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Schmitz: Cam Thomas likely a 2021 Draft ‘steal’

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ESPN Draft guru Mike Schmitz doesn’t exactly call Cam Thomas and four other draft picks “steals.” Instead on Monday, he refers to the five as rookies who he expects will “contribute in a much bigger way than what their draft slots might indicate.” You know, “steals.”

Starting from the top of the Draft, Schmitz highlights Alperen Sengun, the 6’10” big taken by the Houston Rockets at No. 16; Trey Murphy III, the 6’8” swingman taken by the New Orleans Pelicans at No. 17; Nah’Shon Hyland, the 6’2” combo guard taken by the Denver Nuggets at No. 26; Thomas, the 6’4” shooting guard taken by the Brooklyn Nets one spot later, along with Leandro Bolmaro, the 6’7” Argentine guard drafted by the New York Knicks at No. 23 in 2020 Draft, then traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves who kept him stashed in Spain.

Schmitz doesn’t compare the five to the top of the Draft which produced five players who in any other recent year could have been the top pick, but he does note the list of players taken at No. 13 recently who have emerged as NBA superstars: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Donavan Mitchell and Devin Booker.

Despite the Nets superstar talent, particularly the backcourt trio of James Harden, Kyrie Irving and newly acquired Patty Mills, Schmitz writes that the Summer League Co-MVP has a chance to break through and contribute this season.

[T]he 6-foot-4 Thomas should get his fair share of opportunities. The 19-year-old showed how devastating he can be in Vegas, averaging 26.5 points (actually 27.0) in 28.4 minutes while knocking down 36 percent of his triples and earning nearly 10 free throws per game.

The reason Thomas wasn’t a lottery pick was due to his deficiencies in areas outside of scoring — namely defense, decision making and passing. Bruce Brown is a perfect example of the type of player that thrives alongside Durant, Irving and Harden, as he carved out a role because of his ability to do everything other than score the ball at a high level. Even with those roadblocks, there’s always room for shooting alongside elite shot creators, and it’s hard to see a situation where Thomas doesn’t outplay his No. 27 draft slot, as he’s too talented of a scorer to stay quiet for 82 games.

Schmitz isn’t the only pundit to focus on Thomas’s potential in recent days. On Saturday, Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report called the 19-year-old (till October 21) one of 30 players to “get excited about” this season. Hughes wrote this of Thomas...

Thomas is the type of scorer who rolls out of bed halfway through a snatch-back crossover to set up a pull-up jumper. He’s a born gunner, single-minded about that specific task in the best way. He averaged 23.0 points per game in his lone season at LSU, leading all Division I freshman, and then lit up Vegas with 27.0 points per game, the highest average recorded by a player logging at least four Summer League games.

The Brooklyn Nets, if healthy, were already in line to field the most potent offense in league history, and the profoundly confident Thomas’ skill is duplicative on their roster. But who cares? At the very least, Thomas is going to shred garbage-time defenses and should threaten for the league lead in points per minute.

Thomas has been working out in recent weeks at HSS Training Center along with the rest of the Nets ... who face the media two weeks from today, then fly to San Diego for training camp before opening preseason vs. the Los Angeles Lakers three weeks from yesterday.