I’m not in the business of making comparisons but Thomas Bryant reminds me a lot of Kevin Love; someone who can space the floor all the way to the three-point line and pass very well to participate within a team context, drive against big men who aren’t used to guard in the perimeter, post up smaller players and rebound but can’t defend the pick-and-roll to save his life.
Bryant’s inability to anchor a defense limits his star potential. While Love has spent most of his career at stretch four, Bryant probably won’t be afforded the same opportunity. Nowadays, someone who stands at six-foot-10 and weighs 255 pounds ought to be viewed as a full time center, at least in the long term, so his team can have an extra spot to place a better shooter or a more dynamic playmaker on the floor, and those tend to be smaller guys.
Of course, the next evolution of the game is players with true big man size being skilled enough and mobile enough to fill those slots, therefore becoming preferable over the smaller options. Bryant could be passable on offense in such a role but is not a viable option to defend in space at all yet.
If he doesn’t improve there, and it’s hard to see how he manages to develop enough agility even if he just totally transforms his body at some point the way Love did, Bryant’s probably going to end up becoming a one-way big man who doesn’t finish games, like Greg Monroe, Enes Kanter and Marreese Speights.
But his skill package is so enticing for his age (he’ll only turn 20 in July) that there’s also room for him to evolve into such a great player on offense that you end up living with his deficiencies on the other end by trying to hide him within a well disciplined scheme, like Charlotte managed to do with Al Jefferson for a couple of years.
Taking all of that into account, Draft Express currently ranks Bryant 17th in its top 100.
Bryant is only fifth among rotation players at Indiana in usage rate but gets to participate in its motion offense a fair amount.
Maybe he doesn’t get the ball in the post enough given his size but they do isolate him in the low block from time to time. Bryant can get a seal wherever he wants below the foul line and uses his strength to bully his way into attempts near the basket. While he lacks lift to shoot over defenders that can hold their ground against him, he uses head fakes and up-and-under moves to make up for it.
Bryant has passed extremely well out of the low post, spotting cutters diving down the lane and spot-up shooters moving to an open spot around the perimeter, even showing a lot of poise taking an escape dribble against soft double-teams and firing bullet passes to the opposite end of the court – assisting on 9.6% of Indiana’s scores when he’s been on the floor, according to basketball-reference.
Bryant can also set inside position to battle for second chance opportunities. He doesn’t have particularly impressive leaping ability but has a seven-foot-five wingspan to rebound outside of his area and plays with nice intensity fighting for tipped balls – collecting a not-elite but productive 10.2% of Indiana’s misses when he’s been on the floor. Bryant doesn’t have enough vertical explosion to go up for monster putback dunks regularly but has impressed with his second jump – converting 83.3% of his putback attempts, according to hoop-math.
That lack of explosiveness also limits Bryant’s potential in the pick-and-roll. He’s a good screener who looks to dive hard to the front of the basket and has soft hands to catch the ball on the move but can’t play above the rim as a target for lobs. Bryant does have nice touch on non-dunk finishes and can use his length for extended finishes against rim protectors, though – converting his 67 shots at the basket at a 62.7% clip this season. So there’s room for him to become a Tiago Splitter-level of pick-and-roll scorer. And he has enough coordination to catch, take a dribble, gather himself, go up strong off two feet and finish through contact.
But Bryant has made most of his impact from the perimeter this season. Indiana doesn’t put him in the pick-and-pop a lot and he’s not the sort of dynamic shooter who can come off a pindown screen or fake a dribble handoff, take a dribble, turn and let it fly but has become more confident as a spot-up shooter in situations where he flashes outside the arc to open up the lane for dribble drivers – averaging 2.4 three-point shots per 40 minutes this season in comparison to 0.8 last year.
Bryant elevates with pretty good balance, doesn’t need forever to load up his shot, seems to have an easy release for someone his size and has pretty good touch. He’s nailed 40.5% of his 42 three-point shots in college and converted 72.2% of his foul shots, suggesting that sort of catch-and-shoot efficiency should be sustainable over the long run.
As a credible threat from long range, Bryant demands a closeout. He’s well coordinated and can pump-fake, take a dribble and walk-in to an open jumper comfortably. But more impressively, Bryant’s done fairly well taking opposing centers from the three-point line all the way to the basket on dribble drives. He doesn’t have any dribble moves, can’t blow by his man on speed, his handle is not all that tight yet and he’s prone to getting the ball stripped in traffic but he can maintain his balance through contact on straight line drives and get near the rim in good enough balance to toss up a short range attempt.
Bryant has been asked to defend the pick-and-roll above the foul line quite a bit and hasn’t done well. He can’t bend his knees to get low in a stance, so he struggles reacting with any suddenness and gives up a lot of rim runs. Dribble drivers also have no fear of going downhill right at him and Bryant isn’t very effective contesting shots at the basket in these instances, despite his general size and incredible length. Given this, Bryant is not, of course, an option to pick up smaller players on switches.
He does a better job coming off the weak-side in help-defense, though. Bryant is not any sort of a dominant force in the lane at this point of his development but has improved his awareness and become a more impactful player at the basket in comparison to last season. He can elevate off two feet without much struggle and his length should be a pain to finish around when he’s in position to challenge shots out of a standstill position, as he’s averaged 2.5 blocks per 40 minutes this season.
His rebounding is unimpressive but OK. You’d expect Bryant to be able to bully guys from out of under the rim, completely prevent them from reaching the ball around his boxouts and be able to high point it before anyone with his nine-foot-four standing reach, yet he’s not that dominant. But he’s also not any sort of a liability, collecting 18.9% of opponents’ misses when he’s been on the floor throughout his college career.
 Like Love used to do a ton in Minnesota.
 As he’s averaged 2.7 turnovers per 40 minutes, which is quite high for someone with his 19.8% usage rate.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara