Last week, we looked at one of the most productive, polished forwards in the Big 12 in Marcus Morris. This week, we have another productive Big 12 forward, but he’s the more raw Tristan Thompson, a 6’9” 230-pound freshman from Texas. The no. 17 prospect in his high school class according to rivals.com, Thompson came in with high level, if not elite expectations (see: Barnes, Harrison). What did he show us in his lone collegiate season, and what will he bring to the NBA?
Athleticism is Thompson’s calling card right now, the trait that speaks to his good potential in the NBA. His 35-inch max vertical and 10.92 lane agility time compared favorably to many of the guards at the combine, and both numbers trumped what Derrick Williams posted. Though he could stand to gain more upper body strength (only bench pressed 185 nine times), his 6.2% body fat showed that he’s taken his conditioning seriously. Thompson has an NBA body with NBA athleticism for a power forward.
One of the things Thompson’s athleticism allows him to do is crash the offensive glass effectively. He averaged 3.8 offensive rebounds per game this year and recorded 10 (!) in one game late in the season against Texas A&M. After getting these boards, Thompson often finishes with ferocious dunks that pump up the crowd and his teammates.
Thompson’s quickness and hops make him a menace on the defensive end of the floor. Collegiate post players have little chance of getting by him off the dribble or in the post, and Thompson blocks shots at a very good rate (2.6 per game in just under 31 minutes). In the NCAA tournament, he held Derrick Williams to 4-for-14 from the field.
Finally, energy and effort shouldn’t be problems for Thompson going forward. He runs the floor hard and fights for position in the post.
Thompson’s offensive repertoire is extremely limited, and what little he has is far from polished. He lacks reliable back-to-the-basket moves and doesn’t seem to have much of a plan for attacking defenders one-on-one. He often just gets close to the basket, leaps into the air, and releases an awkward shot without much touch. His 54% TS% far trailed fellow first round power forwards Williams, Morris and Markieff Morris.
He has the quickness to get by defenders off the dribble when he’s facing up, but they can easily negate this by playing off of him. The reason they can get away with this: Thompson is a poor mid-range shooter. He doesn’t shoot many of them, but the results aren’t pretty when he does. Look no further than his atrocious 49% FT%, which mitigates his excellent ability to draw fouls inside (7.3 FTA/game).
Defensive rebounding is also an issue for Thompson. He barely averaged more defensive rebounds than offensive rebounds this year (4.0 to 3.8). That number is unacceptable for such an excellent athlete. Thompson gets pushed out of position by stronger players too often.
How he fits with the Cavs
Due to his athletic gifts and his low level of overall skill, Thompson must be considered a long-term prospect at the NBA level. He has the potential to be a very solid power forward in the league if he develops his offensive abilities. Post moves and footwork are sure to come in time, but Thompson absolutely must add a face-up game and a reliable jumper to keep defenders honest.
Are the Cavs the place for Thompson to develop his talents? Probably not. Right now, he’s considered a late lottery pick by most experts. If the Cavs really like him, they could trade down to get him as I outlined in my Alec Burks profile. However, unlike Burks, Thompson doesn’t fill a need, so trading down wouldn’t make sense.
Further, the Cavs already have a developing power forward in J.J. Hickson, and all of Thompson’s question marks make it far from certain that he’ll develop into a better player than Hickson. Thompson’s athleticism would make him an intriguing pick-and-roll partner for Baron Davis or Kyrie Irving, but he doesn’t seem to be a good fit for the Cavs right now, particularly if paired with another offensively challenged big like Anderson Varejao.