With the 2023 NBA Draft now officially behind us, our focus has turned to free agency. For the New Orleans Pelicans, they spent the draft addressing one of their biggest weaknesses (shooting) by drafting Jordan Hawkins and signing undrafted rookie Landers Nolley II.
Given how important shooting is in today’s game, they will likely continue to add snipers in free agency. However, their recent acquisitions have made it possible for them to prioritize one of their other roster deficiencies: rim protection. Last season, the Pelicans were dead-last in opponent rim accuracy (per Cleaning the Glass).
Since a bulk of rim protection is provided by big men, New Orleans will probably be looking at centers/power forwards when seeking to fortify this area in free agency. They will also need to make sure that this player is someone that they can get with their bi-annual exception or full mid-level exception.
One big that could potentially be in their price range is Thomas Bryant. But the question now becomes: is Bryant a good rim protector?
To answer this question, let’s look at the three statistics we identified in our last post that we can use to measure a player’s rim protection prowess.
1. Block Percentage (BLK%)
According to Cleaning the Glass, Bryant was in the 34th percentile in block percentage (BLK%) for his position when he was with the Los Angeles Lakers and the 59th percentile when he was with the Denver Nuggets. Neither of those outputs is that eye-popping. However, during his younger years with the Washington Wizards (ages 21 and 22), he was in the 73rd and 62nd percentile in this category, respectively.
2. DIFF (inside of six feet)
Last season, players shot five percent better than expected (aka “DIFF) on shots contested by Bryant inside of six feet (per NBA.com). That is not a good sign at all. And what’s worse is that, unlike his BLK%, those numbers weren’t any better in his past seasons. During his age-22 season (2019-20), his DIFF was +3.8%. And in his age-21 season (2018-19), his DIFF was +0.7%. Remember, you want your bigs DIFF to be a solid negative number, not a positive. This is not a good sign.
3. On/Off Opponent Rim Frequency
Bryant doesn’t project as much of a rim deterrence, either. According to Cleaning the Glass, he was in the 10th percentile in this measure with the Lakers and the 4th percentile when he was with the Nuggets. That means that teams were taking a lot more shots at the rim when he was on the floor than when he was off the floor.
With the Lakers, this could be explained by the fact that he was backing up Anthony Davis and that no one’s on/off rim deterrence is going to look good when being compared to Davis. However, with the Nuggets, he was backing up Nikola Jokic – a player many people cite as a below-average rim protector. So, it is extremely worrisome that teams are challenging Bryant at the rim so much more than they are Jokic.
Overall, while Bryant is a very skilled offensive big man, still young, and likely available at a reasonable price point, the team shouldn’t go after him because he’s not the caliber of rim protector this team is searching for from a potential big man in free agency.