Indiana will have offensive weapons this season, from guards to forwards to post players.
On the interior, the Hoosiers will have something they’ve had only one other time since the 2007-08 season: A high-level post player with more than a year of college experience.
Since Big Ten Player of the Year 6-foot-9 power forward D.J. White finished his IU career in 2007-08, only when eventually No. 4 NBA draft pick 7-footer Cody Zeller was a sophomore in 2012-13 has IU had a high-level interior player with college experience.
This year, IU has that in sophomore center Thomas Bryant.
The 6-foot-10 McDonald’s All-American took a brief look at the NBA before deciding to return to Indiana for his sophomore year.
Considered the second-best NBA prospect in the Big Ten by DraftExpress, Bryant has been named preseason All-American by several publications and was named preseason All-Big Ten.
Bryant has added strength and size, especially up top, to his frame and enters the year listed at 255 pounds with a 7-foot-5 1/2 inch wingspan that is a factor on defense and on the boards.
Bryant was an effective rebounder at 10.2 rebounds per 40 minutes.
What to expect as sophomore?
Bryant has been expanding his game offensively, including being able to make plays facing the basket. He’s not going to leave the paint, but he’s likely to add the ability to make plays facing the basket when he’s outside the paint, which adds to creating matchup problems for opponents.
Additional strength should only increase his rebounding ability and ability to absorb and deliver blows on the interior. It should also help him with balance in the post, something that was an issue from time to time his first year in college.
As a freshman, Bryant’s 70.7 shooting percentage on 2-point field goals was fourth nationally. He occasionally flashed range, shooting 5-for-15 from the arc.
He was a very capable free throw shooter at 70.6 percent (96-for-136).
His offensive rating of 125.7 ranked 35th nationally by Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, and he ranked in the top two percent nationally in offensive efficiency in halfcourt settings, per Synergy statistics.
Looking at traditional stats, Bryant averaged 11.9 points and 5.8 rebounds while playing 22.6 minutes per game. He had 34 assists, 58 turnovers, 17 steals and 32 blocked shots in 35 games played.
One of the areas where Bryant improved the most last year was on defense, particularly in pick and rolls.
In Maui and at Duke, Indiana was exposed defensively. Bryant’s improvement in understanding how to hedge and proper footwork and positioning were big factors as IU’s defense improved on the way to winning a second Big Ten regular-season title in four years.
Bryant isn’t a big leaper so he has some limitations against big-time athletes in the post. He also would benefit by becoming more effective going over both shoulders on offense.
Projected as a first-round NBA draft pick in 2017, one thing NBA scouts have mentioned to peegs.com is that Bryant’s hips are stiff and, if possible, he needs to work on loosening them to improve his lateral movement, something very important in a pick-and-roll heavy NBA game.
Bryant also got a little emotional at times as a freshman and went a step beyond playing with emotion.
Overall, Bryant should be an outstanding college center as a sophomore and should anchor a strong Indiana frontcourt.