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Tristan Thompson has stepped up in Varejao's absence

Associated Press Published: January 12, 2013 4:00 AM

By Bob Finnan | Morning Journal via Associated Press

INDEPENDENCE -- Cavaliers power forward Tristan Thompson is ambidextrous.

On the basketball court, he uses both hands with equal acclaim.

However, there has certainly been some clarity to his game in the last few weeks. Thompson is playing the best basketball of his young career. The 6-foot-9, 227-pounder has recorded eight double-doubles in his last 11 games. In that span, the second-year player averaging 13.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 1.1 blocks.

"All good bigs use both hands," Thompson said. "I'm predominantly left-handed."

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However, he doesn't do things the conventional way. Consider:

He writes left-handed.

He eats left-handed.

He throws a football and baseball right-handed.

He golfs left-handed.

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He shoots the basketball with his right and left hands, even though he shoots free throws left-handed. He's on a roll at the free-throw line and is shooting about 80 percent from the line in the last few weeks.

"I'm shooting pretty good left-handed," Thompson said. "I'm not changing my shooting hand. I'll keep shooting left and make it work for me. If it takes endless hours, I'll make it work. They are going down right now. I don't want to jinx it.

"I'm trying to figure it out."

And he's doing a pretty good job of it. Cavs assistant coach Jamahl Mosley and Cavs special assistant to the general manager Zydrunas Ilgauskas have put in endless hours working with Thompson and rookie center Tyler Zeller.

"They have been a tag team for Tyler and me," Thompson said. "I feel I'm the same player. It's just the opportunity is there. That happens when guys are out with injuries. Obviously, I've been working on my game a lot.

"It's a long season, 82 games. If you don't see 15 and 10 after 10 games, you guys were saying, 'Where's all this hard work?' I want to continue to grow and continue to get better."

That was a little dig at the media. The message is: Be patient. He's just 21 years old. He's played a total of 97 games in his NBA career.

He vows to keep working hard.

"Until I get a ring, I'm not going to be content and want to continue to get better," Thompson said. "If Kobe Bryant is still working on his game and LeBron James and (Kevin Durant) are still working on their games, I for sure need to work on my game.

"They are focal points in this league. None of the Cavaliers should stop working. We have a long way to go."

The spike in his numbers coincided with the loss of center Anderson Varejao to a knee injury. Varejao had surgery on his right knee on Thursday at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health. He's estimated to be out for six to eight weeks.

"We definitely miss him," Thompson said. "He had successful surgery and we can't wait for him to come back. With him being out, we have six-to-eight weeks to go out there and continue to compete and get some wins.

"He's the anchor of our team, our heart and soul. It definitely hurts us as a team. We all have to take parts of Andy's game and put it into our game."

Cavs coach Byron Scott said he's seeing some actual post-up moves from Thompson. He's been calling an occasional play for Thompson.

"With what he's been doing with Jamahl the last couple years, it's just starting to come to light," Scott said. "You have to give most of the credit to Jamahl. He's been working with him since Day 1. That's who Tristan relies on.

"Z has been showing him how to use his body and get the shot up quicker. Z has done a tremendous job with both of them to give them both confidence and (teach them) little tricks of the trade."

The No. 4 overall pick in the 2011 draft is improving by leaps and bounds.

"We knew if he continued to put in the work, he would get better," Scott said. "Right now, he has a comfort level down there and he's playing at a high level. It's affected his whole game. His free-throw percentage is much better.

"Talking to (Texas) coach (Rick) Barnes when we drafted him, he thought he could be a double-double guy, who you could throw it to in the post. (Barnes) said he was plain raw, but he was a workhorse. I told Tristan he's just seeing some of the fruits of his labor."

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