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Las Vegas — Khyri Thomas is ready for the challenge.
After his first Summer League game, he admitted he had some nerves. After the first minute or two, they were gone, though.
Thomas’ play on defense was one of the few flashes in the Pistons’ 90-63 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night, but he left an impression on his teammates and the coaching staff with his intensity and defensive prowess in his debut.
“You saw Khyri the first play of the game get a deflection, so it shows what he can do defensively,” forward Henry Ellenson said. “He’s reading guys the whole time and can move his feet really well, so he’s going to pressure his guy. He did a really good job. His poise was great and he didn’t get discouraged.”
The Philadelphia 76ers picked Thomas 38th overall in the draft, but the Pistons traded two future second-round picks to get the athletic guard, who played at Creighton. With a need to add depth on the wing, the Pistons took two stabs, grabbing Bruce Brown with their selection, at No. 42.
With the addition of Glenn Robinson III in free agency, the Pistons look to have plenty of wing options to consider behind Stanley Johnson, Luke Kennard and Reggie Bullock. Like Johnson, Thomas looks to be a defensive specialist, an attribute that’s been part of his game since he was a kid.
“When I was younger, I didn’t get the ball a lot playing with older people,” Thomas said, “so I just stole the ball to get it.”
With a crowded and experienced depth chart in front of him, his defense looks to be Thomas’ best route to playing time. He showed some scoring ability as well, scoring seven points, including a 3-pointer.
The Pistons hope that Thomas can develop into a “3-and-D” player — one who shoots well from 3-point range and has above-average defensive skills in his career, but just getting his feet wet in Summer League is the first step.
Friday’s lopsided loss wasn’t a glowing endorsement but it provided a starting point for Thomas to build on in the remaining games of Summer League, creating momentum for the start of training camp in the fall.
“Khyri has defensive toughness. He’s a better shooter and I saw that (in practice),” head coach Dwane Casey said. “That’s something that’s evolving is his 3-point shooting. I like (the rookies’) toughness and they’re sponges.
“There’s so much to learn and you’re not going to throw it all at them in a week and have them pick it up. The toughness is there and the basketball IQ is there and that’s what you’re looking for in a rookie.”
On draft night, Thomas waited patiently for his name to be called. Although he was projected in some mock drafts to go earlier, Thomas was glad the Pistons made the trade to get him.
“It was amazing. This is something you work your whole life for and I was excited and ready to get to the next stage,” Thomas said. “Getting drafted to wherever I went, I wanted to start improving myself right away.
“Everybody wanted to celebrate but I said I just got drafted. They were happy for me and wanted to do a whole bunch. I said that I just got my foot in the door and I have to keep working.”
In his debut, Thomas looked smooth on both ends of the court, undaunted by playing his first professional game and the crowd and Cox Pavilion. His shooting (3-of-11 from the field and 1-of-4 on 3-pointers) wasn’t spectacular, but without Kennard — who will miss all of Summer League play because of a strained knee — the offense struggled.
Casey has bigger expectations for Thomas including stepping into that scoring role, with the understanding that the rookies won’t be perfect, but that’s part of the new growth process that Casey is bringing to the team.
“They’ll take the place of what we were looking for in Luke during the summer. The most important thing is those guys getting reps and making mistakes — they’re going to make mistakes — it’s a mistake game,” Casey said. “What you want to do is try to minimize those mistakes and help the team win. Play through the mistakes and learn from them and come into camp and still work in the summer.”