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Despite big night, Cam Thomas’ quest to crack rotation is ‘tough ask’

Brooklyn Nets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Cam Thomas, once again, stole the show ... and didn’t waste the opportunity.

In a preseason opener that had the stars on the bench wearing street clothes, Thomas and his scoring were the stars of the game from the moment he stepped on the hardwood.

“Scoring is scoring. I don’t know why people always think stuff can’t translate. Scoring is scoring. If you can score, you can score. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing against,” Thomas said.

Indeed Cam. The Nets rookie was the leading scorer for either team in his first NBA game, dropping a game-high 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field, 1-of-3 from deep and 6-of-7 from the charity strike coming off the bench for Brooklyn.

His torching performance scoring the ball shouldn’t be too big of a surprise. Thomas led all freshmen in scoring at LSU in college last year (23.0 points) and recorded the highest scoring average ever for a Summer League player seeing at least four games (27 points). That earned him Co-MVP honors with Kings rookie, Davion Mitchell.

“Cam’s a scorer. He can score. He’s got a lot to learn and a lot of growing to do, but he starts with a lot of ability. I’m not surprised,” said Steve Nash on Thomas. “He has that type of talent and [his] game just got to continue to develop him and teach him to get him up to speed with the NBA game.”

Brooklyn Nets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

He may have made the perfect first impressions, but Nash says he hasn’t seen enough yet to crack the rotation for the 6’4” shooting guard. That shouldn’t be a surprise either. Brooklyn’s star-studded backcourt rotation is loaded — Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Patty Mills and Jevon Carter, who started for the Nets Sunday.

“We’ll see about the rotation. We’ve got a lot of veteran guys on this team. We’ve got a lot of scoring punch on this team, so we’ll see,” Nash said. “That’s a tough ask for a young player. But we love him. We think he can develop into a very good player but I don’t want to get ahead of it.”

After the preseason victory, the Nets head coach added Thomas’ playmaking and defense areas that are needed for growth.

“We know Cam’s a shot-maker, can make shots, get separation and create his own shot. Those are the things that he did in college and why he got drafted in the first round. The other things we’ve got to continue to work with is so he can get into a position that he understands how to play both sides of the ball, not just a scorer. But, as a defender, as someone that creates offense for his teammates, whether it’s his movement off the ball or his decision making,” Nash added. “Those are things we want to continue to work with him on to develop but we know he can score and he can get to his spot.”

Thomas breathes confidence and made it known at Media Day that he is determined to “carve out a role” with Brooklyn. Still, he doesn’t completely disagree that he’s struggled to defend in the NBA system.

“I feel like I haven’t struggled on defense. This is my first time in an NBA system, so you’re learning on the fly. I’m a rookie playing with all vets. They already know the tricks, all the different terminology. I’m learning as I go so I feel like I haven’t really struggled. Of course, I’ve had some mishaps because you’re learning, but I haven’t really struggled,” Thomas said.

All in all, the opportunities will arise for Thomas when the regular season rolls around.

Veteran leadership providing a spark

Brooklyn Nets v Los Angeles Lakers

The Nets roster is filled with star-power, becoming the second team ever with a roster boasting five players with six-plus All-Star appearances. Although playing time for the rookies in the regular season will come and go, the Nets youth has served as sponges and absorbing all the knowledge around them.

Take it from Thomas and David Duke Jr., two rookies who have prominently shown their value — one primarily offense, the other D — through Summer League, training camp and now the preseason opener.

Thomas explained how he’d been a sponge to the Nets “Big Three” before he entered the league, memorizing combinations and tricks while watching them on television. It’s only sweeter for the former LSU Tiger to be able to learn from them in person now.

“Yeah, I’ve learned a lot of tricks from them watching them when I wasn’t in the league. When James was in Houston, I really picked up a lot of his moves. How he draws fouls. I got a lot of that when he was in Houston. Even last year in Brooklyn, I was still watching him.

“Kyrie, the way he’s able to create his own shot in the mid-range and all that. It’s really just watching them in school and stuff like that before I even got here, but seeing them up close and personal is even better because you actually get hands-on experience, even when you guard them,” Thomas said. “You can really take some stuff home.”

Out of the three, Thomas name-dropped Kyrie Irving as a huge help thus far.

“Me and Kyrie have been talking a lot, talking about the little stuff. So I’m trying to take from him as much as I can because it can help me in the long run. He’s also willing to help so I appreciate that a lot.”

Duke Jr. — who finished with 13 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two assists in a game-high 31 minutes — explained his personal experiences learning under the veterans. Out of all the vets, James Johnson was the one Duke Jr. praised for his pointers throughout the preseason win.

“One thing that’s pretty unique about is really just about how all of the veteran guys come up to you and coach you. It’s genuine,” Duke Jr. said. “They’re giving you pointers from Kyrie, KD, James Harden and even James Johnson. Blake Griffin. A bunch of the guys. Whenever you need help with something or they see you might be confused, they’ll come over and say “do this, do that.

“Today, I was talking to James Johnson. He was always on me, telling me to “stay aggressive, stay aggressive. Keep going. Keep doing what you’re doing.” It’s been a nice balance between all the vets leading me and the young guys.”

Take it from Paul Millsap, another All-Star-studded vet. Following a very competitive five-day training camp in San Diego, it was apparent before the tip that the team’s young players are “eager” to get on the floor and take advantage of the opportunity.

“I’ve seen these guys all week. I’ve seen the work they’ve put in. They’ve been putting in the work all week. They were a little eager for this moment and them going out there and doing what they do. It was impressive, especially for young guys to come in,” Millsap said. “First preseason game, you didn’t see any nerves. They went out there and did the job.”