Thomas Bryant could be the biggest question mark for the Indiana Hoosiers’ offseason. The plus side is, though, is that both he and the crimson and cream faithful have been here before.
The question surrounding Bryant and the NBA Draft began last season when the big man ended his freshman season with a bang. Always the potential to be a one-and-done, Bryant’s tenacious play in the NCAA Tournament, specifically in Indiana’s win over Kentucky, boosted the Hoosier on a number of draft boards.
Bryant scored 19 points on 6 of 8 shooting to go with five rebounds in that win over the Wildcats. He added 12 and eight in a season-ending loss to North Carolina.
But Bryant wasn’t satisfied. His upside was apparent after those tournament performances, but his objective was to climb toward that ceiling under the tutelage of Tom Crean and Co.
The decision put Bryant on the preseason All-American list and gave Indiana fans and NBA Draft experts plenty to pay attention to heading into the 2016-17 season. Now, Bryant faces a similar decision about his future. Will the extra year in Bloomington pay off?
Bryant is an active big man. As the NBA rapidly drifts away from low-post, back-down centers — if it hasn’t moved past them already — the Indiana forward fits the new mold for near 7-footers. He’s long, and he runs the floor. He’s only 6-foot-10 but has a near 7-foot-5 wingspan, which resulted in 1.5 blocks a game.
Bryant’s greatest value in his return to Indiana, though, came from his work outside the paint. The big man spent all summer shooting jump shots and extending his range, which showed up throughout the season.
Compared to his freshman season, Bryant’s 3-point attempts-per-game jumped more than four times. More importantly, so did his percentage. Bryant attempted 15 3s as a freshman at just a .333 rate. As a sophomore, those numbers soared to 60 attempts at 38 percent.
In today’s NBA, all 4s are now stretch-4s. Big guys must extend the defense out to the 3-point line, and Bryant has shown he can do that. His ability to shoot from deep, paired with his length and agile-floor running give Bryant plenty of upside.
The most obvious knock on Bryant — and most players who pull their names from the draft — is how much did they actually improve?
For Bryant, the numbers weren’t stellar after his freshman year, yet somewhat promising for a guy with his length and athleticism at such a young age. But as a sophomore, those numbers didn’t exactly skyrocket. His points, rebounds and assists improved by less than one each. His turnovers went from 1.7 to 2.3, and he still didn’t surpass 29 minutes per game as he committed three fouls per game.
While his 3-point shooting improved, his overall field-goal percentage dropped dramatically from 68 percent as a freshman to 52 percent as a sophomore.
The expectations were higher for Bryant this year, and with the rapid surge by OG Anunoby, Byrant had to fight to find his place. That, coupled with Indiana’s guards’ weaknesses in post-entry passing certainly didn’t help Bryant’s case.
But the leveled statistics are cause for concern. How high is Bryant’s ceiling?
DraftExpress.com has Bryant listed at No. 39 in its most current mock draft, a second-round pick by the New Orleans Pelicans. While that number isn’t ideal, it may not lead to another return trip to Bloomington.
College players often choose to enter the Draft based on how much scouts think the projections will climb after another college season. For how little Bryant’s number changed after a second season, the outlook doesn’t point to a massive jump in draft stock next season. Plus, Bryant would be a year older, and age plays a fairly significant factor within NBA Draft decisions.
The good news for Bryant is that the NBA’s recent rule change will allow him to get as much advice as possible before making the life-changing decision. He’ll be able to workout at the Draft Combine and get a feel for his position on draft boards and how quickly he can adjust to the professional ranks.
With a new coach in Bloomington and one passed-draft already on his timeline, the anxiety to forego his junior season is mounting for Bryant. If a second-round pick is something he can live with — although its no guarantee he’d ever be a first-rounder — Bryant will likely wave a final goodbye to Assembly Hall this summer.