One noteworthy sidebar to the Jason Thompson story in the paper product today, left out because it was off the topic of the competition Thompson faced in the mid-major Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference:
Siena coach Fran McCaffery played Thompson and the Rider Broncs at least twice a season each of the last three seasons in the MAAC, more if the teams met in the conference tournament, and scouted them countless times. Siena also played Stanford once last season (a 79-67 home victory over the Cardinal, ranked No. 20 at the time) and once the season before (a 92-72 loss to the Cardinal on the Farm). Stanford had Brook Lopez and Robin Lopez, both, like Thompson, big men and future top-15 picks.
And McCaffery says Thompson is the best of the three.
The disclaimer: Brook Lopez did not play either time, once because of injury and once because of academic suspension. But McCaffery watched a lot of Stanford both times for scouting purposes, so he has more than a casual knowledge of Brook's game. McCaffery is also a former Notre Dame assistant, not some relative newcomer working his way up the coaching chain, so he understands the skill level of players at prominent programs, not just the mid-majors. Plus, McCaffery has an economics degree from Penn's prestigious Wharton School. He's got smarts.
It's a particularly valuable evaluation because so few college coaches will have faced Stanford, a West Coast school from a power conference, and Rider, an East Coast school tucked in the relative anonymity of the MAAC. And Stanford is, however strangely, a perfect debate point because Thompson and the Lopez twins are bigs who may face off in the NBA and because when the draft came in June, Brook went No. 10 to the Nets, Thompson went No. 12 to the Kings and Robin went No. 15 to the Suns. It's a fair comparison.
"If you ask me who I'd rather have, I'd take Jason Thompson over either of them," McCaffery said.
Thompson at 12 was already destined to play out as one of the intriguing picks of 2008, given the way front-office opinions swerved so wildly about him. Some thought it was a fair spot for a big that moves so well, can play multiple positions and can enhance an offense. Others graded it a reach by the Kings, that Thompson projects as a role player without a great chance for the kind of high return a lottery pick should deliver. Still others say he belonged in top-10 conversations, and, indeed, the Bobcats had him under consideration at No. 9 before going point guard with D.J. Augustin.
One more McCaffery: "I honestly believe this: In a couple years, people are going to say, 'That was a great pick. That was a great draft pick.' "
We're all set up for a straight-forward analysis when that time comes. Brook Lopez at 10, Thompson at 12, Anthony Randolph to the Warriors at 14, Robin Lopez at 15 is perfect grouping that will allow for a comparison of bigs drafted in close proximity. Their games are different -- strangely, even the Lopez twins have great differences -- but this will be worth tracking.