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Ball Don't Lie

In a possible NBA first, Tristan Thompson has decided to switch shooting hands

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Thompson debuted his right-handed hook at an Indians game in July (Getty Images)

Young men tend to modify their political ideology as they grow older, switching left-leaning politics to right for various reasons. Basketball players, regardless of political affiliation, also tend to improve their shooting acumen with their off hand as the years pile up, just another weapon in the arsenal to go to as the legs leave you.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson is not an old man, as he enters his third NBA season. The burly forward can bang and jump with the best of them, but his offensive game has so far disappointed those that wanted more from the prospect Cleveland took fourth overall in the 2011 NBA draft. Thompson can defend and rebound, but his pump-faking, hesitating work around the rim often leaves him in a bind.

This is why the left-handed Thompson has decided to start shooting with his other hand.

(What?)

From Michael Grange at Sportsnet:

The burgeoning Canadian NBA star, a left-handed shooter for his entire basketball career, has decided to use his right hand to shoot jump shots and free throws.

The unusual – perhaps historic – switch has been months in the planning but had its competitive debut this past weekend in a pair of Canadian wins over Jamaica in exhibition play in advance of the 2013 FIBA Americas tournament Aug. 30th – Sept. 11th in Caracas Venezuela.

[…]

“I think it’s the first time ever in NBA history,” Thompson said of the change, and he may be right.

Jerry Colangelo, executive director of USA Basketball has been affiliated with the NBA since the mid-1960s and has seen everything the modern game has to offer, seemingly. Does he know of an NBA player switching his shooting hand mid-career?

“No,” he said flatly when I asked him. “There are a lot of players who work hard so they can finish equally well with both hands, but as far as changing the hands they shoot with? I’ve never heard of that. That’s 1-in-1000 right there.”

Grange and Colangelo are well-versed in the history of this game, but even Colangelo’s “1-in-1000”-take may be selling it short. Players just don’t do this. Someone like Steve Nash may obsessively walk the ball up with his left hand, Larry Bird may commit to shooting for an entire game with his left hand, but these are just larks. Nash just gets bored. Bird probably just wanted to get a rise out of Magic Johnson, two days before his Celtics took on the Lakers.

Thompson is completely shifting his career around, while representing his country in tournament play.

Grange went on to note that the Cavaliers are completely on board with Thompson’s decision, which grew out of his frustration with his inability to shoot with any accuracy from out of the paint. Tristan’s left-handed shots already put him at an advantage in dealing with defenses that were used to working against right-handed players, but his somewhat undersized frame and obvious attempts at trying to nail the closest shot possible allowed longer defenders to load up on his lefty moves. Something had to change, in Thompson’s eyes at least.

This is why the Cavaliers hired a shooting coach to work with Tristan just days after his second season ended in April, and it’s why this move to his off-hand has been a relatively long time coming. It’s true that he’ll lose that unique ability to go the other way, but what’s the point when all your lefty moves are telegraphed, and you can’t hit a lick from the perimeter?

The work has paid off, at least in Team Canada’s 77-72 win over Jamaica on Saturday. Thompson hit all four of his free throws (he’s a career 58 percent shooter) and contributed 16 points and 10 rebounds. A small sample size, and this performance was paired with a 2-9 shooting display in a game against the same team two nights before, but it’s a start. And with the Cavaliers selecting forward Anthony Bennett tops overall in June’s NBA draft, each of Thompson’s minutes are going to be under more and more scrutiny when 2013-14 rolls around. It’s good to get the growing pains out of the way, now.

There really hasn’t been anything like this in recent or even all-time NBA history. It’s just one more reason why the 2013-14 Cleveland Cavaliers are going to be a fascinating team to watch.

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