I got to the Cavaliers draft party in downtown Cleveland after the draft had started—my dad returned this evening from Kuwait after serving several months with the Navy Reserve, and welcoming my heroic father home at the airport took precedence over being there at the outset of the draft.
As I walked in, a man who was rushing out of Quicken Loans Arena with a less than pleased look on his face stopped me and said, “You missed the fourth pick. We took Tristan Thompson.”
At first, I was stunned. I had heard on the radio that Enes Kanter had already been drafted by the Utah Jazz, but I had also heard that the Cavaliers were considering a trade to move down and acquire more picks in the draft. I thought that would have been a great strategy, considering that the Cavaliers have several areas of need, and I was hopeful that the Cavaliers would be able to pull off another great trade in order to obtain a few more players who would help us return to respectability. Plus, I didn’t know much about Tristan Thompson—and, to be honest, I still don’t know very much—and I didn’t want to write the guy off before I learned more about his game.
When I finally found my buddies amidst the large crowd gathered at Quicken Loans Arena, their mood was pretty grim. As we talked, I started feeling a bit down about the pick as well. The forward position is the only position at which the Cavs are strong. Anderson Varejao, Antwan Jamison, J.J. Hickson, and to a limited extent Samardo Samuels are all solid contributors. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers lack a true center and desperately need talent at the guard position.
After we all went our separate ways, I thought about the pick a bit more.
Maybe I’m simply playing the role of an eternally optimistic Cleveland sports fan, but I honestly think that Tristan Thompson could be a solid pick for the Cavaliers in the long run.
First of all, Jamison will be gone after this year. Whether he leaves as a free agent or leaves in a midseason trade, the probability that LeBron James will name Dan Gilbert as his next child’s godfather is greater than the probability of seeing Jamison in the wine and gold at the start of the 2012-2013 season. Hickson will also be a free agent at the end of the year, and the Cavaliers may not opt to re-sign him if his salary demands are too high. By the end of next season, the Cavaliers’ depth at forward could be depleted significantly, while the guard position may be much stronger than it is at the present time. Thompson will help address that possible lack of depth.
Secondly, Byron Scott’s system doesn’t require supremely talented or big forwards to be successful. Scott’s system needs talented point guards to be successful, and the Cavaliers already addressed that need by drafting Kyrie Irving. In New Jersey, Scott took a Nets team whose best power forward was Kenyon Martin to the NBA Finals. Martin’s game is a lot like Thompson’s—lots of grit, hustle, defense, and rebounding and very little jump shooting.
Thirdly, the Cavaliers badly need defensive-minded players. Last year, the Cavaliers had major problems on the defensive side of the ball despite the fact that Byron Scott did everything imaginable to motivate the team to solid defense. Thompson’s a lot like Anderson Varejao—he’s a high-energy guy who is going to be a tremendous asset on the boards. The Cavaliers have plenty of players who are willing to shoot and score, but lack players who are ready and willing to do the dirty work that doesn’t show up in the stat sheets but is necessary to win ballgames. Thompson seems like he could be that type of guy. Furthermore, Thompson’s length and athleticism will come in handy small forwards like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony.
Lastly, assuming that the Cavaliers were not able to swing a solid trade, nearly every other option available was surrounded by huge question marks.
Jonas Valanciunas’ contract was a huge question mark, and NBA history is full of players who had loads of trouble getting out of overseas contracts. Drafting a player who may not be available for quite some time would have potentially been a public relations nightmare for the Cavaliers and they would have had a hard time explaining this move to a fanbase who is desperate for improvement over last year’s hard slog of a season.
Additionally, NBA teams often draft European players in the hopes that they’ll be the next Dirk Nowitzki or Pau Gasol, but far too often they turn into the next Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Yaroslav Korolev, or Darko Milicic. Making a similar mistake with the fourth overall pick in the draft would have been a disaster for the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers already had another point guard, so Brandon Knight was out of the question. Jimmer Fredette may be able to put the ball in the basket, but adding another defensively-challenged guard to the team would not have been good for the team’s long-term growth. Kemba Walker is a winner, but he is woefully undersized. Bismack Biyombo would have been an even riskier pick than Thompson because his true age is unknown and his offensive game is less developed than Thompson’s offensive game. Alec Burks was intriguing, but I was concerned about whether he had the physical strength to succeed in the physical nature of the NBA.
The only other move that would possibly be a better long-term choice for the Cavaliers would have been to draft Klay Thompson. However, as previously discussed, the Cavaliers’ depth at forward could be depleted at the end of next season, while the guard position could be one of the team’s stronger points.
Making any pick in the NBA Draft is a tremendous roll of the dice. General managers’ legacies have been defined by a single failed first-round pick or a second-round diamond in the rough who outperforms almost all of those who were drafted ahead of him. While Thompson may not be the type of player who Cavaliers fans had wanted to be selected with the fourth pick in the draft, Thompson has the potential to meet many of the Cavaliers’ needs and to be a solid contributor in the future.