In the 2011 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers were the envy of the NBA. Despite it being a down year at the top end of the draft, any team would’ve loved to be in the same position as Cleveland, who had the privilege of the top overall selection (due to a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers), but also the fourth overall pick.
Two top four picks can be the foundation upon which contending teams are built. Kyrie Irving was a no brainer at the top end of the draft, but deep questions remained in regards to what the Cavaliers would do with their own pick. After Irving, an almost unanimous top pick, every other selection was up in the air. The Minnesota Timberwolves picked Derrick Williams second overall and the Utah Jazz followed by taking Enes Kanter with the third selection…putting Cleveland on the clock.
With buyout concerns for Jonas Valanciunas, and other unknown prospects such as Bismack Biyombo and Jan Vesely being considered, the Cavaliers surprised many by selecting Canadian power forward Tristan Thompson out of Texas.
Three years later and Thompson is hardly the foundational player that the Cavaliers had envisioned when making the selection. No one reasonably expected him to be a star, but the goal was for him to develop into a consistent contributor to a winning environment. Of course, when being compared to his other draft brethren (outside of Valanciunas), Tristan looks like a beautiful pick.
Cleveland intentionally tried to bring Thompson along slowly as he only started 25 of 60 games his rookie season. And after a successful rookie season that saw him earn NBA All-Rookie Second Team honors, more was rightfully expected of Thompson moving forward. Since then, he has started all 164 games.
Thompson’s second season saw improvement across the board. He upped his field goal percentage, free throw rate (still underwhelming, but improving), offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding, scoring, big jumps in both offensive and defensive wins shared, all while committing fewer fouls and turnovers.
But this season? Thompson simply regressed in far too many categories. He still remains one of the premier rebounders in the game (19th in the league), but is too limited offensively to draw any defensive attention. If he were able to become a consistent midrange shooter (particularly from the baseline), Cleveland would be vastly improved offensively.
Just like Kyrie Irving, this summer marks the first opportunity that Cleveland has to offer Thompson an extension. Most fans would anticipate that an extension offer would almost be a formality…even if this thinking is based almost entirely upon the fact that Cleveland chose him with a high draft pick. But just this week, Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio was asked in his weekly chat about Thompson’s standing with the team. His answer:
To be quite honest, from everything I’m hearing, Tristan will get traded before he gets an extension with the Cavs.
If Amico is right, then Tristan Thompson may have just become the Cavaliers’ top trade chip, as long as opposing general managers believe that this season was just an aberration in the growth of a young player.