Photo by Ben Standig for The Sports Capitol

Bryant looking to fill void in Wizards' frontcourt


WARD 8 ー Thomas Bryant can’t seem to shake new settings.

This time a year ago, the Wizards center was a rookie starting training camp with the Los Angeles Lakers as they opened up their new training center. Fast forward, and he’s in another state-of-the-art facility, just with a new team.

The 6-foot-11 big man was claimed off waivers by the Wizards in July after one season with the Lakers organization. He spent most of his time with the South Bay Lakers, the Lakers’ G League affiliate, averaging 19.7 points per game and 7.4 rebounds. Bryant received All-NBA G League First-Team honors before joining the Wizards’ Summer League entry in Las Vegas. Now the focus centers on developing his game even further and stick on with a team’s main roster.

“It’s been good,” Bryant told The Sports Capitol of his short time in Washington. “Feels like I’m really a part of the team right here, just getting acquainted with the teammates and coaching staff. I really like it, it’s a new beginning for me.”

The Wizards already having the bulk of their frontcourt rotation set. Dwight Howard signed to take the place of traded veteran Marcin Gortat. Ian Mahinmi remains the main backup. Markieff Morris and Jeff Green are the primary power forwards. That leaves Bryant on the outside. But the 21-year-old provides an intriguing option for a team that lacked, a young, athletic big.

In the Wizards’ standard starting five last season, they weren’t able to space the floor as well as other teams, with Gortat being an older and more traditional center. Going to a small-ball lineup with Morris or Mike Scott at the 5 left them in unfavorable defensive matchups with niftier and more skilled bigs. This is where Bryant comes into play. In the G League last season, he not only averaged 1.5 blocks per game but shot 36.4 percent from the 3-point line, which would have ranked fifth on the Wizards last season and second among bigs.

“He’s been playing well,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “This is really my first time seeing him up close against good competition consistently, every day. But he brings energy, he brings the juice. He’s fast, he gets up and down the court fast. He has to continue to work on the defensive end. He wants to be a one-way runner. Right now, we need him to be a two-way runner. But he’s young, and he’s going to continue to develop and learn and all the experiences that we’re giving him this week and down the road is going to help him.”

A long, athletic prospect with the ability to develop into a quality two-way player? Think of him as a big man’s version of Kelly Oubre Jr.

“He’s a beast, man,” Oubre said. “He just has that grit. When you see me screaming to the crowd, that’s the same type of stuff that he’s on. He’s a great person off the court, just as on the court.”

Bryant certainly hasn’t had any problems fitting in. During the team’s open practice and scrimmage on Friday, Oubre and some of the younger Wizards formed a makeshift mosh pit at half court, flailing their bodies into each other, a sign that they’re already starting to bond. It may not mean much by season’s end, but it’s a good early sign for a team that made multiple key additions in the summer.

“Thomas is my fellow mosh-pitter. Him and [Devin Robinson],” Oubre joked.

When he’s not thrashing around with his teammates, Bryant is getting up to speed in the Wizards’ system with the help of his fellow bigs.

“It’s been great because you have vets that want to see you succeed and help you with things,” Bryant said. “Whenever I mess up on something, they come over and talk to me about it and tell me what I did wrong and tell me what I can do to improve on it. And also, they tell me what I did good and tell me to keep going on and doing it. So they instill confidence in me, and they also teach me as well.”

With the Wizards opening preseason play at home against the New York Knicks on Monday night, Bryant will get his chance to show that he belongs on Washington’s main squad. A more likely outcome is that he sees split time with the Wizards and the Capital City Go-Go. Brooks said the new G League team’s proximity allows better usage of the NBA’s two-way system and bringing up other G League players.

That’s the last thing on Bryant’s mind, though.

“The goals for the main season are to get playing time on the main roster,” Bryant said. “Just keep proving myself each and every day and try to stand out in front of the coaches and in front of my teammates. Just keep improving every day and just take it one day at a time.

Daniel Oyefusi is a fall intern for The Sports Capitol. A senior multiplatform journalism major at the University of Maryland: College Park, he is covering Maryland football for The Left Bench, a student-run campus publication. This past summer, he worked as an intern for TMZ, specifically assisting in the sports department. He is also a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and president of the Maryland Association of Black Journalists. Follow Daniel on Twitter at @DanielOyefusi.

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