Cam Thomas is embracing the Nets’ next-man-up mantra.
After seeing inconsistent minutes earlier in the season as Steve Nash took a cautious approach with his rookie guard, Thomas has become a significant piece to Brooklyn’s rotation.
With the loss of Joe Harris (ankle surgery) and Kyrie Irving (unvaccinated), the No. 27 overall pick has provided a needed scoring punch off the bench in his extended role. In the last eight contests entering Friday night’s game, Thomas served as the team’s sixth man, averaging 9.3 points and seeing double-digit minutes of action.
In his latest performance Friday night against Atlanta, Thomas scored 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting from the field and 3-of-4 shooting from 3-point range in 25 minutes. Outside of nailing timely shots to keep Brooklyn’s offense afloat, the rookie also snagged six rebounds and dished one assist.
“Confidence. He’s a natural-born scorer, so he’s always ready to score no matter when he’s in the game,” said James Harden on Thomas after the Nets’ 113-105 win over the Hawks Friday night. “We need him to score, and he’s done an unbelievable job of picking his spots.”
Kevin Durant, who has served as a mentor for Thomas this season, praised the rookie’s desire to grow within the team’s star-studded roster after the win over the Hawks. Durant added that he likes how the rookie wants to shine in big moments of games and wants to help “relieve the pressure” off him and Harden down the stretch.
“He’s always asking questions, you know? We always talk through stuff, what he needs to do on a certain play and his IQ for the game is very high for a young player who hasn’t really played much,” said Durant on Thomas. “He’s finding his footing with our different lineups and is understanding what his role is. We just need his confidence to keep growing and for him to feel comfortable out there on both sides of the ball. I think it’s moving in the right direction for him.”
Asked whether at one point, the 20-year-old looked him off, KD denied it.
“He did not look me off. He knows better than that,” said Durant while laughing. “One of them, he was screaming my name, ‘7, 7, 7 I’m open.’ Cam, I see you dog, but I like that he wants that moment, he wants the ball and he wants to be that one that relieves the pressure off me and James when we’re handling. I love playing with Cam. I love being around him every single day. It’s a challenge as a veteran player, but it’s good being around that energy.”
Now that’s an endorsement!
Although Brooklyn’s rookie guard is shooting only 22.5 percent from behind the arc (averaging 2.1 attempts per contest), it’s no secret his shooting is a key ingredient in his developmental plan ... and the team’s success. The Nets head coach sees Thomas’ sharpshooting ability as a foundational piece to his developmental journey.
“He’s a capable 3-point shooter,” Steve Nash said. “I think for him and his career, if he can become an elite 3-point shooter one day, that just opens everything up for him. For this team, right now, it’s great to have another shooter, and the fact that he can score as well if he gets a closeout or gets an opportunity in transition, he’s talented. It’s necessary right now to have an extra shooter with Joe out of the lineup.”
Nic Claxton, who has also shined for Brooklyn since returning from a non-COVID-related illness, chimed in on Thomas’ emergence in the absence of Harris. Claxton foresees the rookie guard as a special talent in this league but noted that he’s still a developmental player.
“You know he has a lot to learn, but he’s special,” said Claxton on Thomas. “He’s a special talent. He can score. He can really score the basketball. We’re still bringing him along on the defensive side of the ball, but we like what he’s bringing. We need it, and he’s going to be a great player in this league.”
Thomas is averaging 5.1 points, 1.6 rebounds and 0.7 assists in 19 games played this season. Although the rookie spent some time with the Nets G League affiliate, the Long Island Nets — averaging an eye-popping 39.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists in 37.3 minutes per game (two games), it’s not likely the rookie will be back in Uniondale anytime soon.
In the meantime, he’ll be a crucial piece ... and one that’s rapidly improving.