Khyri Thomas attacks improvement: ‘I don’t have time to relax and chill’

Khyri Thomas had a quiet rookie season, but behind the scenes he left an impression on the Pistons and he hopes to use Summer League to launch a strong second season
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

LAS VEGAS – The pink backpack he was obliged to lug around the NBA during his rookie season now rests in Khyri Thomas’ closet. It’s probably destined for his niece, who’s requested taking possession.

He’s now graduated to the more conventional black backpack to convey his shoes, cell phone and valuables from the hotel to the arena and back, his rookie season behind him, his ritual indoctrination to the NBA successfully completed.

Now he’s laser focused on making his second season as different from his rookie season as the black backpack from the pink one.

“I feel way more comfortable,” Thomas said between practices on the second day of Pistons preparation for Summer League, which opens Friday, recalling the wave that washed over him a year ago after the Pistons made him the 38th pick in the 2018 draft. “Everything is new. It’s thrown at you in a few days and you’re just kind of done with the draft, predraft workouts. So I really am (more comfortable), knowing the coaches. At first I’m a quiet, sit-back, shy kind of guy. But now I’m coming out of my shell, slowly but surely.”

Thomas might have been largely out of mind last season – he played 195 minutes, mostly to finish games already decided, spread over 26 games – but he was never far from Dwane Casey’s thoughts. Frequently when asked about or discussing fellow rookie Bruce Brown, Casey would voluntarily drop Thomas’ name as another candidate to be a big part of the Pistons future.

Thomas was a two-time defensive player of the year in the Big East at Creighton and he’s given every indication that he projects to be an above-average 3-point shooter. That gives him a critical tool at both ends of the court as a foundation for building out his career. After 2018 Summer League, the Pistons saw that Thomas needed to tighten his ballhandling and become more sure with his left hand and they’ve come to learn that Thomas takes all such advice to heart.

Asked about getting the chance this summer to play with the ball in his hands more, Thomas said, “It’s basketball. You’re going to have the ball in your hands to score. Other than that, just working on my shot, getting it quicker. Each day a coach tells me something new I can work on my game or, ‘I want to see you do this more,’ so I just work on that – handles, shooting, being the point, being a wing, rebound, whatever the case may be.”

“He’s pretty good in terms of understanding concepts and what we’re trying to do,” Pistons assistant Sean Sweeney, coach of the Summer League roster, said of Thomas. “Now it’s getting that game experience. He developed as a ballhandler during the course of the season, so trying to improve that and also just making sure he does a good job of guarding on and off the ball.”

How earnest is Thomas? Trainers suggested he take a little time off after the season before jumping with both feet into his off-season conditioning regimen.

“I took a week off and kept at it – and that week I was off, I was just lifting,” Thomas said. “You know how much I played last year, so I don’t think I really had time for an off-season. The trainers told me to relax and chill. But I was like, nah, I don’t have time to relax and chill.”

Which doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how to engage in fun – or at least to recognize it in others around him. Brown and French teen Sekou Doumbouya, drafted 15th by the Pistons last month, caught his attention on the first day of practice.

“(Sekou) and Bruce, they just be playing around the whole time. Yesterday on the bus, cracking jokes at each other, roasting each other, recording each other dancing and stuff. Sekou, he’s funny. He gets on the phone and starts talking in French. You’re just like, what? I know French fries, French kiss.”

And then he smiles, a smile that translates to any language.

Yup, slowly but surely, Khyri Thomas is coming out of his shell.

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