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NBA Draft Deep Dive: Khyri Thomas

Aaron explains why the late first/early second round is the spot to target a certain “depth” wing

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

I’m a firm believer that late in the Draft, whether it be the late first or early second round, teams should draft for need. Swing for the fences in the lottery; go for the “best player available” if that’s what the organization needs to do.

However, outside of the Top-20 picks or so, completely different story. Positional need, skill-set need, and situation are determining factors that should be weighed before selecting a young prospect.

As we all know, the Magic were awarded the sixth pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. Regardless of what the Magic decide to do with that pick, one fact remains.

The Orlando Magic ranked 28th out of 30 teams last season in three-point percentage (35%). The Magic also finished 25th in the NBA with an Offensive Rating of 105.2 in ‘17-’18.

These playoffs have reminded us (if we didn’t already know) that successful teams in the NBA can never have enough help on the wings. Players that can stretch the floor, score, have versatility to play multiple positions, and have the ability to handle the basketball (as well as make plays for others) are wanted commodities by NBA front office executives.

The Magic own the 35th and 41st picks in this draft, and there’s a very good chance they can use one of these picks to add wing-depth, shooting, and scoring to the roster.

And I think the wing depth in this class is most plentiful in the 25-45 range, so the Magic are in a great situation to have a look at guys like Grayson Allen, Rawle Alkins, Melvin Frazier, and Jerome Robinson.

I believe the Magic should take an opportunity in this spot to target their guy who can become a contributor from the wing and compliment core pieces already on the roster. If he’s not going to be there at #35, they can try packaging their two picks in an effort to move up (into the 25-30 range for example). The Magic also have Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross, two players with expiring contracts, to work with.

I’m going to provide pieces that take a deeper look at the kind of “wings” the Magic should be targeting in an effort to rebuild their shooting guard/small forward depth.

Second in this series, I profile a versatile guard from Omaha, Nebraska who chose to stay local and play for his hometown Creighton Bluejays in college.

Khyri Thomas (22 years old)
6-3.5 (6-10.5 wingspan)

Ranking/Mock Draft Slot The Ringer Tankathon ESPN Sports Illustrated
Khyri Thomas 24th 27th 18th 33rd

When watching film of Khyri Thomas, I can’t get over how much he reminds me of Victor Oladipo. I’m not really saying their games exactly mirror one another, but just his (Thomas) mannerisms, the way he carries himself on the court, his movement on the floor (mainly how disruptive he tends to be). While considerably more successful from distance than Oladipo was in college, even Thomas’ shooting form and release look eerily similar to Orlando’s former lottery pick. Unfortunately, Thomas is not the kind of athlete Oladipo was in college (or rather, still is); if he was, we would be talking about a potential lottery pick.

Thomas, an Omaha, Nebraska native, signed to play for his hometown Creighton University Bluejays as an unheralded three-star recruit out of high school. Thomas, 22, spent one year after high school at Fork Union Military Academy before arriving at Creighton to play for Greg McDermott.

Thomas was a three-year starter at Creighton, playing over one hundred career games in the Big East from ‘15-’18.

Thomas measured just under 6-4 at the NBA Draft combine last month. However, Thomas possesses exceptional length (6-10.5 wingspan, 8-5 standing reach). Thomas measured longer than wing players that are projected to go in the first round such as Miles Bridges, Lonnie Walker, and Zhaire Smith; I do not expect his height to be a problem playing off the ball in the NBA.

Besides his NBA length, Thomas also comes ready to contribute possessing an NBA body. He’s a solid 200 pounds (with a frame that can easily handle a little more weight) and bench-pressed 225 lbs. for 14 reps at the combine, one of the top marks at the event.

How could Thomas potentially help the Magic?

Defensive contributions

Thomas has been regarded for a couple seasons at the collegiate level as one of the best defensive guards in the country. He was recognized as the Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 and 2018. Thomas is capable of guarding either back-court positions.

Again, Thomas possesses a ton of length (6-10+ wingspan) that allows him to switch on and off the ball as a perimeter defender. From the film I’ve watched, it’s apparent Thomas uses his length defensively in combination with above-average defensive awareness and a good amount of intensity. He also rebounds the basketball at an above-average clip for a wing (7.4 rebounds per/40 his sophomore year, 6.8 REB per/40 for his career - five career games with 10+ rebounds).

The long-armed Thomas often was able to disrupt, deflect, and intercept passes at the collegiate level. Like a defensive back, Thomas can quickly make a team pay for a turnover by creating something easy at the other end (2.1 steals per/40, 2.9% steal percentage last season - both good for top-3 in the Big East).

Shooting/Offensive efficiency

Thomas was always consistent on offense during his time at Creighton, he’s a very efficient guard. What I like to see from a player is consistency, but also quantifiable improvement from year to year, and Thomas improved offensively across the board.

From his freshmen to junior seasons, Thomas enjoyed dramatic improvement in PER (15.0, 19.8, 21.8), true shooting percentage (54%, 60%, 65%), two-point field goal percentage (50%, 57%, 64% - has turned himself into a very strong finisher out of the back-court), Offensive Rating (105, 116, 122), and Offensive Box Plus/Minus (1.9, 5.2, 6.5). It’s clear that Thomas made a huge leap in offensive efficiency and production between his freshmen and sophomore seasons (free throw percentage went from 52% to 77%).

Thomas is also a career 40.6% three-point shooter (42% as a freshmen, 39% as a sophomore, 41% as a junior) who fired away from distance at a higher and higher clip as his college tenure went on (2.4 3PTM’s on 5.8 3PTA’s per/40 last year, 3PAr of .44).


Trust the tape (or trust the combine)?

When I watch Thomas on film, he seems to have enough athleticism to get by in the NBA. I tend to think he possesses functional athleticism, meaning on tape he comes across as athletic (most likely due to his basketball awareness, instincts, and overall tenacity).

I want to trust his tape, but Thomas scored rather poorly during the athletic testing at the combine compared to other guards in this class. He ranked 27th among guards at the combine with a max-vertical leap of 35 inches, 13th (guards) with a lane agility time of 10.96 seconds, and 20th (guards) with a three-quarter court sprint of 3.18 seconds.

He either had an absolutely horrid day in Chicago last month, or he’s not the NBA athlete that he’s shown on film. Without a doubt, Thomas’ strength, length, and basketball awareness will help him make due on the court, even as the competition at the next level gets more athletic.

Handle/Initiating Pick-and-Roll sets

If there’s one area to Thomas’ game that I think he will initially struggle in the NBA with, it’s his dribbling when pressured by opposing defenders. Thomas played some point guard at Creighton, but his real strength is moving without the ball, relocating on the floor, and using shot fakes to blow by defenders. Thomas dribbles too high, and his loose dribble affects his shot when attempting field goals off the bounce.

Like what many rookie guards go through in the NBA, it will be a problem early on for Thomas producing offensive contributions in half-court settings.

His play-making abilities were there in college at times (3.7 assists per/40); Thomas has adequate vision for a guard who will play mostly off the ball in the NBA, and he did more than a fine job taking care of the basketball at Creighton (2.3 TO’s per/40 last season). But possessing the ability to initiate pick-and-roll offense will take some time.

Thomas’ best films:
November 15th @ Northwestern - 24 points (9-16 FG), 11 rebounds, 5 assists
February 24th vs. Villanova - 24 points (9-13 FG, 5-7 3PT)

Thomas is going to be just fine at the next-level because he has two NBA-ready skills: he can shoot it, and he can defend. Thomas’ length which allows him to defend multiple positions will serve him well as a professional.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN thinks Thomas is “one of the better defenders in college basketball, capable of guarding three positions with his near 6-11 wingspan. He has exactly the type of grit and unselfishness the NBA covets in role players.” Givony also regards Thomas as “a willing ball-mover and promising spot-up shooter.”

Thomas could theoretically become a coach’s dream; a guy who is brought off the bench and provides instant energy, chaos, and hustle plays (as well as the ability to stretch the defense with his outside shooting).

I think Thomas is easily within the range of getting selected next week somewhere in the 20’-30’s. Orlando currently holds the 35th and 41st picks in the second round, probably outside of where Thomas is going to get picked.

Still, nothing’s wrong with bringing Thomas in to Orlando’s facility for a private workout. If the Magic were to try and package their two second round picks in an effort to get into the late first round, perhaps along with an expiring contract, it very well could be to nab a long, versatile, multi-positional defender such as Khyri Thomas.