* The Cavs insist Thompson was their top target with the No. 4 pick from the start. Whether or not that is true will never be known, but it was clear they were scared off by Jonas Valanciunas’ murky European contract. Had they known the parameters of his buyout, I believe they would’ve selected him fourth. But the Cavs were true to their word. If they didn’t know precisely when Valanciunas would be available, they weren’t taking him.
* Once Valanciunas was eliminated from the pile, who else were they supposed to take at No. 4? With Derrick Williams and Enes Kanter going second and third, the options were limited. Had the Utah Jazz selected Brandon Knight third, the Cavs could’ve maybe taken Kanter fourth and traded down a few spots and still wound up with Thompson. They could’ve taken Valanciunas for the sole purpose of trading him, since interest in him seemed to increase closer to the draft.
* Could they have gotten Thompson a few spots lower? Yeah, probably. And in fact, they did try hard to move around a little bit. But the pieces didn’t match up, so they stayed right where they were and took the guy they wanted all along. I remember Browns GM Tom Heckert talking after his first draft, which netted Joe Haden and T.J. Ward at the top. Fans were scratching their heads why they took Ward so high, to which Heckert replied simply: When your guy is there, take him. Sometimes you can get cute and try to get him lower, only to miss out on him entirely. When a guy you want is there at the spot you are drafting, sometimes it’s best to just take him.
6. Why did the Cavs take Thompson? They didn’t want to wait as long as two years for Jonas Valanciunas to get free of his European contract. These situations can be very messy. That must have been the case here, because the Cavs really like the 7-foot Valanciunas.
7. My thought is the Cavs have their own Valanciunas, only he is more advanced. He’s 7-foot Semih Erden, acquired from Boston. Erden will be 25 on July 28. He spent most of the season with Boston, and was hurt after coming to Cleveland. Erden averaged 4.0 points and shot 56 percent in 14.5 minutes a game this season. Here, he played only 64 minutes, shooting 4-of-14 with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
11. The Cavs compile a lot of complicated internal stats for rating prospects, much like what ESPN’s John Hollinger uses. Hollinger rated Derrick Williams and Thompson as the two best big men in the draft: “Thompson and Williams had the highest ratings of any player in the Draft Rater this year, and while that doesn’t come with the same assurances it does for Kyrie Irving, they both appear to be very solid prospects. Of the 13 players who rated at 15.5 or above in previous iterations, most were very successful as pros. The ones that weren’t tended to fail due to injuries and lack of professionalism — issues that shouldn’t be factors for Thompson and Williams.”
12. Hollinger rated Thompson the No. 3 player in the draft.
7:56 — Curveball from the Cavs at no. 4: They take Tristan Thompson, the Texas forward who’s also (a) the highest Canadian-born pick ever, (b) someone who likes to tweet Confuscius-like messages like “”One man trash is another man treasure. So you better know what you got, before it’s gone,” and (c) the No. 1 Draft Pick for this year’s Lindsey Hunter All-Stars (for athletes whose names make them sound like supermodels). “He just needs to learn how to play and how to score,” Bilas says. I think I need more from my fourth pick than that sentence. Weird choice. Or, this draft is horrible. One or the other.
7:58 — Stu tells us that Thompson is our third active NBA player born in Canada, joining Joel Anthony and Jamaal Magloire. We need a name for these awkwardly enlightening Stu facts when he’s trying to spruce up a throw to commercial. I say we call them “Stidbits.” Regardless, I’m writing each one down in case there’s a quiz later.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Irving is mostly a case of winning by default, but they wouldn’t have been the first team to be unable to get out of their own way with an obvious pick. Irving gives them a franchise point guard to build around and was the best player overall in this draft. Going for Derrick Williams would have been sheer hubris in order to burn LeBron by choosing a replacement forward. Then, with the fourth, they could have opted for Valanciunas, which would have been a good pick. But there’s a reason so many teams were chasing Tristan Thompson. His workouts showed how he would translate on the next level, and with that kind of athleticism, he provides a good running partner for Irving. They managed to not overcomplicate the combination of two top-five picks. They got good talent both small and big. That’s a win right there.
Loser: Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavaliers did their due diligence leading into the draft by working out Duke guard Kyrie Irving and Arizona forward Derrick Williams – in addition to also working out Turkish center Enes Kanter, Kentucky guard Brandon Knight and Texas forward Tristan Thompson twice. But the Cavs also let Irving, supposedly the new face of the franchise, nervously wait out their selection without confirming he was the first pick.
The New Jersey native was a near-consensus top pick, so if you’re going to wait that long to tell him, you might as well be daring enough to draft someone else.
“I knew when everybody else knew,” Irving said. “They gave me no indication that they were going to pick me. I was really nervous sitting at that table with my family and my friends.”
Winner: Tristan Thompson
There were some raised eyebrows when Thompson left Texas after his freshman year, especially because there were several other players in his class that were regarded higher than him. Even in a down draft, the 6-foot-8, 235-pound forward was expected to be selected in the latter half of the lottery. But the highest-drafted Canadian ever was the surprise of the night when he was taken fourth overall by the Cavaliers. Cleveland now has a talented 19-year-old inside-outside combo to build around for the future in Irving and Thompson.
“I know a lot of people never expected it and neither did myself,” Thompson said. “It just shows the wonders that hard work puts in.”
Kyrie Irving, SI Rank: 10.0. Irving isn’t LeBron James, but he may have a little bit of Chris Paul in his game. That was enough for the Cavs to deem him the King of this rebuilding process, and it’s not hard to see why. Incumbent Baron Davis is a pricey (two years, $28.7 million left on his contract) and unreliable veteran, and Ramon Sessions isn’t the answer either. The unselfish Irving has fantastic court vision and is an able passer and a good shooter. He’s hardly the most spectacular No. 1 pick we’ve seen, but the Cavs are now confident they have their floor leader for a generation to come.
Tristan Thompson, SI Rank 9.0: Thompson shot up the draft boards in the last 48 hours, with his motor and desire to improve resonating with a Cavs team that wants to add impact players now. He can score, rebound and defend. In other words, he’s the poster boy for this draft: not sexy as a player but effective and looking at a long career. The Cavs were slated to take Lithuanian big man Jonas Valanciunas here, but his sticky buyout situation with his overseas team clearly scared them away. Valanciunas might not be able to play in the NBA next season because of the contract.
The trend began with the Cavaliers, who were looking to recast themselves in the vacuum created by LeBron James’s abrupt departure last summer. They didn’t invest in Kyrie Irving with the idea that he would dominate athletically like other young point guards. Instead they’re counting on Irving to fulfill his ability by playing with an edge. He has a ruthlessness which — along with his extended shooting range and feel for the game — gives him a chance to compete with more explosive opponents.
The Cavs’ No. 4 pick, Tristan Thompson, is a low-post scorer with an admirable work ethic, and the latter quality was abundant in this draft.
No. 1, Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving, 6’3” point guard, Duke: The deserving No. 1 pick in this draft, a quality point guard who the Cavaliers can use as a key piece in rebuilding. He’s a pure point guard — good at penetration but he is as likely to pass as shoot. Good court awareness. Good off the pick and roll, expect to see a lot of that in Cleveland. The only question is experience, he played just 11 games on his one and only year at Duke. He’s not the athlete/player that Derrick Rose is (or Chris Paul, or Deron Williams) and Cavs fans can’t expect that. But he will be good, an All-Star a couple times and is a piece to start a long rebuilding process with.
No. 4. Cleveland Cavaliers: Tristan Thompson, 6’9” power forward, Texas: This pick is a bit of a surprise. There is a lot of potential here, but if you just watched him in the NCAA Tournament and big games you might not have seen it. As a freshman, against other top teams, he didn’t impress. That said he is long, a good shot blocker, rebounds and brings a lot of effort every time out. He is raw on offense and needs a perimeter game, which is why this pick is a bit of a surprise (the Cavs need scoring). But clearly they think he can develop it (or they picked it for a trade….). Highest pick ever of a Canadian-born player.
Cleveland Cavaliers (19-63): They made the right move with Kyrie Irving, but Tristan Thompson seems like a reach. A lot of teams like him but his offense is so raw, I wasn’t a fan. Not loving their night because it feels like it could have been better, but they got the best guy overall.
Irving admits to just about idolizing James and Chris Paul.
“When I was younger,” Irving said shortly after being drafted Thursday night, “I used to watch countless hours of video of both of them working out. When I say, try to emulate their journey, just the way they transitioned themselves, LeBron coming from high school into the NBA and Chris Paul coming from college into the NBA, and the way they conducted themselves on and off the court, is truly as a professional should. A lot of community service, just taking care of the family, and that’s kind of how I envision myself.”
They’re two of the most successful players in NBA history. It’s not so odd that a player a half-decade younger would look up to them.
But that this one does and went to that city, where the owner, some players and a big chunk of fans are on the record as archly anti-James … that creates an odd potential for friction.
Or an evolution of sorts.
This is the kind of thing that could, ordinarily, just be politely ignored by all involved. In this case, I’m not sure that’s so. James hatred is one of the biggest stories in sports. And Irving is a talker, a deft communicator — when the Cavaliers drafted him, they got both a player and a face of the franchise. They need him to talk, and he’ll succeed at that.
But it’s hard to imagine anyone as passionate about James and as vocal as Irving sitting this one out all year. The issue is going to come up all the time, and he’s going to have a hard time saying things that won’t fit the narrative in Cleveland.
As for myself, the morning after, I’m still cautiously optimistic. I can get behind Tristan Thompson and I’m still fine with them flipping the 32nd pick. Refreshing twitter and listening to WKNR this morning, I feel like a lot of people had high hopes for a Big Splash and they were let down by the Cavs inactivity. People were hoping for three top 10 picks or somehow landing both Irving and Derrick Williams or buying back into the first or using the trade exception…. and they just end up staying at 1 and 4 (and they trade 32!).
I can see how people can be let down, but I have a hard time killing GMs for the moves they don’t make. If the price isn’t worth it, the price isn’t worth it. Trading 4 and next year’s first to grab Derrick Williams would be a disaster in my eyes and I have yet to see a trade exception rumor that excites me.
I can live with Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson.