Thomas Bryant has faced a whirlwind of adjustments since the Los Angeles Lakers drafted him with the 42nd overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.
The rookie has spent his days practicing with both the Lakers and their G League affiliate, the South Bay Lakers, playing in games for the latter while just practicing and outside of four minutes against the Portland Trail Blazers, watching the parent squad.
Bryant has also been getting a crash course in the intricacies of NBA defenses and how to make himself helpful on offense at the pro level. But when Bryant was asked about the biggest of the adjustments he’s had to make, veteran center Andrew Bogut was happy to cut in.
“All the laaaaaadies,” Bogut cooed mockingly while stretching on the Lakers logo in the center of the team’s locker room, drawing laughs from Bryant and serving as an example of a veteran getting an opportunity to answer the call before him.
That’s been standard for Bryant, and despite a promising showing in Las Vegas Summer League and dominant stretches in the G League, the Lakers plan to keep it that way for now.
“We love what Thomas has been doing in practice and the G League. We love the energy he brings to the bench. I would love to get him opportunities, but when you’re struggling for wins it’s a lot harder to find those opportunities,” Walton said.
Instead, Bryant has found his opportunities with South Bay, where he’s played 12 games and leads the team in scoring (22.3 points per game) and shooting 45.9 percent from 3-point range. That’s the type of long-range ability even more traditionally sized big men like Bryant need to survive in the modern NBA.
That Bryant shoots threes with the easy stroke of a guard rather than the awkwardness usually expected from a 6’10, 280-pound behemoth is no accident, as Bryant said he played some small forward in both high school and college.
The easy release is also why the Lakers haven’t made any efforts to alter Bryant’s shooting stroke, something that came as no surprise to the confident rookie who has always had faith in his stroke.
“Not to sound cocky or anything but I always felt like I was a really good 3-point shooter for my size,” Bryant said.
So far he has only gotten to show it in South Bay, but he understands his opportunity with the Lakers will come. Until then, Bryant says he’s picking the brains of Lakers veterans like Bogut, Corey Brewer and Luol Deng (who he affectionately calls “Uncle Lu” for how much he’s mentored him) in order to learn the types of habits that will allow him to have a long career.
It’s not just veterans Bryant is building relationships with, though. He lists basically every player on the roster when naming his closest friends on the team, only pausing on Larry Nance Jr.’s name because he’s interrupted.
“I don’t talk to him,” Nance joked from across the room, leading Bryant to bark back, “Yes you do.” The affection for each other obvious in their sardonic banter.
That might not seem easy for some players, given that Bryant is one of four rookies in a draft class that includes the much more highly hyped Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma, with even Josh Hart getting more of a chance to get some minutes.
It would be natural for Bryant to feel lost in the shuffle, but he says he’s not. “Nah, I don’t worry about no hype,” Bryant said. “I don’t worry about that.”
Instead of scrolling social media looking at the love his teammates are getting, Bryant occasionally spends his off time playing video games on his new Nintendo Switch or watching movies.
More frequently, he can be found in his sanctuary: the practice court.
“That’s always been my thing. From college to high school, shoot even in junior high I was in the gym all the time,” Bryant said. “It’s just a peaceful place for me.”
And that’s a good thing, because even if Walton is impressed with Bryant’s shooting and versatility, if the rookie wants to meet his coach’s goal of improving “everything” about his game, he’ll have to spend plenty of extra time on the court.
Bryant said that won’t be a problem, because he has bigger goals than just getting in the Lakers’ rotation. He wants to be able to guard every position from point guard to center, shoot threes and post up.
He wants to be special and is just working for his chance.
“I feel like I can be the best two-way big man out here, on the defensive end and the offensive end,” Bryant said.
That’s big talk for a second-round pick, but if Bryant can back it up, he’ll get all the opportunities he wants soon enough.
For now, he’s just going to have to stay patient as the Lakers wait for him to develop.
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