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Thomas Bryant continues to show defensive progress in The Bubble

Philadelphia 76ers v Washington Wizards
Wizards center Thomas Bryant has shown defensive improvement in The Bubble.
Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images

I’m annoyed. Last night I was downright furious. It had nothing to do with the Wizards, who gave the Philadelphia 76ers a game before losing 107-98. Nope, what had me torqued was NBA League Pass.

It’s too long and boring to make you read the whole experience, but I was planning to track the Wizards defense and couldn’t because League Pass is a bad product with Byzantine blackout rules.

What I missed was what head coach Scott Brooks praised in the postgame as “the best defensive game I’ve ever seen him [Thomas Bryant] play.”

This fits with what I’ve seen from Bryant throughout The Bubble. In previous years, I’ve hand-tracked individual defense in collaboration with folks like Dean Oliver and Ben Falk, as well as a few coaches and executives at various levels of basketball.

While I haven’t been tracking, I have focused on Bryant’s defensive work throughout The Bubble. What I’ve seen suggests significant improvement in the process of defending — something helped by the coaching staff changing pick and roll coverage from hard hedge (in which the big man is asked to cut the ball handler off and turn him back to the perimeter defender) to drop (in which the big man sags back towards the basket to protect the rim).

Bryant has been more effective in drop coverage. He’s consistently been able to keep ball handlers from getting to the rim while maintaining contact with the roll man. He’s done a better (though still imperfect) job of maintaining verticality and avoiding dumb fouls. Playing drop has drastically reduced the opportunity for opponents to exploit his subpar lateral agility.

He still has a ways to go, of course. In drop coverage, bigs are supposed to give ground to keep offensive players away from the rim. The idea is to concede midrange jumpers and runners, which are low value attempts, while preventing layups. Bryant sometimes gives too much ground and ends up under the basket.

He’s also still too reactive to fakes. When he’s in the right spot, he needs to learn to trust his positioning and length.

When he boxes out, he has a tendency to edge forward — trying to be first off the floor to grab the ball. This weakens his base and makes it easier for opposing players to push him under the basket and collect the rebound. He needs to develop the patience to hold the box out.

And, he needs to get stronger — upper body, lower body and core. That’ll help him improve that lateral agility and do a better job establishing and holding position, and protecting the rim.

There’s still a long ways for him to go, but he is making progress.

76ers 107, Wizards 98

Wizards vs. 76ers Four Factors

efg 0.465 0.530
orb 0.20 0.13
tov 0.15 0.14
ftm 0.22 0.24
ortg 100 109
pace 98

PPA is my production metric that credits players for things they do to help their team win (scoring, rebounding, playmaking, defending) and debits them for things that hurt (missed shots, turnovers, fouls) — each in proportion to how it contributes to winning and losing. In PPA, 100 is average and higher is better. Replacement level is 45 (though the concept doesn’t have much application at the single game level).

PPA is a per possession stat. Results are sorted by total contribution in the game.

Wizards PPA

Bryant 31 194
Robinson 29 120
Schofield 5 272
Bonga 27 29
Brown 36 14
Napier 18 13
Smith 30 0
Hachimura 39 -5
Pasecniks 8 -148
Wagner 17 -71

76ers PPA

76ers MIN PPA
76ers MIN PPA
Embiid 33 205
Milton 27 220
Richardson 35 128
Burks 20 185
Korkmaz 19 152
Horford 30 8
Thybulle 17 12
Harris 37 4
Simmons 23 -66

Next up for the Wizards is a theoretically winnable game Friday night against the New Orleans Pelicans. Washington will be a significant underdog, of course, but they have a shot to steal a victory against the Pelicans.