When Tristan Thompson played his first NBA game in Toronto last January he had only played five games in the NBA. Watching him play, he was clearly a bundle of nerves and it showed up in the box score as he only played 16 minutes and failed to score.
Before that game he was scrambling to arrange tickets for all of the family and friends he had waiting to watch his NBA debut in Toronto and he never seemed to calm down during the game.
This weekend, however, it was a completely different Thompson. He was confident when dealing with the media and his offensive game was much-improved. He showed off a nice floater in the paint a couple of times that was smooth and helped him get some easy buckets.
This year arranging tickets for 40 people and dealing with a sit down interview with TSN before the game couldn’t get him to unravel as he scored 14 points while going an efficient 7-12 from the field.
The only thing that flustered Thompson on Saturday was when he couldn’t find his black shirt when the media was swarming around his locker waiting to talk with him.
This game wasn’t a blip in regards to his production because he has double-doubles in 11 of his last 19 games. For the season, Thompson is averaging close to a double-double with 10.8 points and 9.2 rebounds.
Not bad for a player who was close to getting hit with the "bust" label after a rookie season that saw him fail to live up to the lofty expectations attached to him as a high draft pick.
"I’m just playing," Thompson said. "As a big my job is to rebound so that’s my number one priority. In terms of the offence, or, what not, I’m just going out there and playing. As long as we win and guys are competing, that’s all we can ask for."
While Thompson wasn’t willing to brag or boast about his growth, his head coach, Byron Scott, was eager to brag about Thompson’s development.
"His game is starting to show the dividends from all of the work that he did this summer," Scott raved to the media in Toronto this weekend. "His confidence level is up. He knows what he has to do out there on the court and, more importantly, he knows what he can do. I think the game has definitely slowed down for him. He sees it at a different speed that he did last year."
A big reason why things changed for Thompson this season is because he dedicated last summer to improving and growing as a player. Scott told Thompson that spending time during the summer expanding his game would be a big part of his development, and the youngster heeded the words of his coach and spent time with the Canadian national team, participated in summer league and spent a ton of time in empty gyms working on his game.
"Again, that’s just experience and hard work," Scott continued. "Right now I’m, along with Jamal (Magloire), the happiest guys in the world for him because we know how hard he worked. Coming up here last summer to see him work with the Canadian national team and get on the floor with him a little bit, and now to see a lot of that stuff has come to fruition, is a great sign. I’m just really proud of the kid and I know he is going to continue to work and get better."
Thompson was quick to brush off the idea that his hard work during the summer played a part in his increased production this summer. Instead, he feels it’s just a matter of stepping up with his teammates have gone down with injuries and taking advantage of more touches and opportunities.
"I’m just getting more comfortable with Anderson (Varejao) and Tyler Zeller out," Thompson explain. "Myself and all of the other bigs have had to step up. Nothing has changed, it’s just that there are more opportunities and I’ve got to take advantage of it and make the best of it while he’s out."
Regardless of why Thompson’s stats have jumped this season – extra work in the summer or more opportunities with teammates injured – it’s great to see him make a big leap forward this season.
Hopefully he continues to work hard and his growth this season is only a glimpse of things to come.