LAS VEGAS- The Los Angeles Lakers have received a fair amount of criticism over the last several seasons for a front office approach that has resulted in four of the worst season in team history. One area that’s been beyond reproach, however, is their scouting department.
Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak are gone, with Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka to take their places. Through all of it the Lakers scouting department has remained intact, and with good reason. Those minds have found player after player later in the draft that’s outperformed the players teams generally find at those slots, from Jordan Clarkson (46th overall), to Larry Nance, Jr. (nearly a second-rounder at 27th overall) and Ivica Zubac (32nd overall).
NBA teams sometimes find value in those picks, but generally not with the consistency with which the Lakers have discovered diamonds in the rough over a rough few years. A strong start to Las Vegas Summer League doesn’t necessarily mean rookie center Thomas Bryant is the next one, and he says that’s not his goal anyway.
"I'm not worried about being the 42nd pick, I'm just worried about putting the work in day in and day out with my teammates. My teammates always show confidence in me when we work out,” Bryant said
The confidence Bryant’s teammates have in him was rewarded with an exemplary first game of summer league. Bryant scored 13 points on 4-5 shooting to go with five rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench in his first outing as a Laker, although his debut was mostly overshadowed by a transcendent first game from Brandon Ingram and the hoopla over a mediocre outing from Lonzo Ball in their 96-93 loss to the LA Clippers.
Still, the confidence Bryant described from practice carried over on the floor, and as the Lakers addressed the media following the game.
"I love Thomas." Ball said. "He brings energy everytime he plays. His attitude is perfect."
He wasn’t the only Lakers No. 2 pick to feel that way.
"He's incredible,” Ingram said. “We have to match his energy every time he steps on the basketball floor."
Lakers summer league head coach Jud Buechler also cited Bryant as the only player giving the Lakers energy in the loss, a reality partially reflected by his team-leading plus-minus of +6.
Bryant is a mountain who sets teeth-rattling screens that leave defenders taking a nap on the floor as he rolls to the basket. He’s also surprisingly quick in transition for a 6’10, 241 pound center, a functional use of his much-vaunted energy that leads to easy baskets:
His activity was also obvious on the offensive glass in his debut.
Energy is great, and often all team’s can ask from a player taken so late in the draft is to be the proverbial “energy guy.” If that’s all Bryant ultimately is he’ll still have been worth a flier with such a late pick, but his skill set uniquely suited for the modern game offers intrigue he could ultimately be more.
Bryant has flashed soft touch from the outside in a limited sample size, knocking down 28 of the 75 3-pointers he attempted in college (37.3 percent). He hit his only attempt in the Lakers’ first game, and looked natural while doing so:
Bryant is still a second-round rookie with a lot to learn, and he credits Ingram for helping him know where to screen and when to roll or pop, and says he's equally comfortable doing either.
"I just try and take what the defense gives me. Most of the time I'll roll, sometimes I'll pop," Bryant said. "You just have to read the game."
The Lakers’ first game was a breezy read for Bryant, but their 86-81 loss to the Boston Celtics in the second games showed what it looks like when the game appears illegible to the rookie. Bryant missed both of his shots and grabbed a solitary rebound in 15 minutes of playing time, and the stark contrast of the two outputs served as a reminder that consistency can’t be reasonably expected from second-round rookies right away.
Bryant has shown enough potential to tease at what he could offer the Lakers down the line, but he’s not ready to be that guy consistently just yet.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats per NBA.com. and Basketball-Reference.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.