Thompson Trending Up

Texas frosh Thompson could be right fit next to Monroe

An impressive showing at the draft combine may work in Tristan Thompson's favor.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images Sport
Editor’s note: continues a 15-part series leading to the June 23 draft with a look at one of the possibilities for the Pistons’ pick at No. 8 in the first round, Texas power forward Tristan Thompson. Next: Jonas Valanciunas.

If the Pistons have a fondest wish for the 2011 draft, chances are it would be to come away with a player they feel confident can be a compatible fit with Greg Monroe for the next decade.

Whether Tristan Thompson fits the mold from a skill-set standpoint remains to be seen. But there isn’t much question he qualifies from a citizenship and personality perspective as a match for the exemplary Monroe.

“They’d be getting a guy with a high motor who always wants to win,” said the man who knows Thompson better than any other basketball player could, Cory Joseph, his teammate as Texas freshmen last season and before that at a Las Vegas prep school and dating to the fourth grade in their native Toronto.

“He’s a winner, a competitor and he loves the game of basketball. He’ll give you 110 percent every time he’s on the floor.”

Monroe immediately impressed the Pistons as mature beyond his years, a quality he maintained even as a tumultuous season unfolded around him. Thompson appears equally grounded and focused solely on team rewards.

“When you draft Tristan Thompson, you’ll get someone who will work hard on and off the court,” Thomspon said at the Chicago draft combine last month. “Just whenever I get in the game, bring toughness and play hard. If that means running up and down the court, blocking shots, rebounding – whatever a team needs to win, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Thompson is one of a handful of big men the Pistons likely will consider with the No. 8 pick, a good number of them international prospects. While Thompson is more likely than not to be available, his stock is rising after an impressive showing in Chicago, where he measured at just a shade below 6-foot-9 and flashed his athleticism with times in agility drills that bested many guards and wings.

More on Tristan Thompson
College: Texas

Size: 6-foot-8¾, 227 pounds

Age: 20 on draft night

The good: High marks for work ethic and character. … Average size but 7-foot-1¼ wing span plus lateral quickness and explosion give Thompson a shot to develop into an elite NBA shot-blocker and interior defender. … Top-notch offensive rebounder.

The bad: Shot mechanics need reworking. … Averaged an outstanding eight free throws per game as a Texas freshman, but shot just .487. … Needs to develop a back-to-the-basket repertoire.

The skinny: If Thompson gets past hometown Toronto at No. 5, he is more likely than not to be available to the Pistons with the eighth pick. If so, he could crack their short list. Selfless attitude makes him a worthy frontcourt partner for Greg Monroe.

If he works out well when teams bring him to their towns, Thompson is a player who figures to gain steam over the next three weeks. He certainly will make an impression on teams for his earnestness. One question hovering over Thompson is his offensive potential.

If what teams see in workouts represents any degree of improvement over what they saw on tape and in person over his freshman performance at Texas, then it will be easier for teams to believe Thompson – because of the sense of purpose he conveys in one-on-one conversations – will be likelier than most to harness his potential.

It wouldn’t be a stretch for Thompson to go as high as No. 5 to his hometown Toronto Raptors, though the Raptors might conclude his skill set is too similar to that of last year’s lottery pick, Ed Davis.

As a rookie, Thompson figures to provide immediate help defensively and as an offensive rebounder. He would add much-needed shot-blocking for the Pistons. Thompson averaged 2.4 blocked shots per game at Texas and swatted 11 away in Texas’ two NCAA tournament games, including seven when he went against Oakland University in the opening round, guarding OU’s highly regarded Keith Benson, a potential first-round pick.

While Thompson could stand to add some weight – he checked in at 227 pounds in Chicago – he has the frame to do it. His lower-body strength was apparent at Texas when he routinely held post position against the best college big men the Longhorns faced. He displayed the lateral quickness to guard face-up forwards, as well, including an eye-opening job against Arizona’s Derrick Williams in the NCAA tournament when he held the presumptive No. 2 pick to 4 of 14 shooting.

The flip side? Thompson scored three points in that game. They didn’t feature him at Texas, which was led by projected first-rounder Jordan Hamilton and also included Joseph and high-scoring J’Covan Brown. Thompson’s offense, by his own admission, has a long way to go.

“A lot of people say my offensive game is really raw,” he said. “I think it’s just refining my skills package. I’ve been doing that a lot since I’ve been in Houston, working with coach John Lucas. Footwork – especially being a big guy – footwork is the key to making moves, up and unders, and so forth. (I’ve been doing) a lot of shooting, footwork and develop an offensive package so I can be productive.”

As for a go-to offensive move, right now Thompson’s strength is facing his defender and using his quickness to blow by with one or two quick dribbles to get to the rim. He did that at least well enough to make frequent trips to the foul line – but he made less than half his free throws.

Like Monroe, Thompson shows outstanding instincts as an offensive rebounder, averaging nearly four per game at Texas. And like Monroe, Thompson moves well without the basketball. That profile suggests both would benefit by playing with a frontcourt partner who represented a scoring threat to exploit those skills, but Thompson has already envisioned playing with Monroe and imagined the possibilities.

“I think we would complement each other great,” he said. “Greg’s a terrific player. He’s a lefty, like myself. He’s really smart, has a great basketball IQ. He’s able to make plays out of the post, double teams. Me and him together, both rebounding and playing hard, it would be fun together. People would enjoy watching us, I think.”