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2020-21 Wizards player evaluations: Thomas Bryant was on track before an injury cut short his season

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Thomas Bryant looked ready to take the next step in his career progression before an injury cut his season short.

Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics
Thomas Bryant dunks against the Boston Celtics
Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

As the president of the Thomas Bryant fan club, I was ecstatic about how he looked at the start of the 2020-2021 season. He looked like he had taken another big step forward in his development and had the trust of the Wizards’ star guards. That made it even more gut-wrenching when he torn his ACL two minutes into a game against the Miami Heat on January 9, 2021.

Season highlights

One of Bryant’s best statistical games of the season was on New Year’s Eve against the Chicago Bulls. The Wizards ended up losing by three points but Bryant was largely unguardable. He shot 10-of-11 from the field and 3-of-3 from three-point range. He only had three rebounds but he protected the rim pretty well with three blocks.

The real high-point of Bryant’s short season came on January 3rd, in a one-point win against the Brooklyn Nets. Bryant was 9-12 from the field and 1-2 from three. He had 21 points and 14 rebounds. Most importantly, he scored the game-winning basket off a pass from Bradley Beal. It said a lot about Beal’s faith in him that he was willing to make the smart basketball play and drop it off to Bryant rather than try to be the hero.

Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets
The Wizards celebrating Thomas Bryant after a game-winning layup
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Statistics

Granted, he only play nine full games, but Bryant seemed on pace to set career highs in several key statistics. He was averaging 14.3 points, 6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and just under 1 block in 27 minutes per game. He was shooting 65% from the field and 43% from three. His effective field goal percentage was 69.8, which is objectively great.

Bryant’s rebounds were down but that was largely attributable to the addition of Russell Westbrook and his offensive role as a floor-spacer. His torrid perimeter shooting was clearly missed this season.

Strengths

As mentioned above, Bryant’s shooting was a real asset for the Wizards, particularly in a year where they lacked spacing. Bryant is also an underrated rim-runner. He might not be a high-flyer who creates a lot of vertical space by catching lobs but he does run the floor real harder and beat his defender to the basket. Basically, you could summarize his strengths by saying, “Offense.”

Orlando Magic v Washington Wizards
Thomas Bryant spreading the floor against the Magic
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Weaknesses

Unfortunately, you could also summarize his deficiencies by saying, “Defense.” Personally, I think Bryant could at least look like a league average defender if he were surrounded by a few more average defenders. Frequently, when things go wrong on the perimeter, it’s the person under the basket who pays the price and looks the worst.

That being said, he’s certainly not the second coming of Dikembe Mutombo. He’s not a terrible deterrent at the rim but he doesn’t have the lateral quickness to defend in space if he’s forced to switch onto a quicker opponent. Platooning him with Daniel Gafford next season seems like a sensible approach to me.

Future with the Wizards

Bryant is under contract through the 2021-2022 season at a reasonable $8.73 million. While he’s likely to provide good value at that price tag, it also means if he has a good year next year he could likely play his way out of the Wizards’ price range.

Given their lack of salary cap flexibility for the next few years, they may decide that prioritizing Daniel Gafford longer term makes more sense. His salary also makes him a realistic piece in any offseason trade the Wizards may make.