EL SEGUNDO — It’s incredibly common to the see NBA players at the center of a media scrum, but they’re almost always in the center, rather than standing as part of the horde.
Los Angeles Lakers rookie Thomas Bryant is new to this — and still young enough to think all of it is fun — and so he can be forgiven for breaking that trend Thursday at South Bay Lakers media day as he craned his hulking, 6-10, 248-pound frame over the group of reporters chatting with guard Vander Blue.
Even Blue had to crack a smile at the attempt to distract him or get him to verbally trip up, although he finished his answer unphased before Bryant ran hustled away while cackling when asked by a reporter if he had a question.
That same hustle that allowed him to so ably skitter away despite his bulk is one of the thing’s that’s impressed Blue most about South Bay and Los Angeles’ affable rookie.
“He always has the same motor, the same drive, and that’s just to go harder than his opponent,” Blue said.
Bryant’s hustle was on full display during South Bay’s only exhibition win of the season, in which he put up 18 points and 8 rebounds while running and dancing all over the floor. It was also evident during the Los Angeles Lakers title run during the Las Vegas Summer League, where Bryant showed surprising quickness for his size while being willing to do the dirty work on offense.
“I think that’s going to take him a long way in this league, because in a league that’s not really centered around bigs anymore, when you’ve got a guy like that that wants to play with that energy and can run up and down with the guards, there will always be a spot for him,” Blue said.
It’s a skill he’ll need with both the NBA Lakers — who have been clear about their mandate to run as much as possible — and the G-League ones, who might just play faster this season.
“They want to play fast. The playbooks might be just a little different personnel-wise, you run different plays for different guys, but first and foremost they want to play defense and run. If we don’t have to call a play all year, that’d be ideal,” said Blue and Bryant’s fellow summer league and South Bay teammate Alex Caruso, who added that South Bay wants to play “as fast, if not faster” than the Lakers.
Bryant will have to fuel all of that movement somehow, and Caruso revealed that the team would also load up on custom waffles from a waffle bar before games in Las Vegas, even ending a huddle with a cry of “”one more waffle bar” before leaving the hotel for their penultimate game in Las Vegas.
Bryant’s waffle-devouring exploits were legendary enough that both Caruso and Blue told reporters to ask him about it.
“He’s the waffle expert,” said Caruso.
While Bryant wasn’t available for comment on his waffle habits, the South Bay Lakers coaching staff has made it clear they want him fantasizing about more than fried dough.
“I see things he can do better. Just dreaming more, just dream and be innovative. Dream and focus on your foundation, focus on your tools,” said South Bay Lakers player development coach Metta World Peace. “Just try things that can work, that maybe you don’t think is going to work, but work at it from the fundamentals first.
“Don’t just work on a Jordan fadeaway or a Hakeem post. Watch the fundamentals of those moves. Just dream more and work at it. That’s it, just be the best you can be,” World Peace continued. “For me, I’m an optimist, so I’ll always see the best in people.”
MJ’s fadeaways or Olajuwon’s post moves are probably a long way off, but one of the things Bryant can probably reasonably dream of doing is spacing the floor after a college career that saw him shoot 37.3 percent from behind the arc.
Asking that range to translate to the NBA immediate is probably too much to ask, and probably why Bryant is going to be going back-and-forth to South Bay a fair amount this season.
But if he can carry that range over to the NBA level eventually and combine it with better defensive instincts and how well he moves on both sides of the ball, the Lakers might just have another second-round steal.
South Bay Lakers Head Coach Coby Karl says the young big man is off to a good start.
“TB has been great. The biggest thing you want from an assignment guy is that they play hard and bring their focus and the same intensity,” Karl said. “He’s a young player so he’s going to have some tough games and a lot of competition in this league, so I’m guessing that he’s going to have his ups and downs, but I think his energy and competitiveness will serve him well.”
The Lakers seem to think those traits will aid Bryant too, but if they don’t? Well, managing to finesse his way into a G League media scrum at age 20 means Bryant’s journalism career is already off to a good start, even if he’ll have to work on his questions.
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