What do these players have in common? They are all former Big East Defensive Players of the Year (Dunn won it twice), and all have not been able to distinguish themselves in the NBA. There’s no shame in that - it’s difficult to make it as an NBA player, and even more difficult to be a good NBA player.
Which brings us to two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year Khyri Thomas, and what Detroit Pistons fans should expect from him.
The Pistons did the easiest and simplest thing, waiving Joe Johnson and keeping Khyri on the roster to start the year. But Khyri’s lack of quality playing time in the preseason betrays a lack of confidence in him by the coaching staff. The coaches are watching these guys every day in practice and during the summer, and Khyri appears further down the depth chart than he was at this time last year. Fans shouldn’t just hand-wave that away.
If Khyri Thomas can be the player the Pistons drafted him to be, now would be an excellent time to show it.
One Big Question
Does Khyri Thomas have a great NBA skill?
It is fine if Khyri is “just” a solid NBA role player. But even NBA role players have to have things they do at a high level to keep them on the floor. Tony Snell and Svi Mykhailiuk, for example, are excellent shooters. Bruce Brown Jr. is already one of the best young defensive guards in the league. Khyri Thomas needs to find what he’s greatest at, and hone it until it draws blood.
Maybe that’s defensively. As mentioned, Khyri was a two-time DPoY in college. As our own Joe mentioned in his excellent Tune-Up on Khyri, Thomas was an excellent defender and defensive communicator in the G-League. He has the wingspan (6-foot-10), if not the height (6-foot-3), to defend both guard positions. He averaged 1.7 steals a game in the G-League and 1.4 steals a game in college, so he’s got the ability to flip the court. However, in summer league, Bruce Brown often drew the more difficult primary assignment (Aaron Holiday, Anfernee Simons, etc.) so perhaps he’s viewed as a great team defender rather than a Patrick Beverly-esque “shutdown corner.”
Offensively, Khyri’s best skill is his ability to take and make threes - he shot over 40% from three in his college career on good volume (4.7 threes attempted per-40 minutes). In 10 G-League games, he shot 46% from three on even better volume (seven threes attempted per-36 minutes). You see this in his Summer League tape; when he’s on, he gets his feet set nicely and makes shots:
Whichever avenue Khyri decides to focus on, he needs to make an impact on that side of the floor when (and if) his opportunity comes.
For as little as he played in preseason, Khyri’s best-case scenario is going to require some cooperation from his teammates. Namely, he needs neither of Langston Galloway nor Svi to secure the final wing spot in the Pistons’ rotation.
Simultaneously, he needs to be balling out in practice and in Grand Rapids. Dwane Casey appeared ready to hand Khyri minutes last season because of his play - there’s no reason that can’t repeat itself. And this time, Khyri, with another year of experience under his belt, is able to take better advantage of it, and secure that spot in the rotation for the long term.
The worst case for Khyri is rough. If he doesn’t distinguish himself in Grand Rapids, and another player does, he may find himself on the outside looking in on a rotation spot for the whole season. At THAT point, things get pretty dicey.
If he doesn’t crack the rotation and doesn’t distinguish himself in the G-League, Khyri would have two years of being unable to find NBA minutes. He’s already a little old for a prospect (he turns 24 in May, older than Svi despite Svi being a four-year college player and Khyri being a three-year college player), and could be in danger of being waived. His salary is non-guaranteed for next season.
This sounds like a bad outcome for a guy the Pistons traded a future second-round pick for, but this happens very often in the NBA. Second-round guys are much more likely to be Michael Gbinije or Darrun Hilliard rather than Khris Middleton or Spencer Dinwiddie. And that worst-case scenario IS the worst case - it’s much more likely that Khyri floats in between the NBA and the G-League, contributing occasionally but not consistently at the NBA level, and the Pistons invest one more year in him.
It’s possible that Khyri is good now and has a bright NBA future ahead of him. At this point in his career, I just would need to see it.