Meet Khyri Thomas

As Summer League kicks off get to know one the Pistons two draft picks: Khyri Thomas.

The Pistons went into the night with just the 42nd pick in the draft but left with an extra selection. The Pistons traded two future second-round picks with the Sixers in order to get Khyri Thomas with the 38th pick in the draft.

Who is Khyri Thomas?

Thomas is a 6'3 200-pound combo guard out of Creighton. He turned 22 a little over a month ago.

Thomas went to high school in Omaha Nebraska and also attended Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia. He attended Creighton University for college, where he was immediately an impact player. Thomas really came into his own as a sophomore where he averaged 12.3 points, 5.8 boards, and 3.3 assists per game while playing just over 31 minutes. In his sophomore year, Thomas won Big East player of the year to go with his very solid offensive numbers. Thomas used his very good sophomore year as a springboard into a great junior year. In his third year with the Blue Jays, Thomas averaged 15.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.8 assists while shooting 53.8% from the field and 41.1% from deep for a true shooting percentage of 65%(!!). He also won his second straight defensive player of the year award in the Big East conference. Thomas initially entered the NBA draft without an agent but obviously did eventually decide to forfeit his final year of eligibility to go pro.

The Good

Where to even start, there is a lot. The best place to probably start is the defensive end. Thomas is the reigning two-time defensive player of the year in the Big East Conference, which as a reminder is not exactly shabby in basketball. His defensive prowess is in nearly every area. He is able to use his quick feet and long, swiping arms to stick with fastball handlers, and has the right combination of strength and stubbornness to body up with bigger offensive players. He also is a great communicator on the defensive end, it is evident in his film and also the way teammates and coaches talk about him. He even is a very reliable rebounder at his position. All in all, Thomas is very nearly the full defensive package of quicks, length, strength, smarts, and desire.

Offensively Thomas had a true breakout year this past season, 15.1 points per game on a true shooting percentage of 65% is totally absurd. He got that efficiency with a combination of shooting and finishing inside, while he has some areas where he can flesh out his scoring, Thomas has a great feel for how to find his shot from just about anywhere on the court as evidenced by shooting 64% inside of the arc. That mark is especially impressive considering that he is not exactly a ferocious athlete, rather he is just a super smart player who knows where to find his shots.

His three-point shot is likely to be the main area where Thomas makes an impact right away. Long-range shooting does not always translate from college to NBA, due to the combination of a long line and smaller windows to get your shot off, but Thomas has a very strong track record. In his three years, Thomas shot 41.8%, 39.3%, and 41.1% on 3.5, 4.3, and 5.8 attempts per 40 minutes which is a good volume. Thomas is a step below someone like Luke Kennard who is a true sniper, but that is a very strong track record and his shot is smooth and fairly quick. Once again, it is never a guarantee that shooting carries over, but the Pistons can have just about as much confidence in Thomas' shot as is possible to have in a rookie.

Thomas was not really a full-time point guard at Creighton, but he took on significant ball-handling duties. It is not clear yet how much the Pistons hope for him to handle the ball, (perhaps Summer League will shed some light here) but it is an intriguing prospect for Thomas. His long ball and defense give a great outline for a successful 3 and D wing player, but Thomas is not a bad athlete (if not great) and showed some real chops for creating space for himself in college. It may take some time, but if Thomas is able to adjust to being a real creator for himself and others at the NBA level he could very quickly become the steal of this draft.

Lastly are the intangibles. Everything you can find on Thomas, whether it be the way he conducts himself or the way others speak about him, suggest that he is a very high character guy. He is the type who mostly keeps his head down, works hard, but is a vocal leader on the court. His attitude shows up in his play as well, despite being a very central player for the Blue Jays, as he paid great attention to all of the little things. Thomas works hard to box out, has good ball denial, is a willing and effective screen setter, and runs hard around screens off the ball. This all bodes very well for his success in the NBA. Often times when you have a player who is so good in college they can fall into bad habits that you get away with when you are the best player on your team, which becomes a problem when they arrive in the NBA and are asked to be role players. Thomas should have no such issues since despite being the best player, he did all of the little things like he was a role player.

The Bad

The biggest thing is his age, Thomas turned 22 just about a month ago. That is not a terrible thing, but it does limit the amount of improvement to be expected from him. For reference, Thomas is literally a couple of weeks older than Stanley Johnson. Despite the tops of drafts being dominated by younger players, there is certainly some precedent for older rookies being able to continue to improve their games and becoming very high-level players, Damian Lillard and Draymond Green were both 22 in their rookie seasons, but there is typically a lower ceiling.

Beyond his age, his size and skill-set is probably the biggest worry. In theory, Thomas is one of the more NBA ready and lowest risk picks in the entire draft, one potential pitfall is that there is a chance he is the wrong kind of a tweener. There are a lot of NBA wings who will be able to shoot over him, and the NBA is so chocked full of good point guards that even if he spends his time guarding almost all backups he will have plenty of very difficult assignments. His combination of smarts and competitiveness mean that he is almost certainly going to be a plus on defense, but he may not be anything beyond that.

A similar worry could pop up on the offensive end. Shot creation is the hardest skill to transfer from college to pros, so if Thomas is never able to be capable of creating his own shot or be a primary ball-handler at all he may have to work almost exclusively off the ball. If that happens it should be re-iterated that despite having a great track-record as a shooter, he isn't quite the top level of shooter and even guys in that top-level sometimes can't do it on the NBA level.

In the end, the potential downside for Thomas is pretty much limited to the potential downsides of literally any prospect. Which is, "he has all these skills but it isn't totally clear how they will translate against NBA competition", lottery picks bust all the time for exactly this reason. The only real downside on Thomas' profile other than being older than a lot of rookies is that he doesn't have truly elite athleticism.

Best Case Scenario

Thomas' abilities as a defender and shooter immediately translate to the NBA and he is a solid 3 and D rotation piece from day one. After a year (or two) of thriving in that role departures of other players open up more opportunities for Thomas and he has refined his game to the point where he is a proper lead ball-handler at the NBA level. This combines with more experience on the defensive end to where he is being called the guard version of Draymond Green but without being such a jackass. Thomas thrives and is a career Piston and is a part of the first Detroit championship in over a decade as one of the elite two-way players in the NBA.

Worst Case Scenario

Thomas' good but not great shooting chops from college prove slow to adjust to the NBA, and he is the wrong sort of tweener on defense. His drive and smarts make him a decent defender but nothing more. Thomas sticks around on the roster for a few years while the Pistons hope he can put it together and be a rotation piece, but he just isn't ever able to get everything together and is out of the NBA when his rookie contract is done without ever making a meaningful impact on the team.

The Verdict

I've tried to keep my hype levels from getting too high while studying Thomas. Look, draft picks end up being busts all the time, guys with much better profiles out of college than Thomas end up being busts. Yet I can't help but look at Thomas and think that the Pistons legitimately got the steal of the draft. His defensive abilities figure to be a very welcome addition to a team very bereft of perimeter defenders, and his shooting will be yet another tool to combat the downside of the Griffin/Drummond frontcourt. Every year there is a couple of second-round picks who end up becoming really good players, I think Thomas is one of them this year. I see him taking a Paul Millsap career arc, to be honest.

Also a second-round pick, Millsap spent his first two years as a bench piece for the Jazz who was primarily a rebounding specialist who could do some other things occasionally. After his second season he started to play more, until a few years later he was a full-time starter and before too long smart NBA people were talking about how good Paul Millsap is. Thomas (like Millsap) isn't flashy, his brand of defensive excellence isn't in making large amounts of big plays but rather just making the right play, every play, and his offensive skill-set is not in your face as it doesn't dominate any particular area. Instead, Thomas is just good at everything. With his (supposed) work ethic, Thomas should be able to raise those skills to NBA levels, which in a few years would make him the type who quietly scores in the mid to high teens with the elite defense every night. On the other hand, maybe all those things he is pretty good at will never pan out and he'll be a bust, who knows. Based on his film and numbers from college though, I am hugely optimistic about Thomas.

Upshot for the rest of the roster

As it is currently constructed, it is not totally clear where Thomas will fit in right away. Hopefully, Summer League will shed some light on how the Pistons want him to play, off-guard is probably his most natural spot out the gate but they could, in theory, start grooming him to be more of a point guard or a proper wing player. This (combined with the Bruce Brown pick) could also signal that the Pistons intend to thin out their now sizable stable of guards. This could range from simply cutting Dwight Buycks to trading Galloway or Smith. Regardless of what the Pistons plan is, it is a good bet that Thomas will push for a rotation spot this season.

NBA comparison: Malcolm Brogdon

Despite playing off-ball quite a bit, Brogdon is a proper point guard which is the main problem with this comparison as I would guess Thomas' destiny is going to be more off the ball. Regardless, the parallels are hard to ignore. Thomas isn't as old as Brogdon was, but both are experienced rookies, both big, strong combo guards who are good at pretty much everything. They both also have a strong reputation as high character guys.

What do you think? Can he contribute right away? Is he as much of a steal as many of the experts seem to think?

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