Indiana Hoosiers big man Thomas Bryant could have elected to be one and after a strong freshman year, but he instead opted to return to Bloomington for his sophomore season. A year removed from a Sweet 16 loss to North Carolina, the Hoosiers struggled during Bryant's sophomore campaign, failing to make an NCAA Tournament appearance while falling in the first round of the NIT Tournament to Georgia Tech. While Indiana faced their face share of difficulties as a team, including numerous injuries, Bryant made some strides individually, potentially justifying a selection in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft among a very crowded group of big men.
A good deal of the intrigue surrounding Thomas Bryant as an NBA prospect is what he brings to the table in terms of physical tools. Standing nearly 6'11 with shoes, Bryant measured a 7'6 wingspan and a 9'4.5 standing reach at the 2017 NBA Combine, both numbers which ranked third in terms of all prospects that were measured, and are in the 99th percentile historically among the thousands of measurements in our database.
Bryant's size, length and reach allow him to affect the game in multiple areas, particularly as a finisher and on the offensive glass. While he lacks a certain degree of explosiveness that limits his ability to finish consistently in a crowd, his reach allows him to finish above the rim with ease without having to get high off the ground. He is not the quickest or bounciest athlete, but he shows good speed running the floor in transition and is a powerful finisher at the rim when he has momentum running downhill.
After finishing third in the NCAA in field goal percentage as a freshman (70.7 2P%) Bryant's numbers took a bit of a dip his sophomore year (55.6 2P%) and there are some questions regarding how efficiently his scoring will translate to the NBA level. Bryant is at his best using his size, strength and physicality to clear space and finish around the rim, but he has yet to show a true skill set in terms of creating his own offense. Per Synergy Sports 34% of his offense was derived from post up situations, but most of his moves on the low block are still mechanical and dependent on his ability to overpower his defender. He found some success using his size to spin off defenders, but outside of that he lacks any real go to moves and struggles using his left hand or finishing with touch around the rim. Bryant will likely need to become quite a bit more perimeter oriented in the NBA, but is already working on expanding his skill-set and has shown some flashes of ability that hint at things to come down the road.
Another concern surrounding Bryant's transition to the NBA is his feel for the game. He showed flashes of ability as a straight-line ball handler, but had the tendency to force the issue as a shot creator and playmaker as evidenced by his high 18.2 turnover percentage. He is susceptible to playing with his head down, lowering his shoulder into contact, and getting called for charges. He showed improvement as a passer out of the post, but still struggles with overall awareness and doesn't do a consistent job of understanding where the help defense is coming from and passing away from it.
While Bryant won't be featured as a go to option on offense early in his NBA career, his size, motor, and physicality should earn him some minutes off the ball where he can contribute as a finisher around the rim and a rim running threat in transition.
The most positive development in Bryant's game from his freshman to sophomore season was the strides that he took as an outside shooting threat. After hitting just 33% on .8 attempts last season, Bryant's 3-point percentage jumped to 38.3% on a much higher 2.5 attempts per game as a sophomore. While he is by no means a knock-down floor spacing option yet, his improved stroke is a welcome sight for someone who generally relied on his size as an offensive threat. He wasn't featured heavily as a spot up option off the ball, but he was extremely effective when he was, ranking in the 99th percentile in spot up situations per Synergy Sports. He has a fairly flat trajectory on his shot, but he has a compact release with a clean follow through that should continue to improve and be a part of his offensive arsenal down the line at the professional level.
In terms of rebounding, Bryant had mixed results at the college level. He was best on the offensive glass, where he used his physicality, reach and motor to impact the game with second chance opportunities. He averaged 3.2 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes and generated 1.4 points per possession on offensive rebound put backs. His energy and effort on the offensive glass should translate well in the NBA, and if he can find ways to contribute in that aspect of the game, it should be a way for him to earn minutes early on in his pro career.
While he had success on the offensive glass, he was more of just an average presence as a defensive rebounder. His timing and instincts on the defensive glass are just fair, and his relatively weak and stiff lower body make it difficult for him to get low and carve out position in box outs. His long reach allows him to make up for some of his deficiencies, but his lack of elite bounce and balance limit his potential as a rebounder.
The same limitations that effect Bryant on the defensive glass also impact the influence that he has on the defensive end of the floor. He showed improvement as a rim protector (2.2 blocks per 40 minutes) using his reach and length to affect the game around the basket, but his overall average athleticism limits his potential as a shot blocking threat. Bryant has the upper body strength and physicality to bang with bigs on the block, but his weak lower base, poor balance, and upright defensive stance all make it difficult for him contribute as an individual defender. Those same stiff mechanical movements also hurt his ability to defend in space which will be an issue guarding pick and roll vs NBA athletes. It will be interesting to see the types of strides he can make with his mobility when working with NBA trainers who may be able to unlock better balance and more fluidity in his lower body. This will be a major key to him becoming a better defender and finding a niche in a NBA rotation.
Despite some of Bryant's limitations, there is quite a bit of potential with 248-pound physical big man, who measured a 7'6 wingspan, and has made impressive strides as a 3-point shooter. Bryant's skill level on offense is still a work in progress, but at just 19 years old (younger than a number of freshmen in this draft) with two years of high level of NCAA experience (started all 69 games at IU) under his belt, there is still considerable time for him to develop. Early on in his NBA career, he will likely have to rely on his length, energy and toughness to earn minutes as his skill and feel catches up, but if he can contribute on the offensive glass, run the floor, finish around the rim, and continue to improve on his outside shot, he has a great chance to carve out a lasting role at the NBA level.