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Posts Tagged ‘Tristan Thompson

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ summer and the Tristan Thompson problem

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Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and Kyrie Irving

Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and Kyrie Irving (Photo credit: Erik Daniel Drost)

After Lebron left them for dead in 2010, the Cavaliers have spent the last 3 seasons going “full tank-tard”. The young talent on the team in Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller along with their pick of more draft talent this year, is worth it – But the Cavaliers need to start winning with Kyrie Irving next season. The hiring of Mike Brown is a good start, but aside from the draft, free agency will be key to making a leap forward.

A big name on the market this summer is PF Josh Smith. Paul Millsap is just behind him in impact. Pau Gasol may also hit the market, if as I expect the Lakers choose to dump his contract instead of amnestying Kobe, if committed to saving the up to 80 million in luxury tax payment.

An interesting question is whether Cleveland sees PF as a team need. I’ll call it the Tristan Thompson problem. Thompson is currently the starting PF for the Cavaliers and has been fine, but hardly exemplary. There is a fine line between confidence developing a prospect and overrating them, leading to making mistakes building around them. How clearly can the Cavaliers judge Thompson going forward? When a team picks a player top 5, largely that means they expect a decade long starter. By going out of their way to take Thompson that high, it’s fair to assume the Cavaliers have had expectations of Thompson as their long term starter a the position. Grabbing a player like Smith or Millsap, makes Thompson the 3rd big and reroutes that plan. This is no insult, as 3rd bigs like Taj Gibson, Amir Johnson, Nick Collison have had significant impacts in recent years. However if the Cavaliers can only see stardom in Thompson’s future, they may feel it’s unnecessary to spend cap assets on the position, when Thompson can replicate their production.

I do not how the Cavaliers see Thompson’s upside, or what their plans are this summer in regards to free agent targets. However if having eyes for Thompson at the position leads them to ignore PF as a target position this summer, I see it as a mistake. The Cavaliers can stand to make a big improvement at the PF position compared to what they got this year and if given the opportunity to grab an impact talent like Smith, Millsap, or Gasol, I see that as a key chance to upgrade the Kyrie Irving era. A lineup of something resembling Millsap, Varejao and Thompson as 3rd big in the frontcourt, is ready to go.

It will be interesting to see if Thompson plays into the Cavaliers’ decision making this summer.

Written by jr.

April 23, 2013 at 6:58 pm

The likely reason the Cavaliers took Tristan Thompson over Jonas Valanciunas

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English: Jonas Valanciunas, member of the Lith...

English: Jonas Valanciunas, member of the Lithuanian Under-19 basketball team, which competed in the 2011 FIBA Under-19 World Championship in Latvia Lietuvių (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The likely reason the Cavaliers took Tristan Thompson over Jonas Valanciunas

A major surprise of the 2011 draft was Tristan Thompson jumping to 4th overall by the Cavaliers. Jonas Valanciunas had been mocked higher throughout the year and conventional wisdsom says filling the C position is more difficult than PF.

Because Jonas had a European team buyout expected to mean a 1 or 2 year wait until he came to the NBA, many speculate this – or either a claim Jonas or his agent Leon Rose speaking out against playing in Cleveland – caused the Cavaliers to waffle at the last moment and pass on Valanciunas for Thompson even if they preferred the former.

I don’t see this a logical explanation. In regards to the buyout, the Cavaliers were years away from expecting to compete and thus immediate production for Jonas wasn’t any more needed than in Toronto. Hard to see why evidence why Jonas wouldn’t want to play in Cleveland either.

There’s a more simple explanation for why they made the pick. It’s no secret that the Cavaliers draft methodology under Chris Grant is advanced metrics heavy. The recent surge of advanced metrics statheads focusing on the draft, is based on this concept – Take all the careers of NBA players, then perform an advanced regression analysis to find which college statistics correlate to NBA success. The more adjustment for NCAA conference and competition, age, or teammates, the better of course. With millions to spend at their disposal, the complexity of the Cavaliers’ regression analysis is likely beyond anything we are able to see publicly on the internet. But if you’re a Cavaliers fan looking for a hint of who they’ll pick, check out http://hoopsanalyst.com, a blog run by a draft stathead who gained attention for predicting Jeremy Lin’s college success. The site is relevant for Cavaliers fans because he ranked Tristan Thompson as the 2nd best prospect in 2011 and Dion Waiters as 2nd best in 2012, behind Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis respectively. The methodology he uses is thus likely to match up well with the Cavaliers’. Because of that site I correctly predicted before the 2012 draft that they Cavaliers would take Waiters 4th over Barnes who had dominated the mocks at that pick, but whom statguys universally hated as a top 10 pick. Another draft site getting attention this year is http://shutupandjam.net/draft-rankings/ , albeit he didn’t have his rankings up last year I believe. John Hollinger for ESPN also posted draft regression studies for years, while his replacement Kevin Pelton recently posted an article comparing his stats to scouting opinions, here http://insider.espn.go.com/nba/story/_/page/PerDiem-130329/nba-shabazz-muhammad-overrated

Tristan Thompson’s high rebounding and block rate and Dion Waiters high assist and steal rate, appears to have played very well with draft studies. However my real reason for posting this article, is why the Cavaliers would be unlikely to trust any of Jonas Valanciunas’ statistics before the NBA.

Yes, Jonas’ combination of rebounding, shotblocking and hyper-efficient finishing is traditionally what regression studies like the above would favor. If he had done it in the NCAA.

In 2010-2011, Jonas played 33 games in the Lithuanian Basketball League (LKL) for Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius, averaging 21:04 minutes averaging 11.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 66.8% FG, which is elite per minute numbers. But from a regression analysis perspective, these minutes and production are unusable due to all but no players crossing over from the LKL to NBA before Jonas, let alone young center prospects. The LKL is not a strong league and without comparable players in his situation and then gone onto the NBA, there’d be no way to knowing whether to trust his production beating up inferior competition.

Lietuvos Rytas played 15 Gs in the Euroleague in Jonas’ draft year, where he averaged 15:25 per game averaging 7.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 0.7 blks on 70.8% FG, once again elite per minute numbers. While against more trustworthy competition, the problem here is sample size. He plays a total of 231 minutes total, which is just too small of a number to trust as indicative of real quality. Not to mention Jonas’ role playing as an “energy guy” reserve off the bench against opponents unlikely to have gameplanned against him, makes it more difficult to extrapolate his minutes to a full game as star caliber. In comparison, Tristan Thompson played over 1100 minutes his freshman year at Texas and as a featured player which is a far more trustworthy statistical situation.

A similar story is true of international competitions before the 2011 draft, such as the U18 tournament in 2010 where Valanciunas averaged a dominant 19.4 points, 13.4 rebounds, 2.7 blks 70% shooting split. However playing approximately 270 minutes in the tournament as well as the relatively low level of competition, makes the information all but useless.

While they may have more future NBA players than the LKL, the sample size of NBA players in the Euroleague and international competitions available to cross-compare in a regression analysis, is still fractional compared to a major NCAA conference’s.

It’s likely the Cavaliers were fans of Jonas’ efficiency and rebounding. But if truly all-in on using advanced metrics and regression analysis to predict draft success, it’s no brainer who’s statistics would be more trusted between Valanciunas and Thompson’s. From a regression analysis perspective, there wouldn’t be enough if any trustworthy statistics from Jonas’ pre-draft career, whether from level of competition or small sample size in leagues and competitions. Jonas’ path to the NBA is literally one of a kind in regards to competition. On the other hand Tristan playing over 1100 minutes in a role as well-treaded as Big 12 freshman power forward, would give the Cavaliers a much larger sample size of comparable players and ability to adjust for context that they needed to make a reliable regression analysis.

Written by jr.

April 6, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Two breakout players for whom I’m not drinking the kool-aid: Eric Bledsoe and Tristan Thompson

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Wizards v/s Clippers 03/12/11

Wizards v/s Clippers 03/12/11 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’ve followed this blog you know that I have my own talent evaluation system, based on grading players 1/3 on tools that physically impact the game, 1/3 tools that impact the game through a skill level (mostly shooting) and 1/3 what is commonly referred to as feel for the game, a relative but not duplicate of basketball IQ. (The problem with using “basketball IQ” is that players with a strong feel for the game may play stupid for reasons that aren’t related to talent – instead originating from character flaws like selfishness, nerves, etc. Feel for the Game is a slightly more innate and talent based term)

If I’m correct, I should be able to use this talent evaluating system to pick out the “small sample size tricksters”. Over the years there’s been plenty of players who’ve “broken out” and put up near star numbers, but only for a short period of time. Eventually a combination of natural regression and teams’ scouting catches up to them and they fall back to being the frustrating players they were before. Most players can play well for a time, but much less can keep it up consistently.

This year there are two players that have played great in bursts statistically, who don’t pass the sniff test to me: Eric Bledsoe and Tristan Thompson. Bledsoe came flying out of the gate over the 20 PER mark, while he’s slowed down since then his overall stats of 18.3 PER and 15.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists per 36 minutes, is excellent for a 3rd year guard who just turned 23. After flatlining for the frst season and a half of his career, Tristan Thompson averaged 15.1 points and 10.9 rebounds a game in January, extremely impressive for a player who’s just 21. Enough for many to say he may go 2nd in the 2011 draft if redone today. Both players have people whispering about all-star upside. After all, if they’re impressive this much at a young age, they can only go up from here right? Not so fast. While it’s more fun to believe every player and high draft pick is a star in the making, the reality is the majority of them don’t break free of the peloton.

Breaking them down, first off both grade well in regards to physically impacting plays. Bledsoe is a marvel of a physical talent, with an elite combination of blinding speed and hulking strength, allowing him to get to the rim at will and allowing him to disrupt the game defensively. If he’s not in Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and John Wall’s class in regards to making plays with his physical tools for a PG (He lacks their size), he’s just a step behind. Tristan on the other hand has excellent explosiveness for a big man, allowing him to attack the basket. While playing C as he has since Anderson Varejao went down, he gives up size but contains speed that’s even harder to stop by the competition. Tristan isn’t amazing at physical impact talent like Bledsoe is, but we’ll call him above average at either PF or C.

What I don’t like about either player is their feel for the game. Bledsoe is one of those players who seems like he’s playing “too fast”, exploding with a head of steam to the basket without the control to probe the game or make decisions on the fly. Bledsoe is like a bucking horse that’s hard to reel in, which draws comparisons to Russell Westbrook – another player who’s feel for the game I consider below average for the point guard position. Tristan Thompson likewise is rough around the edges for a big man. He often can look robotic and stiff and rough around the edges, instead of a natural and smooth player on the offensive end. Both players make reading and probing the game look hard instead of easy.

That leaves plays created by skill. Eric Bledsoe was awful shooting the ball his first two seasons in the league, but has improved this year under the tutelage of Chris Paul. His 3pt shooting of 36.4% is average instead of poor, albeit it’s on a small sample size of 44 attempts this year. He still lacks a midrange game, with hoopdata indicating he’s shooting 26.0% from 16-23 feet and 36.4% from 10-15 feet. Most encouraging is his FT% jumping to 81.3%, though once again a sample size of 96 attempts is rather small. Bledsoe is certainly not a player that is trusting as a shooter or jumpshot creator from midrange or from 3 and is likely left open for most of his 3pt attempts. He looks to be headed to somewhere between average and below average for plays created by skill for a PG, in my opinion. As for Thompson, while lacks ability in the post or shooting range, he does have superb hands and an array of ways to finish around the basket and is an impressive ballhandler for a big man. I would say Tristan Thompson’s skill level is around average for a power forward, but above average for a center.

Considering this, it’s hard for me to justify grading them as all-star talents. On my scale of 1 to 11 (with 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 as possible grades), I would give Bledsoe a grade of 9 in physical impact talent, 3 in skill impact talent and 3 in feel for the game based on the above analysis, for an overall grade of 15, which grades out as a relevant career, but only a borderline starting caliber player. Scores of about 19 and above is what I consider “blue chip” starting caliber players, while scores of around 23 and above is when players become perennial all-star caliber talents. Bledsoe’s best chance to be a break through to that blue chip starter to all-star caliber range is for his shooting and perimeter skill game to take great leaps forward, to where it’s decidedly a weapon. When added to his amazing athleticism, this would make him a vicious combination of slashing and perimeter shooting, enough to be a near star even with an underwhelming feel for the game. Russell Westbrook would be the model to follow for Bledsoe here. I do not like Westbrook’s feel for the game any more than Bledsoe’s, but the combination of his all time great physical tools for his position and respectable shooting stroke still make him a blue chip player. The player who’s career Bledsoe might end up resembling most is Devin Harris, who like him was a supersub on an elite team while in Dallas, before going to his own squad in New Jersey. Harris actually a spectacular all-star season his first year in New Jersey, but both his dramatic fall-off since and my personal evaluation of his talent tell me that year was somewhat of a fluke, probably let on by teams not catching up scouting report wise to him yet. Harris to me has an unimpressive feel for the game and inconsistent perimeter skill level, so despite a dynamic ability to penetrate and attack the basket, in my opinion it’s not enough.

My grades for Tristan Thompson assuming his long term position is PF, is 7 in physical impact talent, 5 in skill impact talent and 3 in feel for the game. (At center he has a more impressive skill level but gives a bit back physically.) Like Bledsoe this gives him a grade of 15, making him a useful talent but not a standout starter or all-star. Like Bledsoe if he has any chance of breaking out to that blue chipper status, it’s if his skill game can make a huge leap upward for the position, which would happen with Tristan developing a Carlos Boozer-like perimeter jumpshot and skill game. My guess though is Tristan ends up having a career resembling Brandon Bass and Kris Humphries, energy big men who’s athleticism and decent ability to score (both have better jumpshots than Tristan is likely to develop, but Tristan has better touch and ball-handling) helped them carve out nice careers, but as players more suited to be a signature backup big man on a great team.

Written by jr.

February 2, 2013 at 4:17 am