INDEPENDENCE: Of all the areas where the Cavaliers need to improve defensively, finding a shot blocker who can protect the rim and demand respect from opponents should rank fairly high on the list. Entering tonight’s game at the Dallas Mavericks, the Cavs are 29th in the league in blocks, ahead of only the New York Knicks.
Rookie center Tyler Zeller has proven adept at drawing charges, but he’s averaging less than a block a game and ranks 43rd in the league. Tristan Thompson’s numbers are down in his second season. Thompson had 62 blocks in 60 games last season, but has 55 blocks in 64 games this year.
The explanation is really quite simple: Thompson is worrying more about rebounds than blocks.
“Blocked shots are a double-edged sword,” Thompson said. “A lot of good shot-blocking teams are not really good rebounding teams. Once you jump in the air to block, you’re out of position to get the rebound.”
Thompson’s point has some merit. Of the 10 best teams at blocking shots, only three are also in the top 10 in defensive rebounding — the Oklahoma City Thunder (first in blocks, fourth in rebounding), the Denver Nuggets (third/sixth) and the Indiana Pacers fourth/fifth).
In terms of individuals, three players are among the top 10 in both blocked shots and defensive rebounds: Dwight Howard (fifth/first), Joakim Noah (sixth/sixth) and Tim Duncan (fourth/fifth).
The Milwaukee Bucks’ Larry Sanders leads the league in blocks, but he’s 26th in rebounding. The Thunder’s Serge Ibaka is second in blocks, but 36th in defensive rebounding and Pacers center Roy Hibbert is third in blocks and 59th in rebounding.
The problem for the Cavs is they’re also last in defensive rebounding — add another task to the to-do list.
“I’d love to have a couple of guys down there that would change shots and block shots, but we’ll get that in due time,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said. “I think the guys that can’t do it, what they do a great job of is taking charges. Tyler does a great job of taking charges, Luke [Walton] does a great job of stepping in and taking charges.”
Zeller’s 18 charges lead all centers and power forwards and it’s not really close. The Sacramento Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins is second with 13. Walton has drawn seven charges.
“If you’re not a great shot blocker, if you’re a great team defender and you know where to be and you’re OK with sacrificing your body for the good of the team,” Scott said, “then it still works out pretty good for us.”
What can’t be measured, of course, is how a feared shot blocker alters shots that aren’t blocked, or how his mere presence can keep teams out of the lane. It’s why taking charges is nice, but the Cavs still need to find someone in the post who can alter and redirect shots. It certainly could help a defensive field-goal percentage that remains the worst in the league and has hovered around 47 percent much of the season.
It should come as no surprise that the four teams giving up the fewest baskets around the basket (within 5 feet) are also the top four teams in blocked shots — the Pacers, Thunder, Nuggets and Bucks.
Thompson has the length and athleticism to develop into a shot blocker, but he has focused more on rebounding this season than blocking shots. The loss of Anderson Varejao early in the season left a huge void and Thompson is doing his best to fill it.
Since Varejao went down, Thompson is averaging 13.5 points an 10.5 rebounds. He has 19 double-doubles in those 38 games.
“I think I’m a better post defender this year. Last year I flied around and tried to block shots and pulled myself out of rebounding position and put our team out of rebounding position by the blocked shots I don’t get,” Thompson said. “So this year I just go for the shots I know I can block and not put us in a bad defensive position.”
Scott believes both Thompson and Zeller could evolve into shot blockers over time.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.