3 Goals: Khyri Thomas – sharpen mechanics, emerge as defensive stopper

Khyri Thomas
Khyri Thomas has the type of two-way potential as a defensive stopper and 3-point sniper to force his way into the mix for rotation minutes.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

(Editor’s note: Today continues a series looking at the 17 players – 15 under standard contracts, two on two-way deals – who comprise the 2019-20 Pistons roster heading into the home stretch of the off-season. Today: Khyri Thomas. Coming Monday: Langston Galloway.)

Khyri Thomas went four spots ahead of Bruce Brown in the 2018 draft and came out of their first Summer League running even with him in the perimeter pecking order.

He also came out of it nursing a hamstring injury that gave Brown a head start on summer prep leading to training camp. He made full use of it, finishing his rookie season with 1,449 minutes played, good for fifth on the roster. It was more than seven times Thomas’ 195 minutes, most of them coming in mop-up time.

While there isn’t nearly that much of a gap in Brown and Thomas’ ability to contribute to the 2019-20 Pistons, there’s no guarantee things will be any different for Thomas this season. Casey has plenty of options on the wings, where Tony Snell, Luke Kennard and Brown offer more size and Langston Galloway has the edge in experience and proven 3-point ability.

And that doesn’t include Svi Myhkhailiuk, another second-year player with more size than Thomas though not the defensive profile, and the possibility that Derrick Rose could take some minutes at shooting guard in addition to backing up Reggie Jackson at the point.

But the qualities that moved Pistons front-office boss Ed Stefanski into trading two future second-rounders for the chance to draft Thomas 38th in 2018 still exist and Thomas carried himself with confidence in a solid Summer League showing last month. His two-way potential figures to make him a legitimate candidate for rotation minutes in his second NBA season.

Casey’s practice is to present his players with a three-item card with their core values to the team before training camp starts. In keeping with that protocol but with a twist, we’ll look at the three goals for each player on the roster heading into the 2019-20 Pistons season. For Khyri Thomas, those are …

REFINED MECHANICS – If Kennard and Mykhailiuk would be the betting favorites to win a Pistons 3-point content, Thomas might not be far behind. His stroke is a big reason why Stefanski was moved to pounce when Thomas, widely considered a likely pick in the 20-30 range of the 2018 draft, was still available seven picks into the second round. But Thomas still has to work on the consistency of his mechanics. Every five or six shots, it seems, Thomas lets fly with an air ball. That speaks to a breakdown in shooting form more than anything else. Thomas has the potential to be perhaps the most complete wing among those scrapping for a foothold in the rotation, but it will require him to be a more reliable 3-point shooter. Getting less than 200 minutes of playing time as a rookie spread over the course of 82 games means Thomas isn’t fully acclimated to the pace of NBA games just yet. As he gets more exposure, he’ll likely demonstrate fewer mechanical breakdowns.

BETTER OFF THE BOUNCE – One of the encouraging signs from Summer League was Thomas being more assertive in attacking the paint and more efficient when doing so. A focus of Pistons development coaches for Thomas after their drafting of him was to sharpen his ballhandling and increase his confidence in using his weaker hand, his left, more often. Thomas could carve out a niche, given his defensive potential, even if he remained primarily a catch-and-shoot option. But he shouldn’t limit himself to that. With his length and athleticism, Thomas could become a threat when attacking, as well, as he gains strength and becomes more experienced at finishing around the rim through contact.

IMPACT DEFENDER – Brown absolutely seized the moment as a rookie when Casey needed someone to emerge as a primary perimeter defender. He’s been around the block once now and has experience guarding everyone from Kemba Walker to Damian Lillard to James Harden. Digesting scouting reports is one thing, but getting firsthand knowledge by playing against NBA personnel is another. As Thomas gets more experience, he’ll be able to use his defensive instincts and physical gifts – a two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year, Thomas measured with a 6-foot-10½ wing span at the 2018 NBA draft combine – to become a defender on par with Brown. Casey often cited two things that impressed him about Thomas last season: his tenacity and his basketball IQ. Those are two wonderful building blocks for a defensive stopper.

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