Wizards head coach Scott Brooks had been looking for something from his team for weeks to begin this season: a sign of life. They had stumbled out to a disappointing 5-10 start and were down big at home against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Late in that lopsided loss, Brooks saw what he had wanted to see a lot more of. He noticed a level of energy and a sense of urgency from his young players, who were summoned from the bench to play out the string of a game that was well out of reach.
Second-year center Thomas Bryant threw down a dunk in the closing minutes and sped down the right side of the floor, towards the Wizards bench. He flashed a smile and pointed at veteran players. Brooks took a mental note.
For their next game, when it was becoming clear Dwight Howard would be out a while after another injury setback, Brooks tapped Bryant to be his new starter. That was nine games ago, and since then the Wizards are 6-3.
Though Bryant hasn't played a ton of minutes, just 17.5 per game in the nine games, he has produced the desired effect as a member of the starting group. He only knows one gear, to be active and play hard, and it seems to be rubbing off on his teammates.
"I always try to play with that energy. That passion, I always bring," Bryant told NBC Sports Washington.
Bryant has been more than just a try-hard. He's putting up solid numbers in his small, but appreciated window of opportunity.
Bryant's 124 offensive rating this season is second only to Tomas Satoransky on the Wizards. And his 111 defensive rating is tied with Howard for best on the team.
He has averaged 5.7 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in 12.6 minutes this season while shooting 58.9 percent. His per-36 numbers of 16.2 points and 10.9 rebounds per game put that efficiency in perspective.
Bryant is giving the Wizards something they arguably haven't had in years; an athletic, spry young big man who can maximize a complementary role. He plays physical defense, rebounds well and can be relied upon offensively to clean up for others.
Bryant's rebounding percentage (16.3) is second only to Howard on the team. And he is shooting a team-best 83.3 percent on attempts within three feet. When Bryant decides to go up with it around the rim, he is hard to stop.
"I just try to do whatever the team needs me to do," he said. "I feel like I'm doing a pretty good job so far."
All front offices are hit-and-miss with draft picks, trades and free agent signings. The current Wizards group has certainly made their mistakes over the years.
But they deserve some credit for finding Bryant, who may have already exceeded the expectations for someone claimed off waivers. Bryant was a castoff from the Lakers, and the Wizards are happy to have him.
He has quickly developed into a player they can at the very least trust as a rotation piece and as a temporary starter. Considering he's only 21 years old, that's not bad at all.
MORE WIZARDS NEWS:
- Power Rankings: LeBron's Lakers are rising fast
- Scouting report: Wizards talk matching up against 2 Chainz, other rappers
- Wizards Notebook: Beal takes over late; Starters shine with Satoransky