The good news is the good news; The Cavs made the right choice with the #1 pick. Irving is ultra-safe, he has more upside/star potential than he’s being given credit for, and there’s a clear plan in place for him. He can platoon with Baron in order to keep some pressure off of him for the first year, take the lion’s share of the minutes from Baron in the second year, and fully take over in year three. And with Irving’s ability to shoot, I have no doubt that Baron and Irving will both be on the floor to finish the games, which is far more important than who starts. The Cavs got the best player in the draft. That’s a good thing.
Now, about that Tristan Thompson pick. What the heck. I see three basic scenarios for why the Cavs decided to go with Thompson:
1. The Cavs picked Thompson for someone else, with the belief that they would be able to trade back, still get Jonas, and get another pick to boot.
This has been the main theory in the comments, and it seems to make sense. Because of the buyout, it looked like Jonas would be available in the 7-10 range, where Thompson was expected to go. Grant may well have had a deal in place with one of those teams, picked Thompson for them, and then got a sharp shock when the Raptors passed on Knight, Walker, and Biyombo to take Big V. (Turns out the Raptors’ new coach actually realizes that having a true center who plays defense is a GOOD thing in the NBA.) Not good GM work. Not good GM work at all.
2. The Cavs weren’t willing to wait a year for Valanciunas, and wanted to give the fans something in 2011-12 after an abysmal 2010-11 campaign.
I give Gilbert and Co. credit, because I don’t buy this theory. Thompson isn’t anyone’s definition of a sexy pick, and by all accounts he’s too much of a project to step in and make the Cavs significantly better this season. If they wanted to go the “exciting, win now” route, they would’ve taken Williams with the #1 and Kemba/Knight with the #4. I think the Cavs tried to do what was best for the team going forward, not what was best for ticket sales in the long-term.
3. The Cavaliers honestly believe that Tristan Thompson is a better prospect than Jonas Valanciunas.
Maybe this is what Chris Grant and Co. believe, and they have more scouting information than I do, but I would disagree with that assessment. Thompson can’t play center, can’t shoot or score in the post, doesn’t pass, draws a lot of fouls, is a serious shot-blocker, and is a great rebounder.
The Cavs certainly needed a shot in the arm when it came to defense and rebounding, but I have no earthly idea how a Varejao (who is Cleveland’s best player)/Thompson frontcourt is supposed to work. Andy can play the center position, but he’s better as a four, and needs someone who can either stretch the floor, post-up and give him opportunities to cut, or make good cuts himself and let Andy operate from the high post. Thompson can do none of those things.
The Cavs came into this draft with one really good player under the age of 30, and that player is a great defense-and-rebounding power forward. With a top-5 pick, they took a defense-and-rebounding power forward instead of a potential franchise center who is a true seven-footer, had a higher overall FG% than Thompson did on shots at the rim, and makes 85-90% of his free throws instead of 48% of them. I’m having a hard time selling myself on this pick.
The Cavs got the best player in the draft and got a defensive upgrade that they desperately needed, but I can’t help but feel like they royally screwed up the Valanciunas situation and missed a great chance to put two core pieces in place for the future. However, we won’t know any of this until we actually see Thompson on the floor next season, assuming there is one, and Valanciunas on the floor in 2012-13, assuming he comes over. For now, the team is better today than it was yesterday. The only problem is that it’s hard to shake the feeling they could have done a lot better in this draft.