NBA Draft 2011: Cleveland Cavaliers Select Tristan Thompson

Boom. Did anyone really see this coming? I, for one, was a tad bit shocked (read: really really shocked). In the past several weeks, I have fallen in love with Jonas Valanciunas and it appeared that the Cavs had as well. Somewhere along the way, however, the Cavs got scared away by his buyout situation. We know that it would be quite expensive to bring Jonas over from Lithuania and he wouldn't have been able to come to the NBA for at least one more year. Whether it was the buyout or something else that caused the Cavs to change their pick, the point is now moot. 

Instead, the Cavaliers went with Tristan Thompson out of the University of Texas. He's a 6'9" power forward and weighs in at 227 pounds. I know last night that we were having some fun and were joking around about the amount of power forwards currently on this roster, but ultimately the Cavs went with the player that they liked the best. It makes zero sense to try to fill holes and gaps in the depth chart based on position when you have a team that only wins 19 games. When you are at the bottom of the standings, you need talent and lots of it. I'm not one to automatically defend the actions of our front office, but I'm coming around about this pick. Admittedly, Thompson was not really on my radar and I had to do a lot more research about him once his name was called last night. Upon further review I like what he brings to the table.

According to multiple scouting reports, his two best attributes are motor and rebounding. Clearly the Cavaliers need offense and the ability to score the ball, but here's why I'm okay with drafting a player that isn't very polished offensively: Thompson's strengths are very difficult to teach. Jump shots can be improved much more easily than a passion for defense and doing the dirty work. The guy is a beast around the basket and grabbed 7.8 rebounds per game including 3.8 offensive boards per game in his final college season. Thompson utilizes his 7'2" wingspan and explosive athletic ability to change and block shots on the defensive end as well. He averaged 2.4 blocks per game in college. For a rebuilding team, these are all incredibly valuable skills and Thompson's upside is substantial. That is not to say that he comes without question marks and concerns, but his strengths are things that should excite fans. 

As with any prospect (apart from Kyrie Irving), Tristan Thompson has some particular weaknesses. Number one is obviously his shooting. Don't get me wrong, he's going to get much better at shooting. He HAS to get much better at shooting the ball. Regardless, he shoots only 48.7% from the free throw line. For someone that lives around the basket and uses his explosiveness to constantly attack the rim, it's a concern. He's going to get fouled and get to the line frequently and the percentage needs to be higher in order to take advantage of these opportunities. Apart from cleaning up on the glass and throwing down put-back dunks, he's quite raw on offense. The addition of a midrange game will make him a dangerous weapon, but I think we can all look forward to Kyrie-Tristan pick and rolls in the future for the Cavaliers. 

When the dust cleared, many Cavs fans were left scratching their heads. I'm with everyone else who expected Jonas Valanciunas to be the guy selected with the #4 pick, but I'm warming up to Tristan Thompson. He obviously displayed exceptional skill that won over the hearts of the Cavs' scouts. He has plenty of room to improve and his upside is immense.  I urge Cavs fans everywhere to be patient and relax before we jump to conclusions. There is an obvious logjam at the PF position, but opening night is a loooonnnggg way off. Chris Grant and company have plenty of time to make trades and adjust this roster accordingly. Similarly, keep in mind that the goal is not to be a mediocre 40-win team immediately. The Cavs are embarking on a long rebuilding process in order to emerge as a contender once again. It will take time and I believe that the Cavaliers took a big step in the right direction during Thursday's draft. It's easy to forget while analyzing the later picks, but try to remember that Cleveland did manage to select the best player in the draft in Kyrie Irving. 

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