When looking at the top of the 2023 NBA free agent list, you have the big-name heavy hitters. Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Draymond Green, and Fred VanVleet are some of the names that stick out. Those guys will demand big contracts and likely be granted them by their current teams or new suitors.
Scouring the free agent board and thinking of ways the New York Knicks could quietly upgrade their team, I fell upon one name.
The 42nd overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft could be a very good under-the-radar signing for New York. Bryant played 41 games with the Los Angeles Lakers this season before being traded to the eventual champion Denver Nuggets. On Denver, he didn't play much of a role and didn't appear in any playoff games.
With the Lakers, the big man had some promising moments this season. When star big man Anthony Davis went down with an injury in mid-December, Bryant was the one who stepped up. In the 20 games Davis was sidelined, Bryant took advantage of the opportunity and played consistent minutes.
Los Angeles hit a five-game winning streak from December 30th to January 7th, during which the six-foot-ten center averaged 21.2 points and 13.6 rebounds. This included a 29-point, 14-rebound game in a high scoring 136-134 win over the Kings in Sacramento.
Later that month, Bryant had a 31-point, 14-rebound game in a win over the Portland Trail Blazers. He also hit 12/15 field goals and shot 4/5 from three:
The inevitable return of Anthony Davis sent Bryant back to the bench. He was traded to the Nuggets seven games after Davis returned to his normal workload. Bryant would get some spotty minutes here and there with the Nuggets, but it was nothing notable.
I look back on his time with the Lakers this season, and there was a lot to like. He is a big mobile big man who can run the floor and knock down an open shot. Given more freedom and shots, Bryant is a big man who can knock down three-pointers. An outside element that the current Knicks’ big men do not offer. He was highly efficient in his with the Lakers, generating a 71.2 true shooting percentage.
He’s battled injuries throughout his six-year career, but when he’s been healthy, engaged, and gotten consistent minutes, he’s been really useful. In 2018-19 in his second year in the league with the Washington Wizards, he played in 72 games, starting in 53 of those. Bryant averaged 10.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and a block in just under 21 minutes per game. His 68.5 percent on two-pointers led the NBA that season. These aren’t stats that blow you away, but he is certainly a guy that an NBA team will find value out of.
Last season, Bryant played under a veteran minimum contract. The still only 25-year-old is still in the prove-it stage of his career, where he could sign another one-year deal. Even if he signs a multiple-year deal with an option, it would still be a good idea for the Knicks to go after him.
A Rochester, NY native, Bryant brings a toughness that the Knicks seemed to lack in their second-round series loss to the Miami Heat. He’s a good rebounder and rim protector, and nearly averaged eight points in the paint per game for the Lakers.
I may be higher on Thomas Bryant than most, and I know his name doesn’t move the needle at first glance, but the guy can play. He would be a sneaky good pickup for a Knicks team that could use more consistent scoring down low, while also being a threat to shoot.
Every organization looks for value pickups, I would be very pleased if the NY native is in a Knicks jersey come next season.
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