Wine and Gold Draft Their Dynamic Duo

Thursday wasn’t the “wild” night that fans and pundits predicted, but the Cavaliers did manage to raise some eyebrows early the 2011 NBA Draft.

With the top overall selection in the Draft, the Wine and Gold shocked no one – tabbing Duke point guard, Kyrie Irving.

Irving was regarded as the best pure point guard in the Draft, and for weeks, if not months, the freshman was slated to be the top selection. Irving, the fourth No. 1 overall pick in Cavaliers history, has all the tools and all the intangibles. The only thing Irving – who played just 11 games for Duke this past season was lacking – is game tape.

But with their second lottery pick – No. 4 overall – the Cavaliers stunned fans and pundits with the selection of Texas forward Tristan Thompson. The selection might have been unexpected for everyone outside of the Cavaliers war room, but GM Chris Grant maintained that Thompson and Irving were high on their wish-list through the entire process.

“From early on, we made a decision, drafting that high, we were going to take the two best players – the best players and the two best humans that fit our team,” said Grant. “And I think that all of you that get around Kyrie and Tristan will find out that these guys aren’t just good people, they’re fantastic people.

“So as we looked at the Draft, these guys were very high on our board the entire season. And the further we got into the process, they both kept moving up. Regardless of position, we were going to take the two best guys, add them to our foundation and keep moving up.”

Kyrie Irving averaged 17.5 points and 4.3 assists in his freshman season at Durham. He comes to the NBA not just as a creative, instinctive playmaker, but as a polished shooter – 53 percent from the floor, 45 percent from long-distance and 90 percent from the stripe.

At 6-3, Irving has above-average size. As a ballhandler, he’s a natural righty who prefers to go left. And one year ago, he was an 18-year-old kid who was given the keys to the most famed program in college hoops.

“My immediate impact (in Cleveland) will just be bringing a winning attitude, bringing my game into the organization and being as productive as possible,” said Irving. “Long-term, I really want to be cornerstone and a piece that they build around. They have a lot of great players and I can’t wait. I’m very excited to become a Cavalier.”

Coach Byron Scott, who spoke after the Draft, weighed in on his new young point guard.

“We were so excited about this young man and talking to him tonight, he’s excited to be here,” said Scott. “(He was) No. 1 on my board all season long, and there was an opportunity to add a young player to our team right now that can help us in the future. And in the process and the foundation that we’re building, he’s definitely the guy.”

With their second lottery pick, the Wine and Gold pulled the trigger on another freshman – Texas power forward Tristan Thompson.

Thompson’s meteoric rise up Draft boards culminated at No. 4, where the Cavaliers tabbed the Canadian-born power forward. But Chris Grant maintains that he’s been high on the Toronto native for a while.

“Early on, seeing (Thompson) play early in the beginning of the season – the motor, the athleticism, the energy, the competitiveness, the 50/50 balls, the second effort,” praised Grant. “He’s a high-level shot-blocker, he plays above the rim. You think about putting that with Kyrie, who’s a playmaking facilitator and can distribute and make other guys better, we feel that that’s a pretty good combination.”

The 6-8, 225-pounder was Texas’ second-leading scorer and was named the squad’s MVP – averaging 13.1 points per game. Thompson led the Longhorns in rebounding (7.8 rpg), blocked shots (86) double-doubles (10) and field goal percentage (.546). He was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year.

In high school, Thompson spent his senior season at powerhouse Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nevada. Previous to that, he was a teammate of Samardo Samuels at St. Benedict’s Prep Academy in New Jersey – about a stone’s throw from Prudential Center, where he was anointed as the newest member of the Cavaliers.

“Samardo is like a big brother to me,” said Thompson on a mid-first round conference call. “I played a year with him at St. Benedict’s and being reunited with Samardo definitely warms my heart, and I’m excited to get to Cleveland.”

Thompson is already a solid defender and rebounder, but he’ll likely need to work on his offensive game at the next level – something he’s looking forward to. He shot almost 55 percent from the floor, but just 49 percent from the free throw line. He’s been working with former Cavaliers head coach John Lucas over this summer.

“I am continuing to work on my (jump) shot, so it becomes more consistent,” said Thompson. “Coach Lucas tells me that it takes months of dedication to make consistent and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”

The Cavaliers didn’t make a big splash in the second round. At No. 32, they selected a sharp-shooting big man from Richmond, Justin Harper. But he wasn’t a member of the squad long, as the Cavs moved him to Orlando for a pair of future second-rounders.

At No. 54, Cleveland went international, selecting a bruising power forward from Serbia – Milan Macvan – who the Cavs will allow to develop overseas.

“We saw (Macvan) play in the Hoop Summit a couple years ago and he’s just one of the toughest, nastiest power forwards we’ve ever seen. And he absolutely dominated the game and beat everybody up.”

The Cavaliers can revisit the Macvan pick later. As for the immediate future, the two newest Cavaliers will arrive on the shores of Lake Erie tomorrow morning and meet the assembled media in the afternoon.

Cleveland might not have drafted their saviors on Thursday night, but in the climb back to the top, they added a dynamic duo that could be the cornerstones of the franchise for years to come.

“We didn’t look at this (Draft) in a vacuum, we also looked at it holistically,” added Grant. “We’re going to bring in two good young players together that can grow. It’s important that these guys are the right kind of humans and they’re willing to give up a little bit of themselves for the team. And these guys are.”