Name: Tyrus Thomas (pronounced TIE-rus)
Weight: 215 pounds
Birth Date: August 17, 1986 (23 years old)
Birth Place: Baton Rouge, LA
Nicknames: Big T’s, Free Money, The Mercenary, T-Time, TT, Ty, Ty-Rise
College: Louisiana State
Drafted: 2006, 1st round, 4th overall by Portland
Experience: 3 seasons
Previous Team: None
Contract: $4.7 million in 2009-10
Expect: Blocked shots and midrange jumpers
Don’t expect: Post play
Tremendous upside potential. Those three words explain why, on the night of the 2006 NBA Draft, the Bulls traded the draft rights to LaMarcus Aldridge (the second overall pick) and a future second round draft choice to the Portland Trail Blazers for the draft rights to Tyrus Thomas (the fourth overall pick) and throw-in Viktor Khryapa. The belief was (apparently) that Thomas had the potential to be a much better profesionall basketball player than Aldridge. And that may even be the case…someday. It hasn’t happend so far, though. Aldridge has been better, and Bulls management, coaches and fans are still waiting for Thomas to live up to his potential.
Thomas can’t post up, partly due to a lack of the requisite size and strength, and partly due to the fact that he doesn’t have (to my knowledge) a single inside move. Simply put, the kid would benefit greatly from something as simple as a jump hook. To this point, however, Thomas has been content to spot up for midrange jumpers and score off dunks and layups created by passes from teammates. He really can’t manufacture his own offense, which is why almost 70 percent of his field goals last season came off of assists. When Thomas does try to invent something, disaster may ensue in the form of ball-handling mistakes and bad passes, which explains why he had more turnovers (129) than assists (77) last season.
During the 2008-09 campaign, 55 percent of Thomas’ field goal attempts were jumpers, a stunning amount considering his Effective Field Goal Percentage on those shots was .350. His eFG% was much higher on dunks (.883) and inside shots (.581), which leads to the question: Why does Tyrus shoot so many jumpers? I guess because he truly believes in his outside shooting. And so, apparently, does Vinny Del Negro.
Thomas is at his best in the open court or cutting to the basket in halfcourt situations. However, his effectiveness is reduced any time a defender is standing between him and the basket. He struggles to finish under pressure (unless he’s dunking). When Thomas has to pull up short of the hoop, he can’t seem to square up for a good shot (although that doesn’t stop him from chucking it up). And he’s not as good an offensive rebounder as he should be, probably because he’d rather hang out on the perimeter than mix it up inside. Last season, he was fourth on the team on the offensive glass (1.9 per game), behind Brad Miller (2.5), the departed Drew Gooden (2.6) and Joakim Noah (3.1). In fact, his rebounding in general has been declining. See below.
When inspired to take is strong to the basket, Thomas can draw fouls. He was second on the team (behind Ben Gordon) in Total Free Throw Attempts last season (304). He also shot a respectable 78 percent from the foul line…quite an improvement from the 60 percent he shot as a rookie.
Thomas’ greatest asset is his shot-blocking ability, particularly in weak-side help situations. This is due primarily to his superior length and athleticism. Last season, he ranked 4th in the NBA in Total Blocks (151), 6th in Blocks Per 48 Minutes (3.33) and 8th in Blocks Per Game (1.91). During the playoffs, Thomas was even better, ranking 1st in both Blocks Per Game (2.86) and Blocks Per 48 Minutes (4.92). And he was 8th in Total Blocks (20) despite the fact that the Bulls were eliminated in the first round.
Thomas’ long arms also enable him to grab a fair number of steals. In fact, he was tied for second on the team (with the departed Larry Hughes and Luol Deng) in Steals Per Game (1.2). Only Kirk Hinrich averaged more (1.3).
On the downside, 215 pounds is feather-light for an NBA power forward, so Thomas can be (and often is) overpowered in man-to-man situations. More troubling, however, is his defensive rebounding. Despite ranking third on the team (behind the departed Drew Gooden and mid-season pickup Brad Miller) with 4.6 per game, there has been a downward trend. Despite a steady increase in Minutes Per Game — from 13.4 his rookie season, to 18.0 his sophomore season, to 27.5 last season — his Defensive Rebounds Per 36 Minutes have fallen from 6.7, to 6.5, to 6.0. In fact, his Total Rebounds Per 36 Minutes have gone from 10.0 in 2006-07, to 9.3 in 2007-08, to 8.4 in 2008-09.
Last season, the Bulls ranked 28th in Defensive Rebounding. And while that’s not all Thomas’ fault, the Bulls desperately need him to hit the defensive glass with increased intensity this season.
Thomas has been dogged by quiet (but regular) rumors that he can be immature and hard to deal with. Of course, many NBA players are dogged by similar rumors. But they might seem worse due to Thomas’ iffy decision-making and general inconsistency. You never know what he’s going to give you: it could be 18 points and 12 rebounds with 4 blocked shots one night and then 6 and 4 with no blocked shots the next.
That said, this is a contract year for Thomas. And you know what that means.
Thomas may be the best pure athlete on the team. He’s long, fast and can jump to the moon. These attributes make him a fantastic transition player and a nice option for pick-and-rolls. Thomas can stick the midrange jumper, but he takes too many of those and makes too few forays to the basket. As it stands, Thomas is by far the team’s best shot blocker and weak-side defender. He needs to improve his shot selection, his ability to finish around the basket, and his capacity to focus on a nightly basis. It would also be nice if he could add a little muscle and hit the boards with renewed intensity.