In advance of the 2018 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops will be breaking down prospects, both from the college ranks and internationally, with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks will be evaluating in the coming days. More than 50 prospects will be profiled in this space and, in the end, the goal is to inform Hawks fans prior to June 21, when the Hawks are scheduled to make four selections with the first 34 picks.
This installment breaks down Creighton guard Khyri Thomas.
At age 22, Khyri Thomas may be one of the oldest players selected in this summer’s NBA draft. After three seasons at Creighton, Thomas entered the draft with the option of returning for one more season of college basketball. But that option is now off the table as the two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year made the decision to hire an agent and proceed immediately towards his NBA career.
Thomas is a 6’3 guard with a wingspan measured at 6’10. In his junior season at Creighton, he averaged 15.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.8 assist per game. While winning his second conference defensive player of the year award, he led the Big East in field goal percentage (53.8 percent) and effective field goal percentage (62.9 percent) boosted by his 41.1 percent three point shooting on 5.8 attempts per game.
Thomas was a terrific shooter his freshman season when he shot 41.8 percent from the three point line on 3.5 attempts per game. But, early in his college career, he struggled to score in traffic and around the rim. As he progressed to his sophomore and junior seasons, he became a more complete offensive player proving he can score at every layer of the offense as well as in transition.
Some scouts may question how translatable his offensive skill set is to the NBA game. Thomas has tremendous length and is a good athlete. But, his first step is not as explosive as other guards in this draft class and, though his shooting mechanics are very good, his release is a little bit slow.
He does use his length to get his shot up over defenders when his deliberate motion allows a defender to arrive and contest his shot. But at the next level, defenders will arrive a bit quicker and will be a bit taller/longer than defenders he has faced in college.
The other challenging aspect of his offensive game is determining where he fits in an NBA offense. Even at 6’3, Thomas is not a pure point guard. His passing skills are fine but his his ability to create shots for others is relatively basic for a player his size.
If Thomas is not able to carry the responsibility of being a primary ball handler, it could limit his role in an NBA offense. He may need to play along side a bigger player who carries primary ball handling responsibilities.
Though he is a capable offensive player, Thomas clearly sets himself apart on the defensive end. His length makes him a versatile defender who can guard NBA point guards as well as some NBA wings. In addition to his physical defensive profile, Thomas is a intense competitor who pressures the ball and forces turnovers at every opportunity. He is relentless in his approach and effort.
The only question about Thomas’ defensive game at the NBA level may be whether he can keep the quickest of NBA point guards in front of him. But, that question likely exist for every player coming into the league who will defend points guards. Even when his athleticism is not quite enough, his footwork and ability to anticipate should keep him in defensive plays enough to have an impact.
There are a number of guards in this draft class with length and a strong defensive profile. But, few of them bring the consistent shooting ability that Thomas displayed at the college level. While the 3&D label almost exclusively applies to wings, Thomas may be a 3&D player who defends the point guard position. That is a rare combination that could work on a number of NBA rosters and prove quite valuable in his evaluation.
Most mock drafts project Thomas to go in the teens or early twenties and the odds could become less likely (with positive workouts, etc.) that Thomas could be available for the Hawks at the No. 19 pick. If Thomas were a year to two younger, he certainly might be a lottery lock.
Thomas’ defensive profile could be a very nice fit with head coach Lloyd Pierce’s emphasis on defense. But, as the roster is currently constructed, the Hawks lack a bigger primary ball handler to pair with Thomas in the back court. If Thomas is available at No. 19 and the Hawks select him, the subsequent roster adjustments that justify the selection could make the Thomas pick all the more interesting.