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2019-20 Wizards player evaluations: Thomas Bryant improved his scoring but still has a long ways to go defensively

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The Wizards center had an injury-hampered start, but finished strong.

Philadelphia 76ers v Washington Wizards Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

During the 2018-19 NBA season, Washington Wizards fans couldn’t get enough of Thomas Bryant. After being picked up off of waivers, he turned into an instant fan favorite.

What a difference a year makes.

After a slow start to the 2019-20 NBA season where Bryant was sidelined with some minor injuries, some were over the honeymoon and called for Moritz Wagner to start over Bryant. Fast-forward to the NBA restart and the Bryant vs. Wagner argument has been put to bed. But now, the third-year center is included in trade machines across the Twitterverse. Fans are either all in on Bryant or all out, and there isn’t a whole lot of in-between.

Even with the slow start to the year and the rumblings from the fanbase, Bryant managed to take a step forward in his development, specifically on the offensive end of the floor.

Statistics

Bryant raised his stats pretty much across the board regardless of how you slice things. He increased his scoring, rebounding, assists, and three-point shooting from this year to last but the biggest jump was seen when comparing him pre-bubble versus in the bubble.

For the season, Bryant averaged 13.2 points (career-high) on 63% shooting including shooting a career-best 41% from three-point range. Those numbers are inflated by his performance in the bubble. During the restart, Bryant averaged just over 18.5 points and 8.8 rebounds while shooting 40% from three-point range.

Bryant benefited the most from Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans missing the restart as he found himself with the ball in his hands more often and quickly made himself into the Wizards primary scorer in the Orlando.

Season Highlights

Bryant’s best game of the season came in the second game of the bubble against the Brooklyn Nets. Bryant poured in a season-high 30 points on 12-of-20 shooting (4-of-6 from three-point range) to go with 13 rebounds.

A not-so-great Brooklyn Nets defense helps, but Bryant turned in his best performance of the season on that August afternoon as he stuck to his strengths — energy, hustle, and being ready to catch and shoot. There was no dribbling into three-pointers or pulling up in the midrange. He was active in the lane, crashed the offensive glass, and was always ready to shoot when he found himself on the perimeter.

Inconsistency with Bryant’s game is what frustrates the fan base. If they could get this version of Bryant more often, folks would be a whole lot happier.

Strengths

The Wizards fanbase became enamored with Bryant during the 2018-19 season primarily for two reasons. First, he hustled and brought the energy every single night. And second, he added a three-point shot to his repertoire. Bryant knocked down 40.7% of his three-point attempts this year making him the third most accurate three-point shooting center in the league.

Although his numbers dipped a bit, Bryant continued to be a bulldog in the lane as he shot 74.9% on shots five feet or closer and knocked down 58% of his attempts from the floor overall.

Lastly, he improved his screens on the ball which allowed for him to pop for a wide open jumper or dive to hole for a dunk or finish around the rim.

Weaknesses

Defense. Defense. Defense.

The biggest beef Wizards fans have with Bryant is that he hasn’t improved defensively since he arrived in Washington. In a classic chicken or egg argument, is Bryant a bad defender because the rest of his teammates are bad defenders or is he individually a bad defender? Or is it a combination of both?

More often than not, Bryant was overmatched on that end of the floor (especially in the bubble) when he went up against guys like Deandre Ayton and Jarrett Allen. He was no match defensively and was far from a deterrent. His rotations were often a step slow and he’s far from an eraser at the rim when players on the wing get into the painted area.

If Bryant’s game is going to go to the next level, it has to start on the defensive end and based on what we saw from him this year, Thomas Bryant just doesn’t seem interested on that end of the floor.

Future with the Wizards

After coming out of nowhere in 2018-2019, Bryant earned himself a three-year $25 million dollar payday this past summer as Washington thought they found their center of the future.

As I mentioned before, he’s improved on the offensive end of the floor but his defense is going in the opposite direction which is causing a split about how people feel about Bryant. On any given night, you hear screams for him to get traded only for him to turn in a 20-point 10 rebound performance the next night.

It’s clear that the front office has confidence in Bryant and hope that he’s the center of the future for Washington as they gave him that three-year deal. But if the Wizards do make a move this offseason, it’s likely that Bryant would have to be included in the trade to make it work.