Mar 29, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Tristan Thompson (13) reaches for a loose ball during the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Eric P. Mull-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s Be Honest Guys, Drafting Tristan Thompson Was a Mistake

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 ), 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.

Tags: 2011 Nba Draft Andrew Bynum Cleveland Cavaliers Jonas Valanciunas Tristan Thompson

  • Trevor Magnotti

    I think you’re forgetting that Valanciunas was definitely not coming over immediately at the time of the draft to play in the NBA. He had a messy contract in Europe that scared a lot of teams away, including Cleveland, because we couldn’t be sure when he’d join the NBA. They wanted a guy they could develop, and develop here. And other than Valanciunas, the only other big worth taking that high in that draft was Bismack Biyombo. Thompson may have not been the best choice, but the Cavs really didn’t have a realistic better option in that draft. And Valanciunas just wasn’t a realistic pick for them.

    • Hiroki Witt

      Thank you very much for the feedback Trevor!! eh, I did say in the 3rd paragraph that he would stay in Europe for a year. I didn’t know about his contract situation (so thank you for that) and I agree that they shouldn’t have taken Bismack Biyombo and his offensive deficiencies. However, since a good center that can run the floor is so rare in today’s game, I think the net gain for the team of keeping Hickson and drafting Valanciunas, no matter how much they wanted him to develop here, would be greater than gettting Thompson. I’m not saying Thompson was a bad pick, just not my favorite move personally.

  • Gerry Nason

    Valanciunas would have been an interesting pick for the Cavs, but hind site being 20-20, I think the best player they could have drafted is Kenneth Faried. Drafted with the 22nd pick in 2011, quite a few clubs blew that pick. I don’t think Thompson was a bad pick, though. Time certainly will tell.

    • Hiroki Witt

      Thank you very much for the feedback Gerry! And while Faried has been great thus far, he was put into a great position to succeed, and a lot of peole think he may have peaked in terms of production already. I also don’t think that Thompson was a bad pick, but in terms of overall gain for the team, I think getting a good big center with a long wing span that can run the court would have been the best move.

  • Matt

    Did you really just say Tristan was the only one and done player in the draft? Or did you mean at his position?

    • Hiroki Witt

      I’m really sorry I haven’t gotten a response to you yet, I’ve been trying to post for a while but for some reason when I try to send my response to you, it doesn’t show

  • Derek Drennan

    Here’s the problem with your scenario: in addition to the messy contract situation valanciunas was in (could have been 2 to 3 years before he came over), hickson was immature and disinterested at the time. He has even stated that the disaster in sacramento motivated him to improve and mature. While in a perfect world your scenario with hickson and valanciunas would have been interesting, chances are that we would have ended up looking for a power forward anyway if hickson never went through the turmoil that motivated him.

    • Hiroki Witt

      Thank you very much for the feeback Derek!! And I believe that every point that you made; as I am just starting to write, and up until this point I have been a very number-oriented writer, I often have a bit of a narrow view on what I’m writing about; in this case, I basically just talked about how things would look on paper, kinda neglecting any attitude/ contractual things that may be going on (like they were video game characters). It’s a flaw that I would like to fix. I thank you very much for bringing up the contract point and the Hickson/Sacramento point (I knew he wasn’t getting much play time and was unhappy, but I didn’t know it was that important to his success in Portland), as I didn’t address those. Like you said, what I was going for was kinda the “perfect world” scenario where Hickson has no problems and the contract worked out. So thanks again for bringing up those points and teaching me something!

  • xonstage

    I thought the Cavs would pick Jonas that year as well. The story after draft night was that Charlotte wanted Tristan, but they knew he’d be gone by the time they picked (#8). The deal was Cleveland would draft Tristan at 4, Charlotte would pick Jonas at 8, then trade his rights along with Charlotte’s #19 pick to the Cavs for Tristan. I believe the Cavs were looking at either Marshon Brooks or Iman Shumpert with the #19. Since Toronto picked Jonas at 5, the Bobcats went in another direction for frontcourt help and ended up with Biyombo.

    With Tristan, though, he had been shooting up teams’ draft boards, because of his defense and athleticism. In Cleveland’s workout, he shut down Derrick Williams and Enes Kanter. So, there was a lot of interest in him. With Hickson, he was a day-to-day headache for the coach and the organization. So, getting rid of him wasn’t a bad move. The biggest thing against drafting Jonas was his contract, as others have already said. The Cavs weren’t sure whether he’d be coming over in a year or if it’d be more. Plus, they didn’t want to deal with paying a buyout. He had great potential, but then so did Jan Vesely. It’s a huge gamble with European players sometimes. Plus, Chris Grant stated that he wanted his two rookies to come up together the same year.

    I understand your points, though. Jonas seems like he’s gonna be a beast. I wanted Andre Drummond in 2012, but the Cavs didn’t want to gamble with developing two frontcourt players at the same time (Thompson). But, we picked Dion Waiters, who I’m not a fan of at all. Drummond, Barnes, and Jeremy Lamb were my choices. But, I understand why they chose Dion.

    Anyway, I’m getting away from the subject. You make good points, but I still believe Tristan was a good choice. I’m glad he’s here and hope that he stays here, continuing to improve. He and Bennett can make a very powerful 1-2 combo.

    • Hiroki Witt

      Thank you for the comment xonstage!! I had no idea about the draft day trade with Charlotte, but I don’t think many people saw Valanciunas slipping to 8. I understand that Hickson was inconsistent and a headache, although I didn’t address it in the article (my writing was a bit too narrow; I just kinda focused on how the roster would look on paper). Personally, I don’t think drafting Thompson was bad either; I just would have rather had a really good Center.

      On a side note, I’m not really a fan of the Waiters pick either. Guy can score, but he was really inefficient in his rookie year.

      And on another side note, I’m still not sold that Jan Vesely is a complete bust. I know he makes a lot of mistakes, but the guy just doesn’t get enough play time to develop. He’s still young too!

      Anyway, thank you very much for the feedback!! I appreciate that you took the time to read and comment on this.

      • xonstage

        You’re welcome.

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  • Alex Dunbar

    Well here’s the other thing that happened (courtesy of Chad Ford on ESPN radio about 1 year ago around the 2012 draft): we WERE favoring Valanciunas over Thompson, but he was not interested in playing in Cleveland. In fact, we were all set to draft him, but JV’s agent warned Chris Grant that he was going to enter a contract holdout (in a scenario very similar to Yi Jianlian in Milwaukee) if we were to select him. Plain and simple, JV wanted to play in a more international market.

    So, I cringe when I hear things like how we dropped the ball drafting Thompson. He has made leaps and bounds every year- and not only quantitatively. JV would likely be gone by now if we drafted him and we’d be stuck with zilch after a critical draft.