Khyri Thomas has just about every quality you’d want in an elite NBA guard defender — besides height.
At 6-3, there are questions about whether Thomas can defend NBA wings. His nearly 7-foot wingspan should help him compensate. So should his instincts, lateral quickness, strength and tenacity, all of which are significant pluses.
The back-to-back Big East Defensive Player of the Year, Thomas entered the draft following his junior year at Creighton. He averaged 15.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.7 steals per game. Thomas improved each year in college, most notably with his jumper. Last season, he shot 53.8 percent from the floor and 41.1 percent from three-point range on 4.6 attempts per game. He has the tools to be a 3-and-D player, even if, unlike the prototypical 3-and-D wing, he’d be matching up with mostly with point guards and shooting guards.
There’s so much to like about Thomas on defense. He’s able to make deflections and pick up steals just through his constant activity and ability to read passing lanes. At Creighton, he embraced the challenge of guarding the opponent’s best player, playing physical defense while maintaining his discipline. He didn’t foul out once the last two seasons.
Offensively, what stands out about Thomas, besides his three-point shooting, is his great balance and control. He plays with poise and is always looking to make the smart, efficient play, even if he doesn’t have incredible vision or passing ability. Thomas has good strength for his height and knows how to use it — he’s a solid rebounder and can score in the post. He’s tough, mature player.
Thomas is 22 years old and already has a well-developed game, so odds are he doesn’t have nearly as much room to improve as many of the one-and-done prospects in the draft. Though Thomas was effective in college driving downhill, his handles are not the tightest. That will likely hinder his ability to create shots in the NBA. He’s also not the most comfortable making quick, sharp decisions out of the pick-and-roll. While Thomas has very good functional athleticism, you certainly wouldn’t describe him as a freakish athlete, like a Zhaire Smith. Finally, the release on Thomas’ shot is a touch slow.
Thomas is similar to Aaron McKie, the former Sixer and next head coach of Temple men’s basketball, in several ways. Like McKie, Thomas is not a sensational athlete or offensive playmaker, but he’s a strong defender, a capable long-range shooter, and most importantly, someone who can be an important player on a winning team. That said, Thomas has the talent to be better than McKie on both ends of the floor. Looking at current players, Avery Bradley and Patrick Beverley are two popular comparisons.
How he would fit with Sixers
The Sixers are one of the teams best suited to enhance Thomas’ strengths and mitigate his weaknesses. He may not be great at creating his own shot, but that wouldn’t be a huge concern playing with Ben Simmons. And because the Sixers are such a tall, long team, Thomas probably wouldn’t be forced to guard too many bigger wings. He’d have one of the league’s best rim protectors behind him in Joel Embiid, which would free him up to be ultra-aggressive on defense.
It’s not clear yet exactly what lineups Thomas would play in, given JJ Redick’s impending free agency, the questions about Markelle Fultz’s development, and the likelihood of the Sixers drafting a wing with the No. 10 pick. Regardless, Thomas would boost the Sixers’ bench immediately. He’d certainly be a useful player to have come playoff time.
Thomas is projected to be taken anywhere from the late-teens to the tail end of the first round. If he makes it to No. 26, there’s no doubt he’ll be one of the best players still available.