The Cleveland Cavaliers head into the season without many question marks. The team should be able to score, and there are solid individual defenders on the roster. One place the team lacks depth, however, is the center position. Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson are natural power forwards and don't provide rim protection. Or, at least, neither has shown the ability to provide rim protection consistently.
Anderson Varejao is a center, but also struggles to alter shots around the rim. Behind them, there isn't much. Those three are likely to get the lion's share of minutes this season, and while all three can provide competent defense, it isn't clear that any of them can be anchors. Even if Varejao is a great defender, he hasn't shown the ability to stay healthy over an 82 game season. So what are the Cavs to do? The assumption is that Love will start at power forward and Varejao will be the center. Thompson would move to what many feel is his natural bench role, but likely play big minutes without a capable fourth big.
Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal says that might not be the case:
1. Don’t rule out the possibility of Tristan Thompson starting at center. While it has been widely assumed Anderson Varejao would start in the middle, a theory has been floated within the organization recently that by starting Thompson, coach David Blatt could better limit Varejao’s minutes and help protect him from injury. There is plenty of time to make that final decision, but it’s worth noting the idea has at least been discussed.
2. Regardless of whether he starts, Thompson is expected to play a lot of minutes at center this season. He is undersized there, but athletic enough to handle the job. He has played there off and on throughout his first three years in the league.
I honestly am not sure how much it matters. Thompson has always been known as a great locker room guy, so I hope he doesn't care whether or not he starts. It's whatever is best for the team. Thompson is going to play a lot, Love is going to play a lot, and they can try and manage Varejao's minutes as best as they can to help him stay on the court. I don't know if it matters who is out there at the beginning of games.
What type of fit are Thompson and Love defensively? Well, Thompson rated as a decent Pick and Roll defender and Love rated as a good post defender on Synergy last year, and both are at points of their careers where you'd expect defensive growth. But, reiterating the point above, neither alter shots at the rim. With Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters out on the perimeter, the Cavs are likely to give up a good amount of guard penetration. Unless Thompson takes a major step forward, the Cavs are going to need to hope opposing teams settle for jump shots instead of attacking off the bounce. It's worth noting that LeBron James himself gave up a fair bit of penetration last season.
So what do the Cavaliers need? Some combination of improved rim protection from Thompson, better perimeter defense from Irving and Waiters, a bounce back season defensively from LeBron, Shawn Marion health guarding perimeter guys (as much fun as it is to think of him guarding fours, his services might be more valuable here), or Varejao staying healthy. If they get a bit of all of that, the team will be in business.
It's worth noting that the Cavaliers are likely to be able to simply outscore a lot of teams. How much, or whether or not, the concerns are overstated might take time to become apparent.
Lloyd also comments on Thompson's contract negotiations (or lackthereof):
3. What hasn’t been discussed is a contract extension for him – at least not yet. The two sides haven’t really discussed numbers, one source involved in the process said recently, but that isn’t a surprise. Kyrie Irving is the only member of the 2011 class thus far to sign an extension, although guys like Klay Thompson, Kenneth Faried and Kawhi Leonard could be next. The deadline to sign is Oct. 31.
4. There are plenty of tentacles to a potential Thompson extension. He is represented by Rich Paul, who also represents LeBron. He will probably lose his starting spot (although we’ve already outlined how he could remain a starter). Becoming a reserve would decrease his minutes and productivity, yet playing alongside his new cast of teammates could simplify his role (run the floor and rebound) and make him a much better player.
Lots to chew on here. Mostly good stuff, though.