In terms of physical attributes, there are few players in the NBA right now who can match Thomas combination of length and athletic ability. His leaping ability is something that has to be seen in person to truly comprehend. Beyond the fact that he has a 40+ inch vertical leap, runs the floor like a guard and explodes off the ground like he has a trampoline at all times at his personal disposal, he uses that athleticism to the fullest extent, which separates him even further from the Stromile Swifts and Tyson Chandlers of the world.
The majority of Thomas strengths right now revolve around his defense and rebounding skills, along with the occasional havoc he can create on the offensive end.
Thomas can truly change a game with his shot-blocking ability, using not only his outstanding physical attributes, but also his mind and instincts to get the job done. Thomas possesses excellent timing on his vertical leap along with a great feel for anticipating; getting better and better all the time in terms of not biting on pump-fakes and doing exactly what he needs to keep possessions alive by tapping the ball gently or sending it off the glass rather than swatting it to the 2nd row. Throughout the year he has shown to be equally adept at blocking shots both coming from the weak-side as well as straight up on the man hes guarding. Even when he gets caught biting on a pump-fake, he is quick enough to recover in the blink of an eye and get the block on the 2nd attempt when his man thinks he clearly has him beat. Its the same way in transition as if hes anywhere within a 10 foot radius of the ball with a running start, no basket is safe in the hoop until is actually goes down because of the sheer speed in which he covers ground and pounces off the floor.
For every shot he blocks he alters countless others with the intimidation factor he establishes early on; forcing players to travel, throw shots high off the glass and always sneak a peek from the corner of their eye to see whether Thomas is lurking somewhere in the background. Unlike most freakish athletes, he has an innate understanding of how to utilize his tools as well as an outstanding motor and activity level, making him absolutely relentless going after anyone that dares enter the paint. For a player his age he is surprisingly good at staying out of foul trouble for someone as raw as youd think hed be. He only fouled out of 1 game all season long and reached 4 fouls on only 5 out of 30 games despite the drive he plays with.
Thomas doesnt come from the Theo Ratliff or Samuel Dalembert school of shot-blocking, meaning he doesnt risk his position to pad his stats and will rarely be called for goaltending. He is capable of playing outstanding man to man and team defense all over the floor when hes not intimidating around the hoop, showing a lot of pride in this part of his game. Hes quick and effective stepping out to hedge the pick and roll and recovers beautifully getting right back into the post. If his man is trying to post him up on the block calling for the post-entry pass, Thomas will sometimes just outsmart and outquick him by going around him and coming up with the steal when the ensuing pass comes. Lazy passes are the kind of things he feasts on as he has the instincts and explosiveness to get right into the passing lanes with his wingspan and take the ball the length of the floor for the slam.
Thomas is also a terrific rebounder despite his lack of bulk, coming up with 8 rebounds or much more in every game this year in which he played over 25 minutes except one (in which he had 7). Hes extremely active on the glass and once again uses his combination of outstanding length, instincts, leaping ability, tenacity, hands and timing to simply outquick and outjump almost anyone hes going up against. He regularly goes out of his area to come up with an important rebound for his team and will get his hands on a couple of balls every game that most would not in order to keep possessions alive for his team. His excellent hands help him out greatly in this area, as youll rarely see him bobble anything or lose control of a ball if strength is not a factor.
Offensively, Thomas is absolutely dynamite in the open floor and shows some small important sparks that lead you to believe he has more in him than hes currently showing. On the fast break or even in half-court sets his teammates have learned that if they are in trouble they can just throw the ball to the general area at the top of the square on the glass and Thomas will go get it and usually throw it down emphatically too. Most of his points come off lobs of these sort as well as tip-ins on offensive rebounds, but against weaker opponents hes shown some signs of raw footwork in the post, a mid-range jump-shot and a little jump-hook shot he can go to. Its fair to call him raw offensively, but hes also a little more difficult to gauge since he is usually his teams 4th or 5th option on the floor and has probably had a handful of plays called for him all season long.
Hes an unselfish player and is not as much of a liability as you would think handling the ball on the perimeter and making post entry passes. He shows a good feel for the game here too, as well as reasonable ball-handling skills in the open floor on a number of occasions.
Thomas frame isnt huge, but it looks good enough to make us think that he wont have any problems putting on the 15-20 pounds of bulk he will need in the NBA.
Thomas is generally an extremely aggressive player, noticeably being more concerned with helping his team get wins rather than get on a highlight reel. He is a humble and very intelligent player both on and off the court, and is said to be an excellent student in the classroom and a highly coachable player in LSUs practices. On the court he is surprisingly poised and focused for a player with such little basketball experience, not making many mistakes and generally showing an outstanding court demeanor amongst his teammates. His relentless attitude is an attribute that is both rare in a player of his mold and impossible to teach. Being a 6-6, 190 pound player in high school made him have to work much harder than anyone else to succeed in the post and this attitude has translated over at his current height of 6-9 and 215 pounds. From interviews with him you can tell that he has a chip on his shoulder, and you can only hope that he keeps it once he makes the NBA. Right now he goes after everything that is even remotely in his area and never gives up on any play. Despite his lack of bulk he uses the strength he has very cleverly, challenging players who are bigger and stronger than him with no fear and no regard for his own personal safety.
It would not be a stretch to say that he has a higher ceiling that any other player in this draft class considering his physical attributes and how long hes been playing basketball, but his intangibles lead you to believe that he also has what it takes to actually realize that potential as well.
Thomas is a late-bloomer in every sense of the word, only having started to play organized basketball in his junior year of high school. Like many players who have late growth spurts (he was still growing as of last summer), he has yet to fully grow into his frame and is probably lacking the strength to play a huge role in the NBA until he can add some weight. He struggled with conditioning problems earlier on in the year, but as the season progressed hes shown no problem playing 30 or more minutes a game.
Offensively, Thomas is fairly limited and gets most of his points right now through offensive rebounds and in transition. He doesnt really have any type of back to the basket game to speak of, and probably lacks the strength to score this way even if he did as he has trouble at times holding his spot on the block. Hell have to add some go-to moves to become a consistent scorer in the NBA, as well as better footwork in the post. Almost his entire offensive game at the moment revolves around dunks, although as mentioned already, he did not get much of a chance to show otherwise.
Thomas has shown sparks of being able to hit the mid-range jump-shot at times, but it wouldnt be a stretch to say that he could still improve his touch from the perimeter, as well as from the free throw line where he shoots 66%. His mechanics look a bit awkward here and he would be well served to better utilize his leaping ability to get better lift on his shot. In half-court sets Thomas ball-handling looks like it could use some serious refinement.
Beyond his bulk, his size also isnt 100% ideal for an NBA power forward, although his terrific length and athleticism helps him out greatly in this area.
Defensively he has a tendency at times to rely a little too much on his athleticism, and might be developing bad habits we often see big men form in their time in the NCAA. Its not rare to see him give up deep position in the paint to the man hes guarding, often due to his lack of strength, thinking that hell be able to just spring up off the ground to block his shot once it goes up. This works for him against NCAA big men, but NBA power forwards will have a field day on him if he lets them get within a few feet of the hoop. Pump-fakes were a problem for Thomas early on, but as the season progressed and hes learned his opponents tendencies better through scouting reports and just by trial and error, hes improved here as well.
In high school, Thomas was only 5-11 as a freshman. He only played organized basketball in his junior and senior years and never really built up enough recruiting hype to be considered a top 100 prospect. As a junior he was a mere 6-6 and 190 pounds, and when he officially committed to LSU they did not initially even have a scholarship for him. One later opened up when a JUCO recruit was kicked off his team and his scholarship offer was rescinded. Thomas grew to 6-7 ½, 200 pounds as a high school senior, and averaged 16 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks per game, good enough only for the all-second team in Louisiana. He was forced to redshirt his freshman year at LSU after injuring his neck, and grew to 6-9, 215 pounds over that year.
Thomas now plays in the most athletic conference in America, the SEC. His team won their conference fairly easily with a 14-2 record, and then lost to Florida in the semifinals of the SEC tournament with Thomas out resting his ankle for the NCAA tournament. LSU also played an extremely difficult out of conference schedule, going on the road to play against teams like West Virginia, Cincinnati, Ohio State and UConn. The UConn game (see links: freshman forwards fantastic ) was Thomas coming out party at the national level, scoring 15 points with 13 rebounds and 7 blocks against the best front-court in the nation on their home floor on national television.
On the year, Thomas averaged 12.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.1 blocks in 26 minutes per game on over 60% shooting from the field.
In the NCAA tournament (see various links: NCAA tournament) Thomas was fantastic in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight against some of the best frontcourt players in America, coming up with 9 points (3/5 FG), 13 rebounds and 5 blocks against Duke, and then 21 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks against Texas. At the time of this report, LSU is headed to their first Final Four in 20 years.
Thomas is expected to enter the NBA draft this summer and has probably done enough in the NCAA tournament to guarantee himself a spot in the high-lottery.