1.7 blocks per game. In Cleveland's last game, he swatted away four against the Pistons.

Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue says that he and his staff have asked him to do this for the past two seasons, but now, Thompson is answering the call.

"I think this year he’s doing a great job of being help-conscious and help-oriented, using 2.9 a lane to help and protect," Lue said. "[He's] been doing a great job blocking shots and protecting the paint for us this year. We always talked about it with Tristan, and this year he’s just came out and done it.”

"It’s the role of a big man," Thompson said. "Our job at the end of the day, if you want to get back to the basics, is defending, setting screens, rebounding and blocking shots. If you can kind of cover those bases, you’re doing your job.”

Aside from being a shot-alterer, Thompson takes a lot of pride in his versatility, mainly locking up guards.

"How many guards can score on me when I switch out on them?" he said. "I don’t have a number, but you guys see it. Not too many score.”

So who's to thank for preparing him to take on the NBA's best? His teammates in practice.

"I think it’s just taking the personal challenge," Thompson said. I think being able to play against Kyrie [Irving] and LeBron [James] and guarding JR [Smith] when he’s taking his difficult shots—I think just what those guys bring to the table and in practice switching out on them has definitely helped me a lot."

Tristan Thompson says #NBA All-Defensive First Team is on his mind; there's an element voters should consider that gets overlooked.

— Spencer Davies (@SpinDavies) November 22, 2016

Thompson offered an example of each group after in terms of their skill sets. For example, taking on Irving helps him get ready for isolation battles with the likes of players such as Russell Westbrook, Kyle Lowry or Stephen Curry.

LeBron's power, strength and athleticism allows Thompson to hone in on superstars like Paul George and Kevin Durant.

And Smith? Well, that just has Thompson looking out for those difficult shot takers such as Jamal Crawford and DeMar DeRozan.

According to the Thompson, the Cavs' guards have been also helping his cause by baiting them into driving to the hole. It tricks the opposition into thinking there's no weak-side help defense, but when they get to the rim that's not the case.

However, when somebody does finally sneak by him, he's not too happy about it.

"Does it get me mad? Yeah, of course," Thompson said. "I take a real personal challenge in terms of guarding guys, especially guards, just because everyone thinks bigs cannot move their feet well.

"I try to stand up for the bigs across the world and take that challenge. Whenever you get a stop on a guard, especially a Hall-of-Fame or All-Star guard, you feel good about yourself.”

Jokingly, or not, Thompson thinks it should be easier to access video to see when he and other big men switch onto their smaller counterparts.

What isn't something to laugh about, however, is his desire to make the NBA All-Defensive First Team.

"I hope they start giving some credit to guys that can guard guards," Thompson said. "I know that’s not a stat, but that should definitely count. The bigs switch on a guard—a lot of guys in our league do it and a great job. DeAndre [Jordan]’s good at it, Anthony [Davis] is good, and myself, obviously.

"Hopefully [I] can get some credit and don’t forget about me when it’s time to put that name on the ballot.”

Whether or not Thompson's aspiration comes to fruition, the Cavs and coach Lue are thrilled with his progress already this season, and it'll only get better from here.

"Tristan has really found his way defensively," Lue said. "We know he’s a great on-ball defender, great pick-and-roll defender and a great post defender, but now he’s helping on the weak side, getting blocked shots and protecting the basket. He’s been great for us."