The time has come for the Lakers to stop talking about how high they are on Thomas Bryant and give the second year center a shot at starting next season. That could be the roster move that makes everything click for the Lakers.
With Brook Lopez starting and Randle playing small ball center as back up, the Lakers didn’t have the minutes on the varsity for Thomas Bryant last year, which is why he spent most of his rookie season with the South Bay Lakers. Bryant took full advantage of the opportunity to play full-time by averaging 19.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.5 steals, and 1.5 blocks in 30.7 minutes per game, which earned him first team All-NBA G-League honors.
At 6' 10,” 248 lbs, with a 7' 6" wingspan and sweet 3-point stroke from deep, 20-year old Thomas Bryant is the prototype modern NBA center, capable both of protecting the rim on defense and stretching the floor on offense. Bryant shot 36% from deep as a G-League rookie, shooting close to 5 threes per game. Bryant also used his size, length, and motor to dominate in the post, hitting 74.3% of his 2-point field goals, including a variety of dunks.
In many ways, Thomas Bryant is a younger, cheaper, faster, longer, better shooting version of Brook Lopez. He’s potentially a superior 3-point shooter, rebounder, and shot blocker. While Bryant might struggle a little at first because of age and inexperience, he’ll be a major upgrade at center by the end of the season because his rim running and finishing on offense and shot blocking and motor on defense are exactly what the Lakers need at center.
For Thomas Bryant, out-of-sight has pretty much translated into out-of-mind. That he never got a chance to show what he could do despite being heavily hyped by the front office was one of last season’s mysteries and frustrations. As they head into next summer, the Lakers’ primary goal at this stage of their rebuilding should still be to develop their young talent, which means giving Thomas Bryant a chance to play center instead of re-signing Brook Lopez.
While it might seem premature to start a 20-year old second year center who spent most of his rookie season in the G-League, the Lakers need to find out what they have in Bryant as this will be the last year of his two year contract. Unless they sign a veteran center like DeMarcus Cousins or Clint Capela this summer, the Lakers’ first priority once training camp begins should be to start grooming young Thomas Bryant to become their starting center next season.
Starting second year center Thomas Bryant could be the roster move that makes everything click for the Lakers. With his ability to stretch the floor with his 3-point shooting, Bryant is the perfect center to play with Julius Randle.
Frankly, the dearth of stretch fives who can also defend could be a reason the Lakers have been hesitant to commit long-term to Randle despite his stellar play the second half of the year, where he was team MVP. The list of available NBA centers whose games would work alongside Julius Randle is limited at this time to just DeMarcus Cousins and Brook Lopez. Truthfully, I don’t see how the Lakers re-sign Julius Randle without a stretch five to play with him.
There’s been some talk of the Lakers pursuing Boogie but I think the odds of that are slim to none because of the risk from his Achilles and concerns about his fit with the Lakers’ high octane offense and switch-everything defense. Much as I love restricted free agent center Clint Capela, he would be a poor fit playing alongside Julius Randle because neither can stretch the floor. Same with Nerlens Noel, a young veteran center who’d also be a good fit for Lakers.
Bringing back Brook Lopez would likely cost more than the Lakers want to spend and would only further hinder the development of Thomas Bryant. Word is the Lakers may have given a promise to Mitchell Robinson, a 20-year old draft prospect who could potentially become a shoot and switch center. But even if the Lakers end up drafting Robinson, he’d still be a project and could even end up spending his rookie season in the G-League like Bryant.
Which brings us back to Thomas Bryant, who may be the key to the Lakers deciding to keep Julius Randle. While Bryant might struggle as a starter, his rim protecting, floor stretching skillsets are exactly what the Lakers need to anchor their defense and open up space and driving lanes for Julius Randle. There is a new wave of switch and shoot centers who are going to transform the NBA. Thomas Bryant has the upside to become one of those trailblazers.
A Laker starting lineup of Lonzo Ball, Paul George, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and Thomas Bryant could be an elite force at both ends of the court. Starting Bryant also has positive domino effects on the Lakers’ second unit, where Randle’s starting keeps stretch four Kyle Kuzma on the bench and opens up a backup slot next to him for a athletic mobile rim protecting center like draft prospect Mitchell Robinson or young veteran Nerlens Noel.
We’ve seen in these playoffs how important depth is to a team’s success. My hope is the Lakers sign Paul George as their only free agent superstar this summer and instead spend the rest of their cap space to sign Julius Randle, Isaiah Thomas (if healthy), and Marcus Smart. A second unit boasting Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, and Nerlens Noel or Mitchell Robinson could be among the best second units in the entire league.
It may not be as flashy as signing LeBron James but investing in the budding young talent you already have could be the wiser, smarter move long-term. The Lakers reaped great gains by giving Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart opportunities to grow and develop in starter roles last season. The timing is perfect to give Thomas Bryant that same opportunity to start. It’s the roster move that could make everything click for the Lakers