2019-20 Breakout Player Series: Thomas Bryant
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
That’s the case for the Washington Wizards’ rising big man Thomas Bryant.
When Bryant entered the league in 2017, he was an intriguing prospect but still raw for the NBA game. The Lakers, who are always busy stargazing, never had the patience to polish rough diamonds.
For a second round pick like Bryant to carve a niche in the star-driven league, it has to be a confluence of hard work and luck.
Fortunately for him, the stars finally aligned when the Wizards picked him up after he became an afterthought in Hollywood despite a strong season in the G-League.
At D.C., away from the bright lights and glamour of L.A., a blue-collar worker like Bryant earned a shot to revive his dying NBA career.
He worked his butt off in practice starting out as the third-string center. He finally got his break when the Wizards had no choice but to gamble on him following Dwight Howard’s injury and with journeyman big man Ian Mahinmi at the tailend of his career.
Bryant did not waste any time re-introducing himself to the NBA. Out of nowhere, he exploded for a career-high 31 points, including 16 bridging the first and second overtime, on a historic 14-for-14 shooting night in the Wizards’ 149-146 triple overtime win against the Phoenix Suns last Dec. 22. It was the seventh perfect shooting performance in NBA history with at least 14 field goals and the first since Gary Payton did it in 1995.
The 22-year old big man carried the momentum and went on to average 10.5 points on 62 percent from the field along with 6.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 0.9 block in 72 games, including 53 starts.
Bryant’s promising first season with the Wizards was aptly rewarded with a three-year, 25-million contract which looks like a bargain based on his career trajectory.
An agile and mobile big man fit for the modern NBA, Bryant came into the season still hungry despite securing the bag in the offseason. He was the Wizards’ top free agent priority last summer and he’s showing us why.
"Next year (this season), I just want a team that progresses, that is really hard to play against and that fans fall in love with because of their hard work and effort," Ted Leonsis said in an interview with NBC Sports Washington last summer.
Bryant epitomizes Leonsis’ vision of his new-look Wizards.
Through four games, the Wizards’ starting center is averaging monster numbers of 14.5 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.8 steals and 2.3 blocks.
While his overall shooting clip (down to 48% from 62% last season) has taken a hit perhaps due to longer playing time (31.8 minutes from 20.8 last season), the third-year center has expanded his offense averaging one triple in 3.5 attempts. The offense though is just a bonus as his real value to the Wizards comes on the defensive end.
This season, his 2.3 blocks average is a career-best and is tied for sixth in the whole league. He doesn’t fear anyone even if you’re the former MVP and scoring champion. Just ask James Harden.
Bryant has been all out on defense averaging 17.0 contested shots, including 3.3 in the three-point area, both fourth-best in the league. Just imagine a 6-11, 250-lb man extending his defense outside the paint.
“I'm just trying to make everything hard out there on the defensive end. I try to make sure I contest a lot of shots out there," Bryant was quoted saying in a story ran by NBC Sports Washington earlier this week.
"I try to have a hand up when they're shooting. That little contest I give them might make the difference in the game,” he added.
Those intangibles are what makes Bryant worthy of the hefty contract, making him an integral part of the Wizards revolution under their new management called “Monumental Basketball.”
His infectious energy has rubbed off on the whole team and is one of the biggest reasons as to why they have been competitive despite a 1-3 record to start the season.
Expected to bottom out in the East, the Wizards have shown promise. They almost beat perennial Western Conference power Houston Rockets in their last game.
Bryant stuffed the stat sheet with 13 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, one steal and four blocks in 34 minutes.
It’s the type of performance that will make the fans fall in love with the new Wizards. He and the other young core have played a part in Beal’s decision to agree to an extension with the Wizards.
Brooks highlighted in this interview how excited Beal is to play with the young core led by Bryant.
There’s a saying in basketball that “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”
Bryant is a prime example of that. He is on his way to crashing the elite big men list in the NBA. Thanks to his all out effort that has turned him into the Wizards’ treasure.