Ah it’s great to be back in college. The place that springboards many people into their dreams and career aspirations. With not much going on in the NBA currently, I thought I would take a time machine back to 2011, to the college days of Cavaliers 4th overall draft pick Tristan Thompson, and whether he was the right guy to take at the time.
Thompson seems to be making big strides in his game. In his sophomore year, he improved his shooting by nearly 50 points (.439 to .488), his free-throw shooting by over 50 points (.552 to .608), his rebounding by almost 3 boards a night (6.5 to 9.4) and his scoring by 3.5 points per game (8.2 to 11.7). In addition, he seems to be showing that he has defensive prowess, and that he could be a tough interior presence. With his rapid improvement, and young age (he was the only one-and-done player in the draft) he could become an top-flight PF in a few years, so he couldn’t have been the wrong pick, right?
Well I kinda think it was. Actually, I really think it was. The Cavs were in desperate need of a center – I mean REALLY in need of a center. I know that Anderson Varejao has filled in admirably and played very well while he has been healthy, but center isn’t his natural position (to me he’s much better as an energy PF off the bench), and his constant health problems make him undependable as a starter there. And to me the obvious – and I mean OBVIOUS pick to make at four would be to take Lithuanian big man Jonas Valanciunas. Described as being “a talented big man with a big wingspan, soft touch around the basket, a solid rebounder and shot-blocker” and “runs the floor well for a big man” (via Chad Ford’s scouting report http://insider.espn.go.com/nbadraft/results/player/_/id/19523/jonas-valanciunas ), there seemed to be a lot to like about Mr. Valanciunas. Furthermore, he addressed the SUPER-DUPER-HIT-RIGHT-IN-YOUR-FACE-OBVIOUS need that the Cavaliers had in getting a center. Although Valanciunas spent a year overseas, that wouldn’t have mattered much because the Cavaliers weren’t very good in the lockout shortened season anyway; the Cavaliers presumably would have still had their lottery pick from this previous season, to get Waiters or whoever else they wanted.
In addition, if the Cavs retained J.J. Hickson, there would be no need to go out and get a PF like Thompson anyway. I understand they would have to have paid them a decent amount of money, and that his performance was a bit erratic, but I don’t see either of those things as real concerns. First off, since LeBron had left, the Cavs had oobles and goobles of money available; cash would not have been a concern. Also, after a down year in Sacramento (the poor guy never got any play time) he was remarkably effective in Portland, averaging over 12 points and 10 rebounds a night in just 29 minutes per game. I’m a big proponent of Hickson, and I believe that if he doesn’t have success with a team, it is the teams’ fault and not his. But the main point with Hickson is that it doesn’t matter how good Thompson becomes, because at his best I believe he will be slightly better than Hickson, and a duo of Hickson and Valanciunas sounds better to me than Omri Casspi, Tristan Thompson, and a lottery- protected first-round pick. So no matter how good Thompson becomes, the net benefit for the TEAM still isn’t (in my eyes) as good as it could have been if the pieces were shuffled differently.
I’m aware that if Andrew Bynum is healthy, this argument is completely meaningless and wrong, as then they have a young dominant center and everyone is happy. Hey, it’s a slow time in basketball now, I had to talk about something. All I’m saying is that I really think the Cavs would have been better off keeping Hickson, drafting Valanciunas, drafting Harrison Barnes (a story for another day), and drafting Ben McLemore (if they had around the same pick; another story for another day). To me, a starting lineup of Irving – McLemore – Barnes – Hickson – Valanciunas, with Anderson Varejao coming off the bench, would be REALLY good. Regardless of how the Cavaliers turn out this year, I encourage you to pay attention to how Valanciunas does this year; I believe he will be a VERY good player in time. And if he isn’t, I encourage you to laugh at me for my goofy article on how drafting him would be the correct move.