WASHINGTON -- Thomas Bryant may not become a defensive savant overnight, but there are early signs he is improving on that end of the floor this season.
Through three games, he is averaging 18 contested shots, which last year would have ranked second in the NBA, behind only Brook Lopez and ahead of defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert. Last season, Bryant ranked 38th in the NBA in contested shots per 36 minutes. His lack of production in that area contributed to the Wizards having one of the worst defensive units in the NBA.
The sample size remains small, but Bryant is so far doing his part to get better.
"I'm just trying to make everything hard out there on the defensive end. I try to make sure I contest a lot of shots out there," Bryant told NBC Sports Washington.
"I try to have a hand up when they're shooting. That little contest I give them might make the difference in the game."
Head coach Scott Brooks visited Bryant several times over the offseason to check in on his workouts. As Bryant has remarked several times in recent weeks, defense was a primary focus throughout the summer.
Bryant wanted to become a more disruptive and versatile defender this season. He wanted to cover more ground.
So far, that has conveyed in contested threes per game where Bryant's 4.0/g average ranks second on the Wizards. He's 6-foot-10, yet he's getting out to the perimeter to alter shots more than most wings and guards.
"It's paying off," Brooks said of Bryant's offseason work. "We need it."
Brooks, though, said there remain some teaching moments with Bryant. Specifically, he wants the 22-year-old to show more maturity when calls don't go his way.
Bryant is known for his effort and emotion, but Brooks wants to make sure that is applied in the right ways.
"The energy is great, but you have to channel it in the right direction because you only have so much energy throughout the game," Brooks said.
Bryant understands, but he does beg to differ on one part of that statement.
"It's endless. I don't have to save myself," Bryant said of his energy.
"I try to give my all throughout everything. I really don't try to save anything. I try to leave it all out on the floor. You just never know, tomorrow's never promised."
Through three games, Bryant is also averaging a career-high 1.7 blocks per game. Whether he can sustain that remains to be seen, but it is an encouraging start.
Bryant may never be Gobert on defense, but he has shown through three games his potential on that end of the floor.
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