Creighton

NBA draft profile: Creighton G Khyri Thomas

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NBA draft profile: Creighton G Khyri Thomas

Khyri Thomas

Position: Guard

Height: 6-3

Weight: 199

School: Creighton

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.

Strengths
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.

Weaknesses
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.

NBA comparison
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.

Draft projection
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.

More on the Sixers

Unlikely name provides energy 'Nova needs in rout

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Unlikely name provides energy 'Nova needs in rout

BOX SCORE

Even as Villanova remains atop the national rankings and barrels toward its fifth straight Big East regular-season championship, a dark cloud of sorts has been hovering above the Wildcats for the last week.

Can the No. 1 Wildcats keep winning without Phil Booth, who was sidelined last Wednesday with a fractured bone in his right hand? How nervous should Villanova fans be about Booth’s status heading into March as the star senior guard has been ruled out “indefinitely” but could return toward the end of the regular season or the Big East Tournament?

Enter Collin Gillespie, who’s trying to make ‘Nova Nation breathe a little easier.

On Thursday against Creighton — Villanova’s second game with Booth sidelined — the freshman guard had eight points and five assists in 23 minutes to help the Wildcats cruise to a 98-78 shellacking of the Bluejays at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

“He brought the energy,” said junior Mikal Bridges, who led all scorers with 21 points. “I told him during the game, in the first half, we were playing off him. He’s the one who came in here and brought all that energy. He played his tail off today. We’re gonna need him for the rest of the season.”

Gillespie, a high school star at nearby Archbishop Wood, had showed flashes of potential early in his freshman campaign before a hand injury of his own sidelined him in mid-December. After missing eight straight games, he returned a little more than a month later but scored only eight total points over the last four contests before Thursday’s timely performance.

“Against a team like [Creighton], you need more perimeter guys than you need big guys,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “So his play tonight was going to be really important going into the game, and I thought when he came in in the first half, he really sparked us.”

While Gillespie’s final stat line may not jump out at you, Wright mentioned the freshman doing little things like taking a charge, effectively distributing the ball and, yes, bringing a lot of energy.

That’s something Gillespie has prided himself on throughout the season, whether it was earlier in the campaign when he was a deeper reserve or now that he’s the first guy off the bench with former sixth man Donte DiVincenzo having taken Booth’s place in the starting lineup.

“I think it’s the same as when I was the seventh or eighth man; just coming in and bringing energy for the team,” Wright said. “Now that Donte is in the starting lineup, it doesn’t really change. I have to keep bringing energy and doing the little things for the team to be successful.” 

Indeed, Gillespie may very well blossom into a Villanova star down the road. But for now, even with Booth injured, he knows his job is to be a role player and help set up Jalen Brunson, Bridges and DiVincenzo for success.

Against the Bluejays, the trio of starting guards accounted for 57 points and 13 assists with Brunson in particular drawing enormous praise from the opposing side — as he usually does.

“I’m not in the NBA but if I was, I would want that guy on my team,” Creighton head coach Greg McDermott said. “He impacts the game in so many ways. If you need him to score, he’ll score. If you need him to distribute, he distributes. He’s got toughness. He’s got moxie. His leadership skills appear to be off the charts. That offense, with the ball in his hands, is really hard to guard.”

Albeit in more modest terms, McDermott also praised Gillespie and fellow freshman reserve Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, a 6-foot-9 forward from Philly.

“Both of those guys come in and just do your job,” the Creighton coach said. “On Jay’s teams, that is, in my opinion, their trademark. They have a lot of guys who have a role and they really execute that role at a high level.” 

Like Gillespie, Cosby-Roundtree has also seen his role elevated because of Booth’s injury, becoming the seventh man in what’s been a tight seven-man rotation. And he too responded in a big way, registering six points and six rebounds, three of which were on the offensive end of the floor.

“The next guy who sparked us was Dhamir,” Wright said. “He had a big offensive rebound early when it was tight, got us an extra possession. Defensively, his ability to guard on the perimeter is becoming an asset for us. He’s really come on and gets better every game. I’m really proud of him.”

Time will tell, of course, when Booth is able to return as ’Nova prepares to make a run at the Final Four and a national championship. But even when he does, the two freshmen — along with redshirt freshman Omari Spellman, who finished with 14 points against Creighton — will almost certainly continue to be important factors.

And for Gillespie, he couldn’t ask for anything more in his first season of college basketball.

“It’s really special,” the Warminster native said. “Being so close to home, my family gets to see me. Just playing for this program is special. It’s been a lot of fun. And it’s just trying to build every day, get better every day.”

No. 1 Villanova survives scare from DePaul in Big East opener

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No. 1 Villanova survives scare from DePaul in Big East opener

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA, Pa. — For those putting labels on regular-season games, Wednesday night at the Pavilion was a clear-cut trap game for Villanova against DePaul.

There were reasons that made sense: Winter break on campus. Haven’t played a game in a week. Biggest test of the year coming Saturday against No. 10 Creighton.

But those were all reaches against a Blue Demons squad coming off losses to Wyoming and Missouri State in Las Vegas last week.

Still, DePaul gave Villanova all it could handle.

And thanks to the heroics from Player of the Year hopeful Josh Hart, the Wildcats escaped with a 68-65 win (see Instant Replay).

The senior swingman scored 10 of his game-high 25 in the final 3:06, including a dagger three-pointer from the top of the key to push Villanova to a 66-62 lead with under 9.5 seconds to play.

“I just wanted to be aggressive,” Hart said. “Coach puts me in the position and my teammates put me in that position.”

DePaul didn’t go away quietly. Billy Garrett Jr. quickly ran down court and converted a three-point play to get the Blue Demons back within one. And after two free throws from Jalen Brunson, who scored 13, Garrett Jr. missed a clean look at a three-pointer that would have tied the game at the buzzer.

Villanova did not look like itself for much of the night. 

After a sloppy first half — which ended with Villanova ahead, 32-24 — that featured nine turnovers, 'Nova finally gained control of the game following a 14-6 run that gave the Wildcats a 51-39 lead with 16:41 to go. But then they lost control. 

The Blue Demons responded with a 14-0 run to get back in the game and take a 53-51 lead.

Enter Hart, who finished with six rebounds and was 8 of 9 at the line.

With the game tied at 56, Hart, on three consecutive possessions, hit a mid-range jumper, converted a three-point play and made two free throws to keep pace with the Blue Demons.

“We’re not easily rattled,” Hart said. “We’re very tough-minded. We’ve been that way for the last couple years.”

“Having three seniors really helps,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “We do have veteran guys that are not gonna be impacted by the moment or the pressure. We’re really lucky that way.

“I’m always proud of our guys. They’re never going to quit. I know that. They’re never going to be afraid to take the big shot. Jalen going to the foul line. How many times has he done that? Josh hitting big shots. We’ve seen it so many times. I’m never concerned about that.”

What would be concerning is if the Wildcats play this way Saturday, on the road in Omaha against another top-10 team.

“We’re going to learn a lot from this,” Wright said. “We hope we don’t need wake-up calls. We try to motivate ourselves from within. But we’re going to learn a lot from this game. So is Creighton … That’s the beauty of league play.”

And sometimes games like Wednesday night’s are the beauty, too.