Freshman Bryce Thompson 'solid' so far, but can give KU 'a lot more' going forward
Bill Self isn’t the type to coach one of his Jayhawks up to the point that the player is pretty good on the basketball court and call it a job well done. And that’s why Self is expecting more out of freshman Bryce Thompson in January, February and March.
The highest rated prospect in the Jayhawks’ 2020 recruiting class, Thompson has had his moments for Kansas through the first nine games on the schedule.
In his collegiate debut against top-ranked Gonzaga, Thompson scored 12 points off the bench and shot 5-for-10 from the floor, with a couple of steals, one block and an assist.
In the Jayhawks’ most recent win, the 6-foot-5 guard from Tulsa, Okla., scored all four of his points in the midst of a late second-half run that buried West Virginia.
As with most freshmen, though, there have been downs to accompany those ups. Thompson went 0-for-9 and finished scoreless against the defensive length of Kentucky. A few weeks back, during a rout of outmatched Omaha, Thompson went 1-for-8. It’s those two games in particular that are skewing his season shooting percentage — 37.5% from the floor — in the wrong direction.
Back to the positives, though, because this is a young player that just seems to be going through a cold streak of late (2-for-13 field goals, 1-for-6 3-point shooting in KU’s last three games).
Here’s what Thompson’s done well to date in a KU uniform, as Self sees it:
• “I think his defense has been pretty good.”
• “I think he’s been a good blend guy for the most part.”
• “I thought he shot the ball pretty well early.”
• “I think he’s made some plays that we had to have made at very crucial times — primarily the Creighton game.” (You may recall that’s the game in which Thompson replaced Ochai Agbaji in crunch time and made a key pass late.)
But his coach knows there is one area in particular where Thompson can provide the Jayhawks with much more, too.
“He hasn’t shot the ball well of late like he’s capable of — at all,” Self said.
Given the confidence with which Thompson (5.4 points per game in 17.4 minutes) carries himself on the court and the stroke on his jumper, his 5-for-19 (26.3%) 3-point shooting in November and December is one of the more surprising developments of the young season.
Agbaji, KU’s top marksman (24-for-54 on 3-pointers) entering Saturday’s game versus Texas, agreed that Thompson is a better 3-point shooter than he has shown in games so far. But Agbaji also praised Thompson’s ability as a scorer.
“Attacking off the dribble, I think his first step is one of his better attributes that he has,” Agbaji said. “His first step and the way he gets to the paint and plays off two feet is good.”
Mid-range jumpers aren’t for everybody, but Thompson does look comfortable firing when he’s open around the elbows. In the expanse of the floor between the rim and the 3-point arc, Thompson is 11-for-21 on the year, per hoop-math.com. His 52.4% accuracy on 2-point jumpers leads the team.
Eventually — and this may not come until he’s a sophomore or junior — KU would love to have Thompson scoring at all three levels. For the moment at least, just like most freshmen, he’s adjusting.
“I think the game is in fast forward a little bit right now for him,” Self said. “They have that expression: the longer you play the game the slower the game becomes. And I think the game right now is kind of in fast forward. It’s just a matter of time before he slows it down a little bit on the offensive end.”
Veteran big David McCormack thinks Thompson isn’t far away from delivering a breakout game.
“He’s right there. Bryce is one of those kids who kind of reminds me of myself,” McCormack said. “Harder, faster, stronger is kind of like his mantra. It may not be what he needs to do (at the time), but he always gives it his all.”
Self said Thursday Thompson "dinged" his back but was expected to be going at full speed by Friday. Prior to that, KU's coach has liked the way Thompson has defended and fit in. If the only knock on the freshman is the game is sped up for him right now, as Self said, that’s correctable. And it’s hard to knock a learning young player who is giving effort.
“I think the thing he’s done pretty well is be solid,” Self said. “But good players, sometimes solid isn’t good enough. And I think he’d be the first to tell you, he’s got a lot more that he can give.”