TORONTO - Every time he watches Tristan Thompson defend the post by refusing to yield space, Antawn Jamison sees improvement.
Each time Thompson is able to knock down a mid-range jumper, Jamison begins to see the fruits of Thompson’s efforts.
In time, Thompson will be a finished NBA product, but in Jamison’s world he’s unlikely to witness it as a teammate, in part because Cleveland is committed to building with its youthful assets and also because Jamison is at the stage of an underrated career where he wants to win.
As the Cavs rolled into Hogtown on Friday night, Cleveland was in the throes of a nine-game losing streak, losers of 10 of its past 11, minus its star rookie point guard in Kyrie Irving, but brimming nonetheless with the prospects of watching Thompson evolve.
The Brampton banger has been starting at centre on a learning curve that is just starting to scratch the surface of what awaits.
“From Day 1 of training camp until now he’s been working on the weaknesses that he has, whether it’s free throw shooting or finishing around the rim,’’ began the veteran Jamison, whose somewhat itinerant career began as a Raptor way back in 1998 when North Carolina teammate Vince Carter headed to Toronto in a draft-day deal.
“He’s worked dramatically on everything, including his jump shots. He’s all you can ask for in a young guy who’s learning on the fly, trying to understand the game. He works hard and he listens. What he has is the formula to be a great basketball player.
“What he’s doing now is beginning to understand what it takes to be a professional.”
There have been plenty of lumps along the way, plenty of losses and moments of underwhelming play, but Thompson, the surprising fourth-overall pick in last June’s draft, has persevered and developed.
More time is being spent in the video room, extra time on the court prior to every tipoff as Thompson routinely shows up at the area 2½ hours before the opening jump and basically all the little things only a seasoned veteran such as Jamison appreciates in watching a rookie evolve.
“He’s constantly picking my brain,” added Jamison, who is eligible for free agency this summer. “He comes in and lifts every day, he’ll get his shots in. I can’t wait to see what type of player he’s going to be in the future because he’s going to be a household name.”
Thompson has gone toe to toe with the likes of Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan — the Big Fundamental whom Thompson worked out with last off-season in Texas — three of the NBA’s biggest frontcourt names and three of the game’s more accomplished players.
“It’s never been a question of being star struck,” Thompson said. “The way I view it, it’s more of a challenge, more exciting to go up against Tim, K.G. and Dwight and see where I stack up against them.”
While Howard is in the prime of his career, players such as Duncan and Garnett are in their twilights, their best days clearly behind, but each capable of playing at a high level.
In contrast, Thompson, who got some rare home cooking — a healthy helping of chicken, rice and peas — has so much to look forward and so determined to hone his game that his trademark work ethic will never be compromised.
This summer, Thompson plans to spend a lot of his time in Cleveland working with club officials, a luxury that was denied Thompson during the lockout.
The media has opined that Thompson needs to work on his offence, an opinion he shares.
“I look in the mirror and I see the same thing,’’ he said. “I need to get better at making the 15-foot jump shot, post moves and just develop an offensive package.”
The way Jamison sees it, as long as Thompson refuses to take any short cuts, the future is limitless.
“He’s been mentally tough,’’ Jamison said. “At the beginning of the season, he was figuring out his role, his minutes were up and down and it was tough.
“What I told him was to control what you can control, stuff like effort and playing hard.
“He’s taken it to heart and it’s been a joy working with him and seeing him improve.”
KYRIE’S NO. 1: THOMPSON
From his vantage point, no rookie has meant more to his team that Kyrie Irving.
Admittedly biased, Tristan Thompson doesn’t just view Irving as the NBA’s top rookie, but also as one of the game’s better point guards.
As Thompson made his second and final visit to Toronto on Friday night as a rookie, Irving remained back in Cleveland nursing a shoulder injury that kept him from travelling with the Cavs.
The first-overall pick who had a handful of games at Duke, Irving has turned heads, playing with the poise and fearlessness of a veteran.
“I know his capabilities and I know how talented he is,” Thompson said of Irving. “He’s one of the premier point guards in this league. In crunch time, he makes shots.”
Had Ricky Rubio stayed healthy, the race for this year’s rookie honour would have been close.
When Rubio’s campaign in Minnesota was cut short by a season-ending knee injury, it became Irving’s award to lose.
With so much invested in Irving and Thompson, the Cavs are rebuilding, a plan that will add another young piece at this year’s June draft.
Thompson realizes he and Irving are key components to Cleveland’s revival in the post-LeBron James era.
“They brought us here to build chemistry,’’ said Thompson, who plans to spend a lot of his off-season plans with Irving.