NBA PM: Cavs Tristan Thompson Shows Promise
I cover the New York Giants for CBSsports.com in my other life. It’s not something I like to discuss on HOOPSWORLD because I don’t want to give the impression that I’m more focused on one sport more than the other (writing in the first person in any circumstance is uncomfortable, actually) and there are rarely moments when the two sports intersect. However, upon seeing Cleveland Cavaliers rookie forward Tristan Thompson, I couldn’t help but think of my first impressions of Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
The 6-5, 278-pound terror registered 16.5 sacks en route to a Super Bowl title in 2011, but as an unpolished rookie in 2010, he was just giving glimpses of his ability. That’s because, in spite of his overwhelming athletic gifts, Pierre-Paul was still learning how to fit into a scheme. His arms were exceedingly long for his height; he was faster off the ball than any player unfortunate enough to try and block him; but for all of these advantages, Pierre-Paul was never dominant.
And then, suddenly, he was.
Thompson’s body, while longer, holds many of the same characteristics as Pierre-Paul’s. At 6-9, his 7-1 wingspan makes him look like a pterodactyl. Thompson is among the most-athletic players at his size, thanks to his 35-inch max vertical. He can run, bang and out-reach with the best of them, but for right now, Thompson is still just a bit player getting less than 20 MPG on a sub-.500 team. The tools, which were questioned when the Cavs chose Thompson above highly rated center Jonas Valanciunas, are there. It’s just a matter of whether Thompson can undergo a similar transformation that Pierre-Paul did prior to the 2011 season.
In short, Thompson is waiting to go from athlete to basketball player.
“I went to Texas so I definitely look up to LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Garnett and Amar’e Stoudemire even,” Thompson told HOOPSWORLD when asked whose game he hopes to emulate. “Those guys get up and down the floor so looking at those guys’ games and trying to steal a couple things from them is always beneficial for me.”
So what if the comparisons seem farfetched? Thompson has the same tools of a young Garnett, Aldridge or Stoudemire. And while it’s unlikely he’ll ever develop the mid-range jumper that Aldridge and Garnett have in their arsenal or Stoudemire’s ability to play the high pick and roll, Thompson is beginning to show glimmers of an offensive game.
The left-hander can score a baby-hook shot with either arm and promises to clean up more around the rim as his playing time increases. He’ll never be a jump shooter, so that’s an area he’d do well to ignore completely. Thompson’s best offensive attribute is his ability to run the floor and when a team has a young point guard like Kyrie Irving, that’s a tremendous attribute.
“Whenever you’re on a fast break you’re putting pressure on the other team’s defense so I think any team out running on the fast (break) is deadly so the more we get out and get some fast break opportunities makes it easier on us,” he said.
Anderson Varejao’s wrist injury has pushed Thompson into more minutes off the bench over the last nine games and Thompson has responded by averaging 7.8 PPG, 8.6 RPG and 1.4 BPG in just 23.2 MPG.
“They were a great stretch for me,” Thompson said of his recent string of games. “I’m so fortunate Andy’s down right now, so guys like myself, Semih (Erden) and Samardo (Samuels) have to step up so just coming in and playing hard and just giving our team an extra spark off the bench.”
He’s still shooting poorly from the field (41.5% over that span) and struggling from the line (45.6% for the season), but the simple act of recognizing his strengths and weaknesses could turn him into a double-double machine. The fact that Thompson is attempting just 6.8 field goals per game while averaging nearly three free throws is an indication that his athleticism forces opponents to foul him. When he’s setting for jumpers (even if they’re in the paint) Thompson isn’t putting that pressure on defenses. When he’s moving toward the hoop, however, Thompson turns into Dwight Howard—foul him, or else.
“Just doing what coach wants us to do,” Thompson said when asked why he’s focused on moving toward the hoop. “For bigs, definitely screening and rolling hard and (putting) pressure on the defense when we roll to the rim, so I’m going to continue doing that and it’s working out pretty well for us.”
Getting a big man’s momentum flowing toward the hoop is largely the responsibility of the point guard. A good one can hit his picker in stride on his way to the basket, and that’s exactly what Thompson has in Irving.
“He’s a point guard, likes to get up and down and I’m a big that likes to run, a hybrid so setting screens, rolling lobs, that’s all stuff, I like doing so we compliment each other pretty well,” Thompson said.
“He makes it a little easier,” Thompson said when asked what it’s like sharing his rookie experience with Irving. “You have someone that’s going through the same thing as you, another rookie. It’s just fortunate that we’re both high picks so, but if he was one and I was seventeen it’s still the same thing. We go through the same things. The whole transition and what not, so it’s good to have someone else there with you that’s experiencing the same thing.”
Of course, Irving arrived to the NBA as a much more polished player despite having only 11 collegiate games under his belt. Thompson needs to make much greater strides to capitalize on his skill set. But just as in the case of Pierre-Paul, when that does happen, the effect will be sudden and positively lethal to opponents.
Mavs Demote Struggling Odom
After the New York Post reported that Lamar Odom wants to be traded from the Dallas Mavericks, the team is sending him to the D-League for a game with the Texas Legends. The former All-Star is averaging just 7.7 PPG and 4.5 RPG while posting the worst Player Efficiency Rating (9.74) of his career. He’s also missed the last three games for “personal” reasons, leading many to believe his time with the Mavericks has come to an end. Dallas could buy him out next season for $2 million.
Lopez Wants to Stay
Brook Lopez has always insisted he wanted to be a part of the Nets when the team moves to Brooklyn next season. Of course, the team didn’t sign him to an extension before this year’s deadline, which means he’ll hit the market this summer. That’s led to speculation that Lopez could be moved in a package for Orlando’s Dwight Howard, but Lopez made himself abundantly clear on Friday: He isn’t insulted by the Nets’ interest in Howard and he wants to remain with the team.
“I do want to stay,” Lopez told Fred Kerber of the New York Post. “It’s the only thing I’ve known and I’ve enjoyed my time here, no question.
“I’d definitely be relieved, no question,” Lopez said when asked about surviving the March 15th trade deadline. “Like I said, I like being here. I like being a Net.”
If the Nets could sign Howard and Deron Williams in the offseason, that wouldn’t leave a lot of money left over for Lopez. However, bigger teams have had success in recent seasons and a lineup that includes two seven-footers like Howard and Lopez would cause matchup problems for nearly every team in the league. Lopez’s shooting range would give Howard room to operate on offense while Howard’s versatility would allow Lopez to defend opponents’ weaker post presence at the other end.
It will be interesting to see if Williams, Howard or Lopez would be willing to sacrifice some salary to ensure all three could play in Brooklyn next season.
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