The buzz in the Canadian basketball world right now is all about the Toronto Raptors rookie, Jonas Valanciunas. The seven-foot Lithuanian was drafted fifth overall in the 2011 NBA draft by the Toronto Raptors, the same draft that the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Brampton, Ontario native Tristan Thompson with the #4 pick. Both the Cavs and Raptors were heavily criticized in the media for selecting two very questionable picks at the time. Now that we're fresh int a new NBA season, it will be interesting to see how the fourth and fifth overall picks of the 2011 NBA draft pan out.
Flashback to 2011...
For the Cleveland Cavaliers, it was the "post Lebron James era" back on the 2011 draft night and the team was in a favourable position in the draft. They had the first and fourth overall lottery selections. They chose the Duke point guard, Kyrie Irving with the first overall pick and then three picks later picked the Texas product and Canadian kid, Tristan Thompson. Now, this was the first surprise of draft night as the Cavs were already stacked at power forward and a lot of experts projected Thompson to be the #7-#10 pick...not fourth overall. It was also a surprise since Cleveland was rumoured to really like the big man out of Lithuania……Jonas Valanciunas, who went to Toronto at the next pick.
Toronto fans, at this point, were already soured by the thought of another Euro big man who they never heard about in the NBA draft. So when Valanciunas’ name was announced, a lot of the Raptor fanbase weren't feeling too great....."Who did we draft? Another Euro big man? And we won't even get to see him play this season?" There were a lot of doubters.
Tristan Thompson is currently on a young, up and coming Cavs team this season and Thompson has something to prove. He has pro experience under his belt and averaged 8 ppg, 6.5 rpg and 1 block per contest last season with Cleveland. It wasn't a typical rookie year....a shortened 66-game season with a shortened training camp, not really ideal for an NBA rookie.
This year, Thompson got the full meal deal: a full training camp, a full preseason and an 82-game regular season. He's bulked up over the summer, gaining 15 pounds of muscle and has potential to be a candidate for breakout player of the year. Tristan is a natural rebounder, who can defend and has a 7-foot wingspan. His offensive game isn’t polished but it was something he worked on in the offseason. He's already looking better this season, putting together a double double against the Washington Wizards in the Cavs regular season opener. Thompson scored 12 points (5-8 FG), grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out five assists.
It's funny because the Raptors' Jonas Valanciunas also had a similar line in his first NBA regular season action. Valanciunas, also had the double double and scored 12 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 23 minutes against the Pacers....sound familiar? The big man has been nothing but impressive throughout the preseason and in his first regular season NBA game against the Pacers. He has already proven that he can both play tough defence as well as score the basket when needed. His presence helps spread the floor out, and will make guys like Raptor veterans DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani better players. Jonas has the potential to be a great player in this league.
For both Thompson and Valanciunas, these are two 2011 draft picks may have been questionable draft picks back then but they have every opportunity to prove the doubters wrong this season.
The bigger question is.....who will have the better NBA career?
(photo via Canada.com)
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