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The Cavs are Back, now with 7% more Canadian!

Year #4 of interregnum basketball is upon us. Judging how the roster is shaping up, I might have the stomach to make Wine & Gold colored charts and write about it for a whole season. At this point in the rebuild, the Cavs have cast off the last of their D-League flotsam and replaced it with characters I expect to care about. No more Pargos, Sloans, Moons, Coach Scotts, Jawads, or Samardos; I never wanted to ďanalyzeĒ those guys because the whole point of having them was to bottom out, and then draft talent we donít have to lie to ourselves about in order to be optimistic.

After several quarters of watchable preseason action, I donít feel like I have to lie myself into optimism for Tristan Thompson. He shows confidence on both ends of the floor that I didnít see twelve months ago. On offense, Iím buying the rumors of Tristanís work-ethic and hype surrounding his brand new right-handedness. Why? Besides my eyeballs seeing him grow more competent on the court in two years, Tristanís shot charts spell out the same story of development.

The charts above map the percentage of Tristanís shots that came from different zones on the floor. His rookie chart tells the story of a fantastically limited offensive game that you see in low-usage defensive specialists like Ben Wallace or Tyson Chandler. 63% of Tristanís shot attempts came from within the restricted area, and more than 95% came from the low post area. He didnít unveil a Tim Duncan midrange game for his second season, but the new hook shot was easily one of my favorite things to see development-wise on the team last season. Tristan traded a sizeable chunk of his shots at the rim for a more varied approach in the low post while dramatically increasing his overall shooting efficiency.

The charts below show Tristanís field goal percentages by zone during his first two season. The new-look Thompson only connected on about 40% of his attempts beyond the restricted arc, but Iíd risk a guess that using more of the floor opened his game to better looks at the basket. Overall, he increased his shooting efficiency from 44% to 49%. †

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Iím not sure what to expect this seasonóweíre in completely uncharted territory seeing an NBA player switch hands on his free throws and jump shot. Personally, Iíd be happy to see Tristanís shot selection stay at his 2013 distribution with modest improvements in FG%. Exactly one percent of his attempts came from south of the free throw line, and Iím tempted to believe this number will reach between five and fifteen percent in 2014. Would that be a good thing? Even an optimistic imagination doesnít allow Tristan to knock down more than 35% of those looks. If, however, the threat of Thompson popping off a 15-footer gives him more space to dribble-drive from the high post, it could be a net benefit for Tristanís scoring efficiency. †My belief that Tristan will start hoisting 15-footers from the high post is based on the fact that itís really hard to find power forwards in the league that donít do this. Here are a few examples that I arbitrarily selected:

Anderson Varejao, PF-C, Cleveland Cavaliers

Weíre all familiar with Andyís game, and I think heís one of the better Tristan comparisons in the NBA. The percentage of Varejaoís shots at the rim and his FG% in that area are nearly identical to Tristanís numbers from last year. Instead of 7 foot hooks, Andy opts for a more varied selection of his goofy set-shots from further out.


Derrick Favors, PF, Utah Jazz

Favors is arguably the most similar player to Thompson in the league. Heís an explosive defensive minded power forward with limited skills on offense. He takes 9% of his shots from the high post, and anything beyond the restricted area has been a disaster. However, heís a notch above Tristan in finishing shots at the rimó64%.

Obligatory Comparison to Jonas Valanciunas, PF, Toronto Raptors

I'm not going to write much about this one. Jonas Valanciunas has a nasty shot chart for a rookie big. He demonstrated nice touch from every spot on the floor inside the three point arc. More than half of his shots come at the rim, and he made 66% of them. Yep.

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