Tristan Thompson Makes a Right Turn

Tristan ThompsonTired of his mediocre shooting, Cavs forward Tristan Thompson has left his left behind, writes Lee Jenkins in this week’s SI. Thompson, a 6’ 9” 227-pound power forward, nearly averaged a double double last season but has made just 32.9% of his jump shots in his two years in the NBA.

Jenkins notes that Larry Bird would famously add one element to his game each summer, and subsequent generations have followed suit. To improve his game, Thompson decided to learn how to shoot this summer with his right hand rather than the left hand he shot with since he starting playing hoops at age 12 growing up in suburban Toronto. Exaggerating a bit, Thompson tells Jenkins that “I became a whole new person.” (PAGE 58)

So how did Thompson decide to make the change? Last November, Cavs reserve guard Jeremy Pargo challenged Thompson to a shooting contest with their off hands. After Thompson easily won, Pargo told him, “You should do this all the time. You look better. You look more natural. You’ll always be a solid player, but you could be an All-Star.” (PAGE 58) A few months later Thompson asked ball boys to videotape him launching 100 shots with each hand, and they discovered he made more with his right. “A lot of people stick with what they know because they’re insecure about putting something new out there and getting embarrassed,” Thompson says. “I don’t want to sit here in 12 years and think, What if I made that change? Could I have been one of the best power forwards in the league? Could our team have taken a leap?” (PAGE 58)

When Thompson approached Cleveland GM Chris Grant late last season about his idea to switch hands, Grant asked him to toss a ball across the practice court with his right hand. “It was like John Elway,” Grant recalls. (PAGE 58) Jenkins writes that Thompson has always thrown with his right hand, but gripped pens and swung golf clubs lefthanded. He just assumed shooting was like writing when he first played basketball at age 12.

He started with the basics and learned “how to hold the ball, tuck the elbow, make the 90-degree angle with my arm, follow through with my wrist.” (PAGE 57) But switching a shooting hand requires revamped footwork, learning to jump, pivot and reverse pivot with a new foot too. That’s why the Cavs hired shooting coach Dave Love to assist Thompson with his transition. Thompson debuted his new shot playing for the Canadian national team in the FIBA Americas Championship in Veneuela last month. While his footwork still needs work, he made 78.7% of his 47 free throw attempts. (He made 60.8% last season in the NBA)

“I don’t know a lot of people who would do this when they’re in the NBA—I can’t even think of kids who have done it—but Tristan is driven to be the best he can, and he wasn’t going to do that lefthanded,” says Jay Triano, coach of the Canadian national team and a Blazers assistant. “There were glitches in his shot. You could afford to foul him and know he’d only make one of two. Now he’s a real threat. You can’t hit him. He will make the points count. His free throws look perfect.” (PAGE 60)


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