(First posted at RealGM)
Khyri Thomas was unranked out of Fork Union Military Academy in 2015 but has managed to build over his three years at Creighton a résumé worthy of first round consideration in the 2018 NBA Draft.
Through 101 NCAA appearances, the six-foot-three wing has accumulated 2,735 minutes of college ball experience up until this point.
His statistical profile features a dip in a few areas in comparison to last season but it’s still pretty strong across the board for someone with his role, as the 21-year-old has averaged 19.3 points per 40 minutes on 65.5% true shooting this season.
Thomas was not responsible for running offense on a regular basis, as his 21.2% usage rate and 14.9% assist rate attest. He did most of his work on the second side, spotting up or coming off screens, though there were also times where he had a more active role in shot creation by taking smaller matchups into the post and running middle pick-and-rolls in emergency situations late in the shot clock.
But Thomas is more highly thought of for his defense. He is Creighton’s primary on-ball defender, consistently tasked with guarding opposing point guards. Thomas is not perfect, as there are times where opponents without particularly impressive athleticism have blown by him at the point of attack, but he puts in the effort to stay attached to his man more often than not in individual defense and has shown he is aware of his responsibilities executing the scheme as well.
In an Era where the biggest stars in the league are mostly wings who handle the ball often, there is an increase in demand for point guard-sized shooters who can supplement these ball handling wings by providing spacing on one end and defending smaller types on the other. So, Thomas will be entering the league at a time where teams are looking for someone with his exact skill-set. As is, ESPN currently ranks him 21st in its top 100.
Thomas’ top skill on offense at this point of his development is his jumper, as he’s proven to have a versatile enough release to take shots on the move as well as on spot-ups.
And Creighton has leveraged his quick trigger in several ways; having him jog around staggered screens from the restricted area to the wing, run off a pindown screen to the top of the key, sprint to the ball for dribble-handoffs and even wheel around pick-and-rolls to confuse zone defenses.
Thomas is obviously no JJ Redick yet but he is the sort of prospect who has a real chance of eventually becoming that level of a shooter down the line. He does excellent shot preparation catching it on the hop, exhibits fluid mechanics consistent enough to withstand the need to stop on a dime and rise up in a split-second against the momentum of his body, gets very good elevation for a high release and has a quick trigger.
And even in instances where the opponent managed to prevent him from shooting off the catch instantly, Thomas has shown a knack for creating enough space to rise up for no-dribble jumpers with a combination of jab-step and rip through move.
He has nailed 40.9% of his 320 three-point shots over his three years at Creighton, at a pace of 4.7 such attempts per 40 minutes, though that rate is up to a more pleasing 5.9 average this season. He’s also hit 72.1% of his 208 foul shots.
Thanks to the prolificacy of his jumper and the effect that it had on Creighton’s offense even when he wasn’t shooting it, Thomas ranks second in offense rating among rotation players in a team that ranks 22nd in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency.
Thomas is not an explosive player off the dribble and when opponents have switched shooting actions at the top, he’s struggled to blow by big men on a straight line. His handle is very rudimentary as of now, especially going to his left, and he hasn’t shown a whole lot of quickness changing directions on the move.
Thomas can get all the way to the basket against similarly sized players maintaining his balance through contact and he’s shown to be an effective finisher against size around the basket. He’s flashed a euro-step in the secondary break to weave his way through traffic and has a six-foot-10 wingspan to over-extend on finger-roll finishes, which he’s proven to be ambidextrous at.
Thomas is not as versatile a finisher as he is a shooter; he can’t finish through contact, isn’t an explosive leaper out of one or two feet, hasn’t shown much flexibility to hang or adjust his body in the air and hasn’t yet developed a knack for drawing contact – averaging just three foul shots per 40 minutes throughout his college career.
But he was pretty efficient in college, converting his 330 shots at the rim at a 67.8% clip, with just 90 of his 224 layups/dunks assisted.
Other than moving off the ball, Thomas contributes the most with the shot creation process by taking smaller players into the post every now and again.
He has a strong 210-pound frame in the context of his six-foot-three height and while he doesn’t use it to get deep seals consistently, he offers his teammate enough of a window for the post entry regularly and then goes to work.
His preferred move is turning, facing his man, jab-stepping once or twice, rip-through and then rise up for a no-dribble jumper. He’s been very effective with his sequence, nailing 44.6% of his 83 two-point jumpers this season, with most of his makes coming out of the post, given Thomas hasn’t shown to be much of a pull-up jump-shooter so far.
Thomas has also done well mixing in a power move, backing his defender for a couple of dribbles, demanding a double team and passing out of that double.
His passing is also his best attribute off the dribble, whether it’s handling from the top against a set defense or attacking a scrambling defense out of kickouts or ball reversals, as he’s shown to be very coordinated on shot-fake, drive, drop-off sequences and also impressed with his court vision hitting to the opposite corner when he’s got to the basket but couldn’t finish.
When he’s had to run middle pick-and-rolls late in the shot clock, Thomas has shown a light hesitation dribble to try creating a driving lane for himself and can make bounce passes against soft doubles and passes to the opposite end facing that way – assisting on 14.9% of Creighton’s scores over his 1,009 minutes this season.
He hasn’t yet developed the handle and the ability to play with pace to be asked to create offense for himself or others more often, though. Thomas has a loose handle, doesn’t have much in terms of dribble moves to shake his man off balance in isolation and hasn’t shown the ability to tie up the last line of defense until the last possible split-second before hitting the roll man.
ON BALL DEFENSE
Thomas is a good defender on the ball.
He bends his knees to get in a stance, puts in the effort to stay attached to his man one-on-one, ices ball-screens, works to get over picks at the point of attack and uses his rumored six-foot-10 wingspan to reach around opposing point guards and make plays on the ball in volume – averaging 2.1 steals per 40 minutes this season.
He is not without flaws, though.
There were multiple times where guys like Jalen Brunson and Bryant McIntosh, who won’t exactly rate as elite in terms of first steps in the NBA, just blew by him out in space, which was a bit disconcerting to see. His lateral reaction isn’t always as elite as you’d like to see from someone who will earn a bulk of his money based on his ability to defend the strongest position in the league out on an island.
Thomas also can’t cleanly navigate picks, almost always brushing on the opposing big man, needing his big teammate to prevent the opponent from turning the corner or pulling up right away in order to make it back in front. And despite his strong frame, he doesn’t contain dribble penetration often.
OFF BALL DEFENSE
That said, Thomas does leverage that strength to offer versatility picking up bigger players on switches. Aside his length, he’s proven himself an asset to matchup with bulkier types with his tenacity fronting the post to deny the feed and boxing out.
Operating as a weak-side defender, Thomas stays in a stance off the ball and even faceguards players he deems more challenging. He’s shown to be attentive to his rotation responsibilities crashing inside to pick up the roll man and closing out to the corner when the teammate responsible for that corner helped at the basket.
Thomas has also impressed in plays that demand multiple efforts; stunting-and-recovering, closing out-and-staying balanced as the opponent puts the ball on the floor and sprinting to crowd the area near the basket on desperate scrambles. In these instances, he leveraged his length to make plays in the passing lanes and proved himself willing to draw charges.
Another way Thomas makes a tangible impact is as an active contributor in the glass, exhibiting quick leaping ability off two feet and instincts reacting to the ball – collecting 13.6% of opponents’ misses when he’s been on the floor in college, a nice mark for someone his size.
 DOB: 5/8/1996
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