The 2011 NBA Draft will always be considered a success for the Cleveland Cavaliers assuming that Kyrie Irving stays healthy and reaches greatness like many think he will. Kyrie holds the keys to the Cavs future – he is their best player and their leader, making him their version of the Chicago Bulls Derrick Rose.
The 2011 Draft, though, could go down as one the best drafts in Cavs history if the fourth overall pick, Tristan Thompson, can maximize his potential. The former Texas Longhorn has been labeled as one of the next great young players for a long time now. Look back his high school career, when after emigrating from his native Canada to the United States, he became the No. 1 high school recruit in the country. Rivals, Scout, and ESPN all had him listed as a five-star recruit. While he did not hold the No. 1 overall ranking, they still had him in the top fifteen-to-twenty prep players in the country.
Thompson’s college career only lasted one season, but he earned several honors. He was an Honorable Mention on the Associated Press All-American Team, an All-Big 12 Second Team member, a member of the All-Big 12 Defense Team, and the Big 12 Freshman of the Year. His stat line was also pretty impressive. In 30.9 minutes per game, he averaged 13.1 points per game, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game, coupled with 54.6 percent shooting from the field. His one bad statistic was his free throw shooting percentage, which was an atrocious 48.7 percent.
Thompson’s rookie season, which took place in the lockout shortened 66-game regular season, was up and down. He played 60 games, starting 25, and averaged 23.7 minutes per game. Shifting between power forward and center, Thompson averaged 8.2 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game, and 1.0 blocks per game while shooting 43.9 percent from the field. His free throw shooting was better as compared to his one season as a Longhorn, as he shot 55.2 percent in this rookie season.
Overall, though, his play was inconsistent. He showed flashes of brilliance, and other times he would look completely lost. Those moments where he looked lost came few and far between as the season wore on. The other thing notable about Thompson is that he had better stats as a starter than coming off the bench while playing similar minutes. As a starter, where he played 28.8 minutes per game, Thompson averaged 10.4 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 47.0 percent from the field. As a bench player, where he played 20.1 minutes per game, he averaged 6.7 points and 5.7 rebounds with 40.9 percent shooting. Those splits tell me that Thompson is more comfortable as a starter, and I think he should be one full-time. Assuming he does start, it should be at power forward. The Cavs have Anderson Varejao and Tyler Zeller to play center most of the time, so leave Thompson at his natural power forward position. Can/should the Cavs play him at center when necessary and/or when they want to go small? Yes; I love that idea. Just make power forward his primary position.
Thompson’s sophomore season is an important one. I’m looking for him to take a step forward this season, especially since he had a full offseason instead of a shortened one like last year. He looked good in the little I saw him play in the summer league, and if I were the Cavs, I would have confidence in Thompson making improvements. If he does, the combo of Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson could be a potent one that will be the building block of the Cavs future.