Offseason storylines: Can Thomas Bryant maintain his efficiency?

  • 07/27/2016 4:45 pm in

Welcome to offseason storylines, a look into some of the biggest storylines surrounding the 2016-2017 Indiana Hoosiers. Next up, a look at where Indiana sophomore Thomas Bryant stands among the Big Ten’s best post-up players and whether he can maintain his efficiency as a sophomore. (Previously: How will Indiana replace Yogi Ferrell?)

Despite taking criticism from some for an offense that is too dependent on perimeter scoring, big men have flourished in Bloomington under Tom Crean.

From Cody Zeller, who led the program’s turnaround during his two seasons at Indiana, to Thomas Bryant, who was amazingly efficient as a freshman, Crean puts talented big men in a position to succeed. His two featured big men prior to Bryant – Zeller and Vonleh – went on to become NBA lottery picks. Bryant could be on track for similar destiny following his sophomore season.

As a sophomore, Zeller was third in the conference in post-up possessions with 172 (nearly five per game), according to Synergy Sports. The volume of touches for Zeller in the post came on a team that had the nation’s fourth best 3-point shooting, anchored by Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford and Victor Oladipo.

The two other Big Ten players that had more post-up possessions in that season than Zeller: Michigan State’s Derrick Nix (212) and Purdue’s A.J. Hammons (219). Neither player was as efficient as Zeller, who scored .92 points per possession in the post.

In 2013-2014, Vonleh had the sixth most post-up possessions of any Big Ten player and posted a nearly identical points per possession mark (.918) to Zeller’s sophomore campaign. Vonleh went on to become the ninth pick in the 2014 NBA draft. Crean also deserves some credit for not restricting Vonleh solely to the post. As his freshman season moved on, he was given the freedom to step out and take perimeter shots.

And now, there’s Bryant. He shot an incredible 70.6 percent on 2s as a freshman. It was Bryant’s efficiency in the second half of a second round NCAA tournament game against Kentucky that carried the Hoosiers to the Sweet 16. He made all five of his second half 2-point attempts.

Even with the fourth best 3-point shooting team in the country, Indiana still found plenty of ways to feature Bryant in its offense. His 139 post-up possessions were the seventh most of any Big Ten player and will be the fourth highest returning total in the conference behind Purdue’s Isaac Haas, Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes and Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan.

Of the four, only Haas came close to the efficiency Bryant displayed in his first collegiate season.

Here’s a look at the players returning to the Big Ten for 2016-2017 who had more than 100 post-up possessions last season, along with their efficiency in those opportunities:


As Bryant enters his sophomore season, the challenge for Crean and his staff will be to figure out a way to utilize him more without experiencing too much of a dip in efficiency.

The Hoosiers lost plenty in terms of perimeter firepower with Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams, Nick Zeisloft and Max Bielfeldt all moving on, but the remaining mix of talent should allow Bryant to continue operating with space in the post.

One of the keys in both Zeller’s 2012-2013 season and Bryant’s 2015-2016 was Indiana’s ability to surround each player with an efficient four-man. In Zeller’s case, it was Christian Watford, who splashed in 48.4 percent of his 3s as a senior.

And with Bryant last season, it was often Troy Williams, a great slasher and finisher who could also knock down the occasional 3 despite some erratic decision making. And even when the Hoosiers went to the bench, there was Collin Hartman, OG Anunoby and Juwan Morgan, all of whom could keep opposing defenses honest.

This year’s Indiana team returns Hartman, Anunoby and Morgan and also adds De’Ron Davis, who has a reliable mid-range game that makes him less likely to clog the paint if he plays alongside Bryant.

Provided the Hoosiers don’t fall off too much with their perimeter shooting, a more mature Bryant should take another step forward and solidify himself as the Big Ten’s best post player as a sophomore.

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  • Bill Graham

    The thing that separates TB from most BIGs is his ability to establish excellent position. If you watch his highlights he very rarely has to use fancy post moves. He’s so good at getting his defender in a weak spot that most of the time its a simple catch and drop step. I don’t look for his efficiency to change as long as our guards can shoot. If we start to struggle from the 3 then they might dig more on him. Also, he’s going to benefit immensely from the dribble drive-dish from guys like JBJ, Rob, and Josh. Overall he’s gone after this year but its fun to watch a guy with his motor battle down low….with that said if he decides he wants a degree and stays for another year (along with either OG or JBJ – just one) we would probably enter 2017 ranked #1 with most people sowing up another crimson colored banner.

  • CreanFaithful

    As CTC says, it’s footwork. And that footwork begins before you ever receive the entry pass or dump off. CTC was also quoted saying that footwork is a point of emphasis for TB this offseason. He’ll likely get more usage this year, drawing more defenders, but his continual improvement in passing out of the post and footwork should offset that additional attention.

  • BL4IU

    As Alex suggests, giving TB room to operate is about spreading the floor but it’s also about running plays that are effective in terms of establishing post position and delivering the ball in the most timely fashion (e.g. see plays run late in the UK game). I believe we have the shooters to once again spread the floor but teams won’t respect it until we prove it. Also, I would expect more plays run specifically for TB than what we saw his freshman season. Hoping he has a truly special season.

  • CreanFaithful

    Luckily CTC rolled the dice with TB in that Kentucky game. He had 2 fouls 3.5 minutes into the game. Needs to stay on the floor. Both CZ and NV were great at keeping their feet and extending their arms defensively and neither averaged above 4.1 fouls per 40 minutes (easily staying in games at just under 30 min/game for both). CZ standing reach is 8’10”, NV’s in 9’0″ and TB is 9’4″. Move your feet and stand your ground on shot attempts. Let the backside help go for blocked shots.

  • BL4IU

    Absolutely. Hey, if Roy Hibbert can get and implement verticality, so can TB.

  • TomJameson

    That footwork, or lack of it at times, is one reason TB drew a lot of fouls last year. He “looked” ungainly” at times as well. But that’s why his footwork has been a focus for him this year.

    I’m not sure his overall efficiency will stay the same or increase. A lot depends on the perimeter, which I really think will be okay (but one never knows). And some depends on how often he pops out for a little 6-10 footer? Likely to miss just a few more of those.

    Everything I hear though, is that his footwork has already improved dramatically. Can’t wait for the first game!

  • Bill Graham

    Defensively I cringed every time he had to help/hedge on a screen. He got so many blocking fouls from quicker guards on pick and roll help. He’s not the most athletic big we’ve had (definitely the least athletic of CZ, himself, and NV) but he makes up for it on the offensive end. Would love to see some more blocks between him and Davis. I haven’t felt we we’re a blockbuster team since George Leech last stepped in the paint.

  • Koko

    Saw an article yesterday on the top 50 college players for the coming
    season. TB is number 6. OG was 27 and JBJ made the almost list.

  • WhatsUpKnight2.0

    can you share the link? or maybe just the site name?

  • adam

    he did get better at it as the year went on. in the beginning, him hedging guards was certainly cringeworthy. later, it became a part of our surprisingly competent defense.

  • N71

    All indications point towards Thomas taking that “leap” that happens with our development regiment. He was already a load last year, he’ll get tons of attention this year from the other teams which will make our parameter game critical. Fortunately we have one of the best shooters in program history coming back from injury. James could have a monstrous year if he’s healthy and improved on the defensive end. Between James and Thomas the other teams will be busy providing Collin and OG with all kinds of opportunistic scoring and rebounding. Man, this should be fun to watch.

  • Koko

    I gave you the link but my comment is on hold for some reason.
    The website is the big lead. You can also google 50 best players in college and it will come up first.

  • WhatsUpKnight2.0

    i think this team has loads of talent in spite of losing players like YF, MB, and NZ. my big concern is there’s going to be a lot of responsibility, a lot of expected production, placed squarely on the shoulders of our sophs. the big unknown to me is how they respond. i believe TB, OG, and JM are going to have huge seasons. however, the phrase ‘sophomore slump’ exists for a reason. that’s why guys like CH and RJ have to step in and become leaders, and why they’re going to be equally important to this team

  • WhatsUpKnight2.0

    haha! thought that might happen (gotta make sure the pervs aren’t pasting adult site links!). i’ll do some googling, thanks koko!

  • Hoosier Hall

    Thomas is a smart player. He isn’t overly athletic or quick but knows where to be and makes simple plays. That’s why his efficiency is so high. He’s also a good passer and proved it several times as a freshman. I’m predicting he wins Big Ten player of the year.

  • TomJameson

    Posts with links get held up automatically, happens with all of them. It will magically appear later. 🙂

    That article, and some great discussion about it, is on the paid forum. Very nice piece.

  • TomJameson

    Nicely stated! This could be a special year, but as much of the year depends on the players, a lot more depends on the coaching. I’m hoping that the fantastic job CTC did with his adjustments of everything from his practices to his defensive focus wasn’t just a fluke. If he continues with those developments in HIS game, and his team develops like we all hope they do, this could be a very special year.

  • THRyan

    I’m excited to see what TB looks like with a full year of weight training. Last year he sometimes looked like a baby deer trying to stay on his feet. If he has a more solid foundation, i.e. leg strength, then he will no doubt be a beast.