Is Tristan Thompson the key to the Sacramento Kings’ success?

Sep 27, 2021; Sacramento Kings, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings center Tristan Thompson (13) during media day. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
© Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Simply put, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Tristan Thompson’s presence on the Kings as much as I have thus far. It hasn’t even been a week since media day, where Thompson stood out to Kings fans. Like much of the fanbase, I rolled my eyes at the prospect of adding another big to an already crowded frontcourt in Sacramento. However, his projected role and early impact indicate that Tristan Thompson could factor into the Kings’ success this season.

What Thompson brings to the Kings

Feb 16, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics forward Tristan Thompson (13) dunks against Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (behind Thompson) during the first quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Thompson is a physical 6’9″ Forward/Center who adds a much-needed toughness and charisma to Sacramento. The team was abysmal on the defensive end last year. While Thompson may not be a top-of-the-line defender, he can hold his own while also being a solid rebounder. He has Championship experience alongside LeBron James and appears to be ready to contribute to this team any way he can.

Young guns De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton drew attention with their noticeable bulk-ups over the offseason. However, it was Tristan Thompson that stole the show on NBA Media Day on Monday. Before he even had his chance to speak to the media, he intervened and answered a question for Buddy Hield. Hield was asked about how he was nearly traded to the Los Angeles Lakers before Thompson stepped in.

“What kind of question is that?! Day one of training camp Buddy Hield is wearing a Sacramento Kings jersey. That’s where his mind and focus is at. He’s going to have a stellar year. I’m going to set him some great wide pin downs and get him open. So, you know, that’s his mindset right now. What’s in the past is in the past, you cannot control that. When you look in the rear-view, that’s when you crash.”

Tristan Thompson

This one interaction instantly had me intrigued with Thompson’s addition to the team. The team looks like it’s having a lot of fun together, and it seems like that can be attributed in a big way to Thompson’s connection with his teammates. Tristan Thompson could be critical to the Kings’ success this year. Harrison Barnes spoke about how Tristan has impacted the team since joining them this offseason.

“Shoutout to Tristan for always keeping everything light around here and bringing a lot of energy. I think guys really feed off that and maybe that’s what we’re about this year, just continuing to look inward for motivation, look inward for positivity and build each other up.”

Harrison Barnes

Iman Shumpert and the tragedy of ‘The Scores’

Jan 25, 2019; Memphis, TN, USA; Sacramento Kings guard De'Aaron Fox (5) and forward Justin Jackson (25) and guard Iman Shumpert (9) during the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Sacramento Kings defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 99-96.Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Back in February of the 2018-19 NBA season, the Kings had an excellent first stretch. Well, excellent relative to the franchise’s woes that make up most of the 21st Century. Kings fans had a lot to be excited about, as Sacramento held a winning record at 29-26 as of February 8, 2019.

In his third year with the team, Head Coach Dave Joerger gave up his defensive-centric style and let Sacramento’s youth-run the ball up and down the court. As a result, the team went from dead last in pace in 2017-18 to a top-five pace rating in the NBA in 2018-19. However, arguably the most critical factor in the Kings’ success that year was Iman Shumpert. He was an instant standout in the locker room and led a culture shift for the team.

The team had adopted an identity. Iman Shumpert started calling the young squad ‘The Scores.’ The team was loads of fun to watch dart up and down the court. Most importantly to Kings fans: they were winning. That was until Iman Shumpert was traded mid-season for basically no reason. Infamous GM Vlade Divac traded Shumpert on February 9, 2019, to acquire Alec Burks and a second-round pick.

After the Shumpert trade, this team fizzled out. They went 10-17 to finish the season. They would finish the season 39-43 and take home the ninth seed’s participation trophy. Despite the best finish in Sacramento’s now 15-year playoff drought, this season still felt like a massive underachievement for Kings fans. Joerger would be fired after the season, thus ending one of the most promising Sacramento stints since the Kings’ early 2000s glory days.

Can Tristan Thompson be the next Iman Shumpert in Sacramento?

Feb 17, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics forward Tristan Thompson (13) reacts with a teammate after being introduced prior to a game against the Atlanta Hawks at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
 Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

I sure hope so. The Kings didn’t make a whole lot of moves this offseason. They re-signed the likes of Richaun Holmes and Mo Harkless and added Thompson, former King Alex Len, and stud defender Davion Mitchell in the NBA Draft. If there’s anything that all these moves signify, Monte McNair wanted to add physicality to the team that was a glaring hole last season.

Veteran presence, physicality, and swagger are the three most essential things Thompson could bring to the Kings this season. He seems genuinely happy to be in Sacramento, which is already a win for Kings fans. In his time playing alongside LeBron James in Cleveland, Thompson learned a lot from the greatest player of the modern era NBA. Now, Thompson wants to take what he learned from The King and pass it on to the Kings.

“I’m excited to be here. This team has a lot of very talented young players and I’ve been on the other side when me, Kyrie and Dion were in Cleveland and LeBron came back. LeBron brought the energy and kind of brought that hard-work mentality each and every day, and I think it’s only right to take what I’ve learned from him and pass it on to the younger generation and our stars that are coming in this league.

Tristan Thompson

Thompson, though, is seemingly more than any Kings fan could have hoped. Thompson has started 82% of the games he’s appeared in over the last five NBA seasons. However, he’s ready to accept his role as an off-the-court leader who will do whatever the team asks of him. On Media Day, he explained his philosophy going into this season in Sacramento.

“That’s how you keep this league growing and that’s how you keep the talent at a high level. Vets that learn great things from others and don’t want to pass it on, you’re doing a disservice to our league. It’s a brotherhood and a fraternity, so it’s my job to pay it forward and then when D. Fox and Tyrese and Davion get to my age, they pass it on to the next (generation) and that’s how you keep the league at a high level.”

Tristan Thompson

Tristan Thompson is saying all the right things that Kings fans and players want to hear. Now, we wait to see how it translates on the court this season. This team is arguably much more talented than that 2018-19 team with Iman Shumpert.

His mentorship will be the glue that binds this team together, and Tristan Thompson is the key to the Kings’ success this season. The Sacramento Kings are in a playoffs-or-bust season. History won’t let me have any high expectations for this team, but I have more hope for this coming season than I have in the Kings since that stretch with The Scores. Here’s to hoping the Kings don’t fumble it like they did that year.

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