Bulls

'A' for effort: Thompson's energy vaulting Cavaliers

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'A' for effort: Thompson's energy vaulting Cavaliers

CLEVELAND - Two of the biggest plays of Tristan Thompson's young NBA career won't show up in any box score.

But in the closing minute of the Cavaliers' 106-101 Game 5 victory over the Bulls, it was Thompson who provided the intangibles and additional effort that helped Cleveland seal the win.

With the Bulls trailing by two with 49 seconds remaining, Jimmy Butler got free of an inbounds play and hoisted a 3-pointer from the right corner. The shot came up well short and caromed straight down off the rim, with an unclean miss oftentimes leading to an offensive rebound. As Butler hoisted the shot, however, Thompson found Bulls center Joakim Noah and put a body on Chicago's lone big man. Butler's miss bounced off Thompson's foot and into the waiting hands of LeBron James, giving Cleveland possession.

That next trip down, James allowed time to run off under 30 seconds before backing down Butler and putting up a fadeaway 15-footer. James' shot was off, but Thompson - as he had done all night - anticipated Noah's box out, swam around him and got a hand on the ball, tipping it back out into the waiting hands of Iman Shumpert. Shumpert then found Kyrie Irving, who was intentionally fouled and sank two free throws to push the lead to four with 17 seconds remaining.

Two sequences. Zero rebounds. Both potentially game-saving plays from Thompson, who added 12 points and 10 rebounds in 39 minutes.

"He's been in many, many, many closing situations and he's given us yeoman's work every time he's in there," head coach David Blatt said. "Sometimes you notice it more, sometimes you notice it less. But he's in the fray all the time."

[RELATED: LeBron's epic performance becomes one Cavs needed]

In a series featuring an All-Star starter in Pau Gasol - who missed Games 3 and 4 with a hamstring strain - the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Joakim Noah, a pair of skilled sixth men in Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic, and a 7-foot rim protector in Timofey Mozgov, it's been Thompson who has looked like the most complete frontcourt player.

In five games, the 24-year-old - going through the rigors of his first playoff series - has averaged 8.6 points on 61 percent shooting, 10.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 36 minutes per game. Thompson's net rating of +9.7 leads the Cavaliers and he's now recorded double-doubles in two of his last three games.

He trails only Joakim Noah in offensive rebounds per game among players still in the playoffs, and Tuesday night his four offensive boards led to six of the Cavs' 14 second-chance points - which doesn't include his effort on the Shumpert rebound, which resulted in two Irving freebies.

"(Thompson) worked his ass off to get three guys to go over there and box him out," Shumpert said. "Once the ball came to me I had the easy job on the play, if you really look at it."

When Kevin Love suffered a separated shoulder in Game 4 against the Boston Celtics, much of the talk centered on how James and Irving would be forced to step up their games. But that applied to Thompson as well, who averaged 25 minutes off the bench in the first round. Now he's logging more than 36 minutes per game against the Bulls, playing down the stretch in the Cavs' small-ball lineups and acting as the team's muscle, stepping in after the skirmish between Taj Gibson and Matthew Dellavedova and speaking candidly about it in the locker room after the game.

"We’re not going to let guys come around here and hit us or kick us. We don’t tolerate that, especially me," he said. "No matter home, away, practice facility, wherever we’re playing, we don’t tolerate that."

[RELATED: Kyrie Irving overcomes limitations to kickstart Cavaliers]

With the Bulls' frontcourt ailing - and a potential, albeit unlikely, suspension looming for Gibson - the Cavaliers suddenly seem to have the frontcourt edge in the series. Cleveland has now out-rebounded Chicago in three of the last four games - all resulting in wins - with Thompson leading the charge. His numbers have spoken volumes about his impact on the series, but as James alluded to Tuesday night, Thompson's value begins and ends with the effort he exudes, seen no more clearly than in Game 5's final minute.

"Tristan's been unbelievable. Through five games, I give him an A+ in effort. It's all effort with 'Double-T.' Can't coach a motor," James said. "You put him on the floor, he's going to make things happen. He has a knack for rebounding."

NBA Mock Draft 3.0: Workout season could be more important than ever

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USA TODAY

NBA Mock Draft 3.0: Workout season could be more important than ever

With Zion Williamson making his NBA regular season debut Wednesday night, we finally got a chance to see what a No. 1 overall draft pick is supposed to look like: an athletic and versatile skill set, with the chance to impact a franchise for years to come. 

2019 No. 2 overall pick Ja Morant also looks like a franchise-changing talent with his speed and playmaking ability, lifting Memphis into playoff contention.

So, which players will have that kind of impact in the 2020 draft?

Well, for now it’s almost impossible to say. James Wiseman, the 7-foot-1 Memphis center, dropped out of school after playing just three games because of an eligibility battle with the NCAA. His size and raw tools are intriguing, but at this point his offensive game is extremely limited.

Meanwhile, Lonzo Ball’s younger brother, LaMelo is sitting out the rest of the Australian professional league season while he rehabs from a foot injury, another Australian professional, R.J. Hampton, just returned from a hip injury and North Carolina’s combo guard Cole Anthony is getting ready to return from a knee injury to finish his one and done season. 

That’s left NBA talent evaluators scrambling in trying to figure out the top of the draft, with only Georgia’s Anthony Edwards healthy and available among the players projected as the possible No. 1 overall pick. 

So, as we get closer to the end of January, here’s a look at how teams could view the available talent, with the understanding that the draft order will change dramatically as NBA scouts and GMs get a look at how players perform in the most important games of the season still to come.

2020 NBA mock draft 3.0

Kemba Walker and Trae Young being named All-Star starters could help Zach LaVine

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USA Today

Kemba Walker and Trae Young being named All-Star starters could help Zach LaVine

On Thursday, the NBA revealed the East and West starters for the 2020 All-Star Game in Chicago. Take a look:


Bulls fans will be honed in on the East selections given Zach LaVine's absence, though his realistic chances of starting the game have been slim-to-none since the first month of the season. In the last round of fan voting returns, LaVine was sixth among Eastern Conference backcourt players. He finished there, as well:


LaVine will get a chance to slide into a reserve slot, but the East’s starting backcourt of Kemba Walker and Trae Young leaves a crowded field to contend with. Guards competing for the seven reserve spots include Ben Simmons, Khris Middleton, Kyle Lowry, Bradley Beal, Malcolm Brogdon and Jaylen Brown. And that's without mentioning frontcourt favorites in Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Jayson Tatum and Domantas Sabonis.

But a modicum of good news did come from this announcement for those stumping for LaVine: Kyrie Irving's omission from the starting lineup. Irving, who has only played 15 games this season, had been second in fan voting at the time of last returns. Had he snuck in with the starters, LaVine would have also had Walker or Young to compete with for a reserve spot, both of whom he matches up with unfavorably. One has to figure Irving's odds of being selected by coaches as a reserve aren't high.

LaVine's chances still aren't necessarily great, but the coaches' picks for reserves will be announced on Jan. 30. If LaVine is shorted there, as well, there remains the possibility of an injury replacement down the road, which, commissioner Adam Silver would select (this is probably his best shot).

Once the final pool of players is decided, they'll be drafted by team captains Giannis Antetokoumpo and LeBron James on Feb. 6.

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