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Should The Toronto Raptors Pursue Tristan Thompson?

After a very disappointing season, the Cleveland Cavaliers are open for business and just one of the many young players that could be available is Toronto’s own Tristan Thompson.

The fourth overall draft pick in 2011, the Cavaliers forward is just 23-years old and has nearly averaged a double-double during his first three seasons in the NBA. The Raptors should be all over any opportunity to pick up this kid, shouldn’t they?

That depends.

Thompson entered the NBA as a much younger version of a player the Raptors already have on their roster, Tyler Hansbrough. An undersized power forward at 6’ 7.5” without shoes, but the plus 7’ wingspan and decent enough vertical jump to make up for it, Thompson is just slightly shorter and slightly longer than Hansbrough. Both were known for drawing fouls and rebounding coming into the NBA and neither player has shown much of a mid-range game let alone any range out to the three-point line. They both have to hustle to get points.

Both Hansbrough and Thompson averaged just over 47 percent from the field last season and scored almost all of their points either in the paint or from the free throw line. They both shot just under 70 percent from the stripe. The younger Thompson did show some potential as a jump shooter in limited attempts, however, hitting 36.6 percent from midrange.

On the boards, both players pulled in about 10.5 rebounds per 36 minutes and neither player was much of a shot blocker. On a per 36 minute basis, Hansbrough and Thompson averaged a double-double last season.

A possible Cavaliers rationale for trading Thompson would be the type of contract he may be able to command if he averages the solid double-double that playing him around 36 minutes per game next season is expected to produce. The bigger reason could be the team as constructed can’t win and the Cavaliers need to make changes. For comparison, Toronto can retain Hansbrough for $3.3 million next season and Hansbrough isn’t likely to command more than that in his next contract. Thompson earns $5.1 million next season and his qualifying offer is $6.8 million for 2015-2016.

The bigger issue for the Raptors is the style of play Head Coach Dwane Casey likes to play. Almost immediately upon his arrival Patrick Patterson was taking minutes from Hansbrough. Patterson has range past the three-point line, provided better rim protection and could cover multiple positions on the floor because he can play away from the basket at either end of the court. At this point in his career, Thompson is not going to be taking minutes away from Patterson and Patterson is expected to be backing up Amir Johnson next season.

Should the Raptors take a run at acquiring Thompson from the Cavaliers? It doesn’t seem like it, but that depends on how they project Thompson’s development and how much the Cavaliers demand in return. It isn’t easy to evaluate a player on a bad team with inconsistent coaching and questionable chemistry.

Obtaining a Canadian player who could become an eventual starter on the Raptors is a worthy long term objective, however, as with any trade, there has to be a perceived net benefit and it could be hard to put a player like Thompson, who started every game last season, into a backup role in the year before his rookie contract runs out.

Price, chemistry issues and available playing time could all conspire to keep the Raptors from pursuing the Thompson, however, Cleveland needs to make changes and Toronto may see a potential starting Canadian forward. This is just one more situation to watch between now and the draft and possibly through the summer.


Stephen_Brotherston_inside Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.