With the 2020-2021 Michigan State men’s basketball season over, we will take individual looks at how each Spartan performed over the course of the year.
In our sixth edition of the series, we dive into what Thomas Kithier did well this year and where he needs to improve before his senior season.
Averages per game: 10.8 minutes, 2.4 points, 2.5 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.2 blocks, 65.0% fields goal percentage, 00.0% three point percentage, 76.9% free throw percentage
During his junior year, Thomas Kithier was basically the same player he has always been at Michigan State. And this is someone who does quite a few things very well in his rather limited role. The big man always plays with a lot of energy and hustle, puts his body on the line and never shies away from doing the “dirty work.” He gives 100 percent effort every time he’s out on the floor and you can count on him not making a lot of mental mistakes. Kithier in general is a very smart player, he understands concepts, how to position himself or what the team needs him to do at any given moment. Things like setting screens, moving the ball swiftly, getting open underneath the basket (shoutout to “The Invisible Man“) or putting pressure on the opponent by running the floor are all traits that don’t look that impressive at first glance, or don’t always show up on the stat sheet, yet help a team a ton beyond the box score. It‘s probably the reason why Kithier started 14 out of 26 games he played in during the 2020-2021 campaign.
Kithier was a strong offensive rebounder this past season, and gained MSU plenty of extra possessions with his work down low. He continued to finish at a very high rate whenever the ball found him in the paint, even if it seemed that he missed some bunnies at times. Over the last offseason, Kithier must have worked a ton on his free throw shooting as he upped his average from 46.2 percent as a sophomore to almost 77 percent as a junior. This is an impressive feat, even if it came at a very small sample size of just 13 shots taken.
Unfortunately, in terms of his weaknesses, Kithier has been just as consistent as he has been with the things he does well. He basically remains the same kind of player he was as a freshman and hasn’t truly developed a great deal over the course of three years. As a junior, he still was a very limited player athletically and that hampered his chances for more impactful minutes. Kithier just isn’t strong enough to really keep big bodies out of the paint nor is he athletic enough to challenge opponents at the rim. Even with all his instincts and a strong basketball IQ, he struggled to consistently make his presence felt on either end of the floor. Instead, his lack of foot speed, size and strength often forced MSU into a disadvantage up front and it made it hard for certain lineups to really impose their will on the opposing team.
On offense, Kithier just has never developed any kind of game outside of close range and at times even gets desperate to get rid of the ball as soon as it finds his hands. That makes it extremely tough on his teammates, as the Spartans sometimes had to operate four on five with him out there, even if he creates the occasional space by cutting smartly. On defense, Kithier’s lack of physical traits has forced him to work extremely hard for positioning, often resulting in early foul trouble (2.4 fouls in just about 11 minutes per game, and 8.8 fouls per 40 minutes). Over the course of the year, Kithier’s minutes were reduced, and toward the end of the season he was barely part of the rotation.
Thomas Kithier has shown that he can be a solid role player for Michigan State, as he does a lot of things instinctively well on the basketball court. Yet his role will always be limited in East Lansing (at least it should be if he doesn’t develop in other areas of his game), and if he stays at MSU, his minutes probably won’t go up much. Considering how players like Julius Marble, Mady Sissoko or Malik Hall seemingly offer more upside, it might even be hard for Kithier to keep the minutes he played as a junior. However, if Kithier is out there, you can always count him to give maximum effort.
OVERALL SEASON GRADE