It takes time — often a lot of time — for rookies on championship contenders to catch their break and make a name for themselves. In Cam Thomas’ case, that time is coming.
On a night when the Nets offense was searching for a spark against the Cavaliers, it was the Co-MVP of the Summer League who delivered the unexpected lift in the third quarter. Steve Nash subbed in the 20-year-old rookie and Thomas scored eight points in a 20-6 run to close out the third with a two-point lead.
“I got in and knew the game-plan and knew what we had to do. I got in. I got great looks and got open looks, so I feel like those are really good for me coming in right away, getting open looks and I made most of them,” said Thomas on his performance. “When James [Harden] or KD kicks it to me, you got to knock it down when you’re wide open. A great building block to me.”
The Nets head coach did remove Thomas early in the final period and instead stuck with his steady veterans to close out the team’s seventh road victory of the season and their 13th win of the young season.
“Without Joe [Harris], we were down a shooter and a spacer, so we had to go with some different lineups and some different guys. Cam was great,” said Nash on Thomas’ spark in the third quarter. “He stepped up with confidence to take shots.
“I think he’s a kid we all love and think has a bright future but sometimes these early stages in the season and you’re in tight games, it’s difficult with some of the mistakes that are just inevitable with these young guys. Tonight, we hung in there, made some big shots for us and I thought he was really aware defensively. I was proud of him tonight.”
Thomas finished his big night with 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the field and 2-of-3 from three-point range to go with three rebounds in 15 minutes of play.
“Instant hot. Instant offense. That’s what I call him,” said LaMarcus Aldridge on Thomas. “He came in the game and he was instantly getting to the rim, knocking down threes and when you score that easy as he does, it was easy for him. I thought he was a big pickup for us as far as energy, knocking down shots and do anything he could out there.”
The Nets rookie’s scoring boost comes just two days after he erupted with the team’s G League affiliate, the Long Island Nets. Thomas, who was on assignment, scorched Nassau Coliseum with 46 points on 17-of-32 shooting from the field in a thrilling comeback win. After his impressive stint in Cleveland, Thomas surprisingly didn’t credit his explosive outing in the G League as the catalyst for his eye-popping play Monday night at the NBA level.
“Nothing really,” Thomas said. “I always had that confidence. Whenever coach puts me in, I just try to be ready at all times. The 46 didn’t really do anything tonight. It was just my role on that team and tonight, I just had the opportunity to have a chance, coach put me in and I made the most of it.”
When Nash was asked whether Thomas’ showing in his 15-minute run off the bench gives him more confidence to put the young bucket-getter on the hardwood, the Nets head coach again stressed how Brooklyn’s backcourt arsenal makes it difficult for the rookie to carve out consistent minutes.
“I’m not going to turn my back on his performance. I thought he played great, but with our team, we have a lot of guys that are kinda in similar range as far as ability,” Nash said. “That makes it a little bit difficult but it’s nice to have options. It’s nice to have a young player like that; he’s talented and for him to step up in a game like this where we’re down on the road and didn’t play well was excellent and he definitely made progress tonight.”
Although Thomas has built his offensive game around his confident scoring ability, the guard explained how Nash’s trust, along with the trust from Brooklyn two superstars, has added an extra layer to his boasting confidence and more.
“It gives you more confidence that the coach actually believes in you to come in games like this and spark a run for the team,” Thomas said. “I played great defense, sparked a run like that, hit open shots when KD and Patty kicked it to me for a corner three, so I feel like everything is just a building block for me to keep it going from here on out.”
“It’s big-time for the two best players to have the trust in you to knock down shots. That’s big-time, especially for a rookie. Just for them to have that confidence in me to know down open shots means everything to me,” Thomas added. “Can’t thank those guys enough for that.”
Behind the Curtain: The Rookie vs. The Superstar
Following the Nets 117-112 comeback victory over the Cavaliers, Cam Thomas carried his excitement over to his postgame appearance before the media.
Thomas is surrounded by Hall of Fame talent that has made his rookie year a grand learning experience only few can fathom. And fresh off the hardwood after his big night, the rookie claimed that behind the scenes and on the practice court, he has beaten one of the team’s superstars!
“Me and KD just be trash-talking about our scoring abilities. I say I’m a better scorer than him at my age then he was. He doesn’t believe that. He never wants to play me one-on-one. We play one-on-one, shootarounds, Post-ups; I beat him. Don’t tell him that. I beat him,” said said the barely 20-year-old on the pickup games between him and Durant.
“James just tries to trash talk me. Me and James always be going back and forth. It’s friendly stuff so I love those dudes. Great dudes.”
Cam Thomas and Kevin Durant trash talk about their scoring abilities and Cam claims he's a better scorer than KD at the age of 20 than KD was— Nets Videos (@SNYNets) November 23, 2021
"He never wants to play me one-on-one. We play one-on-one in shootaround all the time, post-ups, I beat him. Don't tell him that" pic.twitter.com/gxIZEgsyiV
Durant, who followed Thomas to the podium, quickly announced that what Thomas had told the media was untrue. The Nets superstar contended the script is flipped. He also revealed that Thomas still has work to do to get things closer.
“That’s more than ridiculous. Cam is lying. He was lying, for sure,” said Durant. “I definitely beat him, 13-5 and those five shots that he made, I turned my back to him and said ‘go ahead.’ We were in shootaround and I beat him 15-5. It’s an ongoing game so the score don’t start over. At the end of the season, we’ll tally up the points but he’s down a lot. He’s going to get down 25 soon.”
Kevin Durant heard what Cam Thomas said earlier about beating him in their 1-on-1 matchups at shootaround and didn't hold back— Nets Videos (@SNYNets) November 23, 2021
*looks at stat sheet* "Little 4-for-7, you know he feeling himself when he come in...he gonna come in here and fabricate" pic.twitter.com/d6wLJKl8Sy
Beyond the comical exchange that won laughs from the media, Durant praised Thomas’ spark in the third quarter. The 6’10” forward believes the rookie’s and-one finish at the rim pushed Brooklyn over the top Monday night.
“He gave us a boost we needed. Somebody that can score off-the-dribble and off-the-catch like that. When a young team like this [Cavaliers] they are going to send all their resources at James and myself, so they were playing superphysical and super tight to me so guys like Cam will be open. They left him open and I guess he wasn’t on the scouting report but they left him open and he made plays,” said Durant on Thomas’ play. The and-one was huge for us and I think that pushed us over the top. When we got back into it at the end of the third, that was huge for us.”
Although Durant said he was quite pleased with Thomas’ play, the superstar plans to go harder on the rookie to help grow his gleaming confidence, even more, to translate into bigger offensive productions down the road.
“It’s good to see a young dude like Cam who is into it like that,” said Durant on Thomas. “It tells he’s a student, so we need him to build on this. We’ll need him to be comfortable because he had a little 11-point game because he made a couple of shots. I’m always on him and he’s always on me too, but I’m going to be on him even more now.”
But that wasn’t the end of it. Thomas took to Instagram Tuesday morning and seemingly wants to reignite things.
Whatever happened to rookie hazing?
- Cam Thomas on 117-112 win over Cavaliers (Video) - YES Network
- Kevin Durant on Cam Thomas’ performance against Cleveland (Video) - YES Network
- Cam Thomas on learning from Kevin Durant (Video) - YES Network
- Cam Thomas provides spark to lift Nets over Cavaliers - Greg Logan - Newsday
- CAM THOMAS GIVES BROOKLYN NETS A BOOST IN WIN OVER CLEVELAND - Tom Dowd - Brooklyn Nets