After a loss at home to Philadelphia on February 6, DeMar DeRozan was asked about his preference on Chicago’s trade deadline approach.
“We’re missing Lonzo Ball, one of the top point guards in the league. Alex Caruso, one of the best defenders in this league. Patrick Williams, one of the young starts in this league…we don’t need to worry or stress about having nobody else,” DeRozan responded.
As it turned out, executive vice president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas must have felt similarly, as the deadline of February 10 came and went without a move from the Bulls.
Although there were no blockbuster trades for Chicago, the Bulls swooped in on Tristan Thompson after he was bought out by Indiana, signing him on February 19 for the remainder of this season. He comes with an impressive resume, including five seasons with playoff appearances and an NBA title with Cleveland in 2016.
When asked about Thompson after the signing, head coach Billy Donovan said, “certainly the size and the physicality and the presence of him in that second unit is gonna really help. He has been a really good rim protector, he’s been a really, really good rebounder, he’s been a really good pick-and-roll defender, he’s been a good screener and roller.”
Chicago has used Tony Bradley in the backup center role for most of the season, with sprinkles of Tyler Cook and Patrick Williams mixed in. Each brought different skillsets to the table, but Thompson should provide a clear upgrade over all three of those options. Listed at 6’9” and 254 pounds, he has never been afraid to throw his weight around and has long been an excellent rebounder in the league, particularly on the offensive end. As recently as the 2019-2020 campaign, Thompson finished third in the NBA with 4.0 offensive rebounds per game, just behind Andre Drummond and Clint Capela.
In his first game with the Bulls against Atlanta on Thursday, Thompson snared a pair of offensive rebounds in just 13 minutes. In the clip below, Trae Young bounces off him before Thompson bullies Onyeka Okongwu under the basket in grabbing DeRozan’s missed jumper, eventually drawing an Okongwu foul and earning a pair of free throws. In contests as tight as Thursday’s meeting with the Hawks, of which the Bulls should expect plenty come playoff time, extra possessions can mean the difference between winning or losing.
As Donovan noted, Thompson can also still get the job done as a screen-and-roll partner as well. Although he is not as quick or explosive as he was earlier in his career, he never relied much on those attributes anyways. He is savvy around the rim, taking his time to carve out space and finish with either hand. And, as he showed Thursday, he can still finish above the basket when he gets enough of a runway.
Defensively, Thompson is not the fleetest of foot but relies on his experience and length (7’1” wingspan) to compensate. He has never been much of a shot blocker, averaging just 0.9 swats per 36 minutes in his career, but is still showing decent ability to deter attempts at the rim. Last year, players shot 7.7% worse than average against him on attempts closer than six feet, according to NBA.com.
Some of Thompson’s biggest contributions, at least according to him, may be the little plays that are not reflected in a box score.
“Part of my niche and what’s helped me be part of some really good teams, and some great teams, is my energy… It’s something the team can rely on night in, night out…whether it’s a dunk, or a big offensive rebound, or they call a loose ball foul, or a blocked shot — whatever it may be — whatever can get our team going and get us riled up to go on a run, that’s what I’m about. And I’m all about winning.”
Despite only participating in one practice with Chicago before Thursday’s game, Thompson clearly has Donovan’s trust already, playing 13 minutes in the win against the Hawks, and another 16 against Memphis on Saturday. Bulls’ fans can expect Thompson’s role to continue to increase. He will certainly be on the floor for some crucial minutes in the postseason and, as he has done before, could end up swinging a series in his team’s direction.
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