Nature of Thomas-Brown competition changes with Kennard’s Summer League absence

Pistons rookie Khyri Thomas said he’ll use Luke Kennard as his ‘third eye’ as Kennard sits out Summer League with a minor knee injury.
Jennifer Pottheiser (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

LAS VEGAS – One ripple effect of Luke Kennard’s minor knee injury that sidelines him for Summer League is changing the nature of the competition between Khyri Thomas and Bruce Brown.

The two rookies, drafted four spots apart two weeks ago by the Pistons in the second round, went from scrimmaging against each other to playing as teammates to fill the vacancy in the lineup created by Kennard’s injury.

They’ll each have to fight to earn a meaningful role on the 2018-19 roster with Kennard, Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson ahead of them at the wing positions and the likelihood of another small forward being added in free agency.

But it isn’t lost on Pistons fans how injuries can quickly shake up the mix, so Summer League is a chance for Thomas and Brown to establish themselves to be next in line.

Kennard suffered a left knee strain in Monday’s first day of Summer League practices during a five-on-zero segment and expects to be limited for only a few weeks. Though his absence means more playing time on the wings, Thomas and Brown both said they were looking forward to playing with Kennard.

“I was definitely hurt when Luke went down because I was looking forward to playing with him,” Brown said. “Hitting open threes, coming off assists from me. But, yeah, there’s time opened up. I’m ready for the opportunity. Been watching this since I was little, so now playing in it, it is kind of mind blowing. Bu I’m ready.”

“I don’t want to see him down because he’s already had this experience,” Thomas echoed. “Him and Henry (Ellenson), they both played 82 games already. It would have been better for me to learn while he was playing, but I know I’m going to learn a lot as he sits down and sees things. He could be like a third eye for me.”

Pistons assistant Sidney Lowe said he’s been impressed by Brown’s defense and Thomas’ ability to get to the rim in early glimpses. Thomas, a two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year, and Brown both were among the strongest players in athletic testing results at the NBA draft combine held in May. Their physical maturity and defensive mindset give both rookies a chance to challenge for playing time early – or to be capable of stepping in when injuries strike.

Their acclimation to the NBA is already under way. Thomas is adapting to the change in the speed of the game.

“I’m getting the hang of things,” he said. “How to move without the ball, with the ball. I’m learning how to space out the floor. It’s not so much slowed-down college basketball. You’ve only got 24 seconds, so I’m starting to get into that rhythm. You have to just be 20 times quicker than it is in college, so adjusting to that. It was learning stuff. A little bit of frustration, but I wouldn’t show it. That’s kind of getting to me a little mentally. They say, ‘don’t think about it so much; just play within the offense.’ ”

Brown said Thomas has been holding his own on offense and been better than that at the other end.

“Khyri’s really good,” he said. “A defensive player. Our calling card is on the defensive end. He can really shoot – 3-and-D guy, really good. Can’t wait to continue playing with him.”

With Kennard out, they figure to get all the time they can handle – together and separately – as Summer League play opens with the Pistons playing Milwaukee at 7 p.m. EDT. The game will be shown on NBA TV.