Cavs Report: Tristan as starter may make good sense

Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and Andy Varejao dominated the glass in their first preseason game against Maccabi Tel Aviv. Could Tristan be the starting center for the Cavaliers?

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Tristan Thompson started at center in the Cavaliers’ 107-80 preseason win over Maccabi Tel Aviv on Sunday, and that may not be such a bad long-term idea.

Granted, it’s only the preseason, and it wasn’t even a preseason game against another NBA team. But Thompson very well could work in the NBA pivot for several reasons.

First, he’s been more durable than Anderson Varejao, as Thompson has missed just six games in his three-year pro career — all coming during his rookie season. That’s right, Thompson played in all 82 games each of the past two years.

Secondly, he may be a better fit alongside the Cavs’ superstar trio of LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. All the center needs to do is bang with the opposing big man near the basket, rebound, run the floor and finish.

Wouldn’t you rather have Thompson doing those things against the Dwight Howards and Roy Hibberts of the world? He’s young, lively, athletic.

Don’t misunderstand. Varejao is very good at many of the same things, too. And this isn’t intended to downplay Varejao or his possible role. It’s simply to explain why Thompson should start.

In fact, Varejao is probably the more gifted all-around player. (And did you ever think we’d ever mention Andy and offensive gifts in the same sentence?) Anyway, that’s another reason to bring Varejao off the bench.

He might look extra good against opposing backup centers, grabbing even more rebounds and creating scoring opportunities for David Blatt’s second unit. And most importantly, it could be good for Varejao’s health.

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He’s 32 years old now, and hasn’t missed less than 17 games since 2009-10. That just happened to be the final season of LeBron James’ first stint with the Cavs — and the last time Varejao came off the bench on a full-time basis.

On top of all this, it doesn’t really seem to matter to Varejao. He brought up a good point when asked last week if starting mattered. He mentioned that basketball is a game of constant substitutions. So if you’re any good, odds are you’ll play. And not everyone who starts finishes the game.

Either way, we’ll certainly hear more of this talk as the preseason marches on. Thompson started the first half Sunday, and Varejao the second. We’ll probably see more of that, too.

All that really matters is Varejao finished with 15 rebounds, Thompson grabbed 13 and the Cavs easily won. In the long run, that’s what you’re aiming for.

Dribbles

1. Overall, the Cavs’ starters looked a little rusty on both ends, particularly defensively. Offensively, they’re good enough that they can be out of sorts and still score 110. But defense is another matter, as the Maccabi guards were able to get to the basket with relative ease in the first quarter. Once they did, they had little issue scoring at the rim.

2. It’s certainly no reason for panic, or even much concern. But it’s something Coach Blatt wants cleaned up. Aside from Brendan Haywood, no one this team will alter many shots. And after missing all of last year with a foot injury, Haywood understandably looked a little lost and not yet in game shape.

3. Blatt’s take on what he wanted coming into the game: "I had hoped we would share the ball, we did. I wanted to see us rebound the ball, we did. I wanted to see us defend better in the first half, we didn’t."

4. Blatt thought the Cavs defender better in the second half, and he’s right about that one. But the Cavs have quite a ways to go in that area, and that’s OK. Plenty of time remains before the Oct. 30 opener.

5. You know by now that LeBron James (12 points, four rebounds, four assists) played just the first half. It had nothing to do with his so-called iffy back, which is being considerably more monitored by the media and fans than LeBron himself. Instead, Blatt said it’s "important not to play the main players" too early or too much in games that don’t count.

6. Finally, the Cavs almost looked too unselfish for portions of the game, but that’s precisely the direction in which Blatt prefers they err. It was good to see that they shared the ball, yet LeBron, Kyrie Irving (16 points), Dion Waiters (15), Tristan Thompson (14) and even Kevin Love (eight) all got their fair share of shots. I especially think this will be a breakout year for Waiters. He scored 12 of his points during an impressive flurry in the third quarter.

7. For more on the game, check out my instant analysis.