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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