It’s not often that second round picks get an opportunity to play meaningful minutes. And after the Wizards signed Dwight Howard in free agency this past summer, it looked like Thomas Bryant, the 42nd overall pick in the 2017 draft was going to learn that lesson the hard way.
The Wizards acquired the 21-year-old prospect off waivers this summer after the Los Angeles Lakers decided that he wasn’t going to be part of their future plans. Bryant, who bounced back and forth from their G-League affiliate, the South Bay Lakers, posted very good numbers earning him All NBA G-League honors but he never saw any meaningful playing time with the varsity squad.
When the Wizards acquired Bryant this summer, the Wizards fanbase didn’t think, well, much of anything as Bryant was an unknown. This move became an even bigger question mark after the Wizards inked Howard as it was assumed he would be the starter and Ian Mahinmi would be the backup as he’d already received a vote of confidence from the front office. Not to mention, the Wizards don’t have the best track record when it comes to developing young prospects.
But when news came out in November that Dwight Howard would miss significant time due to injury and the Ian Mahinmi starting at center experiment was going about as one would have expected, the second year player got his opportunity to show that he belongs in the league — and boy as he seized the opportunity.
When watching Bryant play, it’s the intangibles, not the stats that immediately jump out at you. Bryant sprints the floor, moves his feet well defensively, and has a relentless motor.
It isn’t sexy nor does it fill up the stat sheet, but you’ll never have to ask Bryant to ramp up his energy on a given night — something that cant be said for most guys on this roster.
As Jake Whitacre pointed out, he’s done a nice job doing the dirty work that his predecessor, Marcin Gortat, did before him. He’s in the same ballpark as Gortat when it comes to screen assists, averaging 7.2 per 36 minutes and has shown that he’s more than capable of producing as the roll man in the pick-and-roll game.
Since being inserted into the starting lineup, Bryant has been averaging 13.8 points and 9.6 rebounds per 36 minutes — the only thing is, he’s averaging just 18.1 minutes of playing time per game. More often than not, Bryant’s time is limited to starting the game and starting the second half. On occasion, Brooks will insert Bryant to close out the first half but as of late, Brooks prefers to play small with Jeff Green and Markieff Morris as the frontline without a true center in the game.
Now, this isn’t to say that Bryant is the long-term solution at center for the Wizards. However, with Dwight Howard looking like he’s going to miss the most of the season and Ian Mahinmi being, well, Ian Mahinmi, why not give Bryant more and more minutes? Night after night, Scott Brooks gives the media an audio clip which some way or another, he begs for more energy from his guys saying that it’ll get rewarded with playing time. Meanwhile, it’s the guy in his starting lineup that he never has to plea to crank up the intensity who still hasn’t seen his minutes significantly increase yet.
Opportunity doesn’t come around often for most second-round picks. But due to injury, inefficiency, and a little bit of luck, Thomas Bryant got his and has shown that he should be in this team’s long-term plan regardless if it’s in a starting role or a rotation player coming off of the bench.