Season Review Part VIII: Tyrus Thomas

And now the real fun begins.  The rookies with their lack of NBA trend lines to consider.  Where bold predictions can be made based on less than a 1000 minutes of NBA basketball.  I went back and read my scouting reports on Thabo and Tyrus from summer league.  While I over estimated how ready Thabo was to play, how I described their skills in summer league translated to the NBA.

I'll examine Tyrus Thomas first.  He showed alot of what I saw in summer leage.  Trying to do too much.  A wayward jumper.  Great shotblocking and great goal tending.  Creative passing accompanied by awful turnovers.  The tendencey to drive left everytime and then spin to the right when he got stuck.  Let's begin by getting all of the bad on the table.  He finished 408th out of 416 NBA players with 19.1 turnover rate and 3.9/40 min.  For those of you not that familar with turnover rate, that means 19.1% or 1 in 5 of Tyrus's possessions ended in a turnover.  If you're looking for a bright spot, Dwight Howard finished in 410th place.  His turnovers are indicative of him seeming clueless at times as well as trying to do too much.  His assist rate was also low at 8.1%.  Visually Thomas appears to have the makings of a decent passer, but his assist rate is low because he tried too many difficult passes that became turnovers.  He also averaged 6.7 fouls/40 min, which is territory not even Tyson Chandler approached.  Finally after showing some promise with his jumper in summer league, it never materialized during his rookie year.

Sam Smith has been comparing Tyrus to Shawn Kemp for awhile now, and I've decided Trader Sam is onto something.  Check on how their rookie years stack up. (You might have to manually select Kemp and his rookie year, but it's worth the bother). Try to remember a young Kemp if you're old enough, before he ballooned up and began fathering illegitmiate children at an alarming rate.   They both were inexperienced skinny 20 year olds, whose only real basketball skill was jumping high, joining a playoff team.  They played similar minutes and their FG%, TS%, DRB, STL, BLK, TO, and PF/g were all virtually identical.  Their differences statistically are exactly where I'd expect them to be and stand out better in the /48 min numbers.  Thomas will get to the FT line more than Kemp.  At least on a /min basis He'll get more steals and block more shots, but won't be as strong an offensive rebounder as Kemp.  They also have a smiliar on court attitude.  If we use Kemp as a baseline then it's reasonable to expect 25-30 min/game from Tyrus.  It's reasonable to expect 12-15 points/g and 7/8 rebounds/g.  Look at Thomas's post All-Star numbers.  We can also expect that his turnovers and fouls will get better, but will always be a problem.  And because of that he'll be yanked in out of the starting lineup over the next 2-3 years, just like Kemp and just like teamate Ben Gordon.

Here's my argument for why Tyrus Thomas will at least be as good as Shawn Kemp.  Despite nearly finishing with the worst turnover rate in the league, something Hollinger's PER values fairly highly, Thomas finished with a 14.8 PER.  That means with virtually no offensive skill besides jumping, Thomas was a league average player.  14.8 was higher than Hinirch or Deng's rookie year PER, and barely behind Gordon's 14.9.  Oliver's system attributed him with .577 PW% and 2.7 PW in 966 minutes.  Hinrich (.361), Gordon (.381), and Deng (.421) didn't come close to a .577 PW% as rookies.  Why did Thomas finish so high, despite an awful offensive rating?  His Defensive Rating was the best in the NBA last season at 93 against the league average of 106.  His ORtg was only 95, but that placed him 21st well ahead of offensive star Adam Morrison.  Tyrus Thomas has a chance to be the best defensive player in the league with his combination of blocks, steals, rebounds, and lateral quickness.  Eventually averages of 2 stl/g and 3 blk/g are not out of reach.  His rebounding isn't dominate, but is certainly good enough for a PF.  He was 45th in Rebound Rate and had 11.1 reb/40 min.  And despite being undersized, I very rarely saw him overpowered.  There just aren't that many Karl Malone and Charles Barkley types running around at PF these days.

How does the guy with no offensive skills eventually averge 17-20 pts/g?  The same way Kemp did.  Alot of dunks, combined with alot of FTs, mixed in with decent jump shooting from 15 ft in, and an occasional jump hook.  Tyrus averaged 15.5 pts/40 min this season.  That's his floor.  Now consider what's his ceiling could be?  With the number of dunks he's gets (3.1/40 min), he's only needs to shoot better from close to the basket to shoot over 50% from the field.  If he ever hits even 40% of his jumpers then he will shoot close to 55% from the field.  He also drew fouls on 21% of his FGA.  Every fifth time Thomas took a shot he went to the line.  Thomas may not be able to make a fifteen footer on the wing, but he's already proven he can make 60% of his shots from the line, and he hit some clutch FTs in the playoffs.  Even with his current skill set, the opposing team still has to always keep a defender on him because of the threat of the lob.

I'm hoping Tyrus starts at least 2/3 of next season.  I'd like to see him start from day one, but I'm willing to concede him coming off the bench for the first 1/3 of the season so Skiles can claim he earned the starting job.  In support of him starting is how well the team played with that potential starting lineup. It even out performed the vaunted 3-guard lineup.  He seems to be the perfect complement to Deng.  Deng likes to get his shots on the right side of the court, where he's very effective.  Tyrus prefers the left wing 15 feet and in.  Their offensive games don't conflict with each other.  For those of you who can remember the early 90's Atlanta Hawks,  Dominique Wilkins and Kevin Willis used leak out on defense trying to beat each other to the left block because that's where both pf them got there shots.  There's none of that conflict with Deng and Thomas.  Deng and Tyrus also complement each other on the defensive end as well.  At 6'9" they're interchangeable at forward.  Allowing Deng and his better on-the-ball defense to take the higher scoring forward and for Thomas to play on the weak side where he collect blocks and steals.  And when it comes to playing LeBron in the playoffs, which seems to be the current focus.  Two long 6'9" defenders are better than one.  Paxson even commented on the need to have players that can guard James when he drafted Tyrus.  Next season Tyrus should make a huge leap forward if his similarities to Kemp hold.  I wish I didn't have to wait five months to start to find out.

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