Can’t resist The Trist: Thompson making an immediate impact in Wine and Gold

Flashback to June 23rd, 2011 and yours truly watching the NBA Draft at my college house in Columbus. Knowing that Kyrie Irving was a near certainty and still basking in the warmth of our new point guard on board, the number four came as a shock to me. The pick: Tristan Thompson, the 6’9″ freshman power forward out of Texas. Admittedly, I had not researched Thompson nearly as much as other potential Cavalier selections leading up to the draft. I had my heart set on the seven-foot Lithuanian big Jonas Valanciunas, who Toronto took with the very next selection after the Cavs. Given the team’s structure at that time, I was not happy with the choice.

My biggest concern with the selection at the time was that we already had a young, talented power forward in J.J. Hickson. Adding Thompson immediately forced the Cavaliers hand to deal Hickson. With a lockout looming, that’s exactly what happened one week later under the gun when the Cavs sent J.J. to Sacramento for small forward Omri Casspi and a heavily protected conditional draft pick. I felt we were selling Hickson for 75 cents on the dollar only because of the lockout, and I felt with such few assets, giving possibly the best one up that we had not just drafted was not in our favor. While I’m still not thrilled with the trade itself, if the Cavaliers end up getting the first-round pick out of it and Casspi can contribute for the next few years, then it will have been a decent trade as long as Tristan Thompson becomes a real good player.

What I failed to realize at the time was the flaws in J.J. Hickson’s game. He was an incredibly gifted big man in the open floor and on the boards. But, he was inconsistent on offense, settled for and took far too many jumpers, failed to even come close to grasping Coach Scott’s new offense, and he was not always committed to working hard on the defensive end. In short, J.J. is a nice player, but he was never going to be a key cog to build around, and my logic back then was flawed. When you’re still reeling from being a 66-win team the year before and falling to the basement, there was probably a tendency to overvalue some of the players the team still had.

Now, for the real point of this article, to talk about what I’ve seen in Tristan Thompson in three short games of NBA action. First, he’s superiorly aware on the defensive side  of the ball. His instincts are great, he always knows where the ball and his man are. Other than Varejao, he is easily the team’s best pick-and-roll defender. There was one play last night where he switched the pick-and-roll and covered George Hill who hit a jumpshot over Thompson, but it was good D nonetheless. While he can be out of position on the defensive glass once in a while, he makes up for a lot of that with his ability to block shots. Thompson has all the tools to become not just a good, but an elite, shotblocker.

On offense, the limitations of Thompson’s offensive game appear to have been exaggerated. While he isn’t a perimeter threat, Thompson seems to have at least a decent touch around the rim, since he’s shown the ability to finish with both hands from around the rim out to eight feet or so. Tristan has a chance to be an absolute menace on the offensive boards, and we’ve already seen him take a couple hard fouls from frustrated big men trying to box him out and keep him away from the bucket. He has also flashed some capable moves on the block to get those eight feet and in shots. I’m fairly confident that Tristan will be able to develop at least a foul-line jumper given a couple of years.

It’s not just the on the floor traits that have impressed me in the early going. Tristan’s personality and the way he carries himself in interviews is impressive for someone just 20 years old. He seems to have a great work ethic, and it’s hard not to root for a kid like that to make it big.

I’m not going to say that I’m sure Thompson will be an All-Star or anything of that sort. What I am saying is that right now, I’m seeing a little too much of Antawn Jamison with his volume shooting and porous defense and not enough Tristan Thompson. There will be ups and downs with Thompson’s offensive game this season, but I like Tristan’s chances of being a key piece of a good team moving forward. That’s much more than I could say six months ago.

(Photo: Tony Dejak/AP)

  • jimkanicki

    admitting ive seen no cavs thus far: how have his free throw’s looked? i believe he shot 50% in college (and that bugged me). does he _look_ like he can make FTs or too early to tell? thx.

  • As a Frosh at UT, he shot 48 percent from the line. Through three games as a pro, he’s at 75 percent (six of eight) – a few ticks better than LeBron James’ career mark.

    His form, which was awful-looking, is one part due to being a lefty (read: just look at Tayshaun Prince et al) and the other part being a raw shooter, has gotten better. Every one of his attempts has a chance at going in due to how soft it comes off of his fingertips, something that can’t be said for other notoriously poor FT shooters like Shaq, Ben Wallace, etc.

    He’s putting in the work every practice and knows this is something he has to improve. The fact that he’s getting to the line six times per 36 minutes at age 20 speaks volumes about his aggression and footwork in the paint. He literally bounces past opposing defenders, forcing them to act accordingly.

  • SDA

    He looks good at the line he has a nice stroke.
    I’m glad I’m not alone in wanting to see more of him and less of Jamison. I’m a huge Jamison fan. He is a pro and hasn’t complained once but his time is past and he should be coming off the bench. One last thing is anyone else as impressed with Parker as I am. He is playing lights out I love the little turn around jumper he’s pulled out this year.

  • jimkanicki

    thanks guys. some strokes cant be fixed. (like shaq seemed like he was shooting tennis balls.) just good to hear a. it looks decent and b. he working on it. (b is bigger to me.)

  • christopher


    Yes have noticed AP’s stroke is vastly improved over last year.

    Tristan and Gee are still the most impressive surprises thus far this year for me though.

  • Roosevelt

    He’s a rich man’s JJ Hickson. Hickson was athletic on paper, but he just was a little short on quickness and bounce. Thompson seems to have the potential to be an Amare Stoudemire type, although obviously, at this age, Amare was already Amare.

  • EdgewaterJoe

    Very happily surprising so far – and I am loving how Irving is looking at 19.

    Man, would Harrison Barnes look SAH-WEET on this team!

  • yerfdog

    Id love to see andre drummond on the cavs. Andy is best suited as the sixth man. Although he is playing great so far.

  • The Other Tim

    Again, I don’t mean to be the turd in the punchbowl, but I’d like an All-Star at the 4th pick in the draft.
    That being said, I think it’s too early to say he won’t be one. I think he looks great.

  • christopher

    @The Other Tim

    In most draft classes you would be correct; however 2011 was the most underwhelming class in years.

    I mean look at Kyrie, he was the number one overall and looks good but nowhere near
    a first year all-star.

  • JM

    I love Thompson but Casspi has been underwhelming so far.

  • SDA

    Casspi may be better off the bench. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that in the future

  • TSR3000

    @other Tim- go wikipedia a bunch of nba drafts. There are a lot more misses than hits. Even lottery picks.

  • Ben

    meh. sometimes the 4th pick is Chris Bosh, other times it’s Drew Gooden. Three games in, looks like the Cavs ‘hit’ on the Thompson pick.

  • Omar’s Magic Glove

    I like Thompson a lot thus far. He has shown much more offense around the basket than I thought he would.

  • Scotty

    “First, he’s a superiorly aware on the defensive side of the ball. His instincts are great, he always know where the ball and his man are.”

    Ow….my eyes hurt

  • Yep, I apologize for the typos, Scotty. This article was written burning the midnight oil. I obviously split the difference between the “a superiorly aware player” and “superiorly aware” phrases.

  • Scotty

    Haha no worries, knowing that it was done on new years eve just makes the article all the more impressive

  • porkchopxpress

    My Aaron Craft man crush is turning into a 3 way with T2. I’m amazed at how well Irving is handling the transition to the bigs (2nd toughest position to NFL QB) but Thompson is just fun to watch. I’m not sure where the “raw” label came from but a guy with a 2-3 dribble spin move that can finish with a 3 foot baby hook isn’t polished but he’s sure got some shine. If I were placing bets I’d say he settles in around 70% percent from the line, which you can live with if he’s blocking 3 shots and putting up double doubles.