Thomas Bryant is always so excited. The man will smile and point to his teammates on the bench after a big dunk. A blocked shot will be celebrated by a scream into the crowd. He probably fist-pumps when his sandwich is ready at the deli or his number is called at the DMV.
That eager energy is a big reason why Wizards head coach Scott Brooks inserted Bryant into the starting lineup back on Nov. 20. He saw a lack of urgency and zip from his team and believed Bryant could help fill the void. Since, he has started in 22 straight games and over the past several months has consistently improved, to now where Brooks will trust him later into games.
On Wednesday night in a win over the Hawks, Bryant played a career-high 39 minutes. He has played at least 29 minutes in three straight games with two of those featuring double-doubles, including a 16-point, 15-rebound night against the Hawks.
Bryant has gradually gone from an early-game tone-setter to a full-fledged starter over the past six weeks.
"He's really improving as the season's going on. He's getting some opportunities, and he's earned it," Brooks said.
Where Bryant has become of particular help is on the glass. The Wizards rank among the worst rebounding teams in basketball, placing 27th or worse out of 30 teams in offensive, defensive and total rebounds. They have the worst rebounding percentage (46.0) in the NBA.
This season, the Wizards are a perfect 8-0 when they out-rebound their opponent. They are 6-22 when teams out-rebound them.
Bryant needs to get better at keeping opponents off the glass, as on Wednesday against Atlanta John Collins and Alex Len brought in a combined 19 boards. That is an overlooked skill the best rebounders have. But Bryant has mostly been doing his part.
He has four double-digit rebounding games in his last nine outings. Only Otto Porter Jr. has more games with 10 or more rebounds this season among Wizards players
Bryant has also helped the Wizards as an inside scoring option. He is remarkably efficient with a 66.0 field-goal percentage that would tie Rudy Gobert for best in the NBA if his number of attempts qualified. No qualifying Wizards/Bullets player has shot better than 60 percent in a season since Gheorghe Muresan in 1996-97.
In his last seven games, Bryant is shooting 75.4 percent from the field. That includes his perfect 14-for-14 outing against the Suns, which only Wilt Chamberlain has bested in NBA history.
"He is really improving at getting good touches under the basket and he's a crafty finisher, so he's just going to grow," point guard Tomas Satoransky said.
"He has good hands. He finishes. He catches and finishes. He can finish with either hand," Brooks said.
Bryant's in-season improvement is not by accident. He described his philosophy of how to develop as a player after Wednesday night's win as a patient, but rewarding process.
“Always being willing to learn. I know the game isn’t going to be perfect. It’s a game of mistakes. The way you become a better player is how you translate from making those mistakes and putting it behind you so you can make better decisions," Bryant said.
“The confidence is there. It has always been there from the start. As you get more acquainted with your teammates, as you play more and more, you start to get more comfortable out there. So my comfortability level is going up... I’ve put the work in since day one. I work my butt off and [Brooks] sees that and it’s starting to translate, and it feels great.”
Bryant, 21, has a lot of fans in the Wizards locker room. The youthful enthusiasm Brooks hoped he would provide seems to be appreciated by others.
Many Wizards players describe Bryant in terms of how his approach to the game is contagious. That goes all the way up to Bradley Beal, who has established himself in the league as an All-Star player.
"I've told him since Day 1 that there is an opportunity for him to come in and be that guy, to bring that energy. I remember when we first played pick-up in the summer, we just clicked instantly. He was a hard, aggressive and active runner. It has just carried over into the year.
"We feed off the energy that he gives us. I tell everybody that his s*** talking and whatever he's doing gets me going. I need him to keep doing it."
Bryant's opportunity came this season when the team learned Dwight Howard would miss months due to back surgery. So far, he has been making the most of it and far out-playing expectations as a player the Wizards claimed off waivers in the offseason.
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