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Nets counted on Cam Thomas in big Indy win, want him ready for next steps

Brooklyn Nets v Indiana Pacers Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

Before Saturday’s game vs. the Pacers, the Nets coaching staff thought winning could depend on whether Cam Thomas had a big game. After all, the team’s top eight scorers were out that game. And everyone knew Thomas had it in him. When pressed into service last February with Kyrie Irving out, Thomas had an eight-game stretch in which he averaged 21.4 points a game.

“It’s an interesting task for him and challenge for him,” Jacque Vaughn said during a Zoom call Wednesday morning. “Just because I thought as a group we wanted Cam to really, if we thought about it before the game, everyone was like Cam’s gotta score 30 for us in this game for us to have a chance to win. And it happened.”

Then vs. the Wizards, Thomas was back to a bench role, playing 19 minutes and scoring only five points on 1-of-4 shooting.

“You go into Washington, like everyone’s pretty much going to play the night, and Cam’s probably not going to have 30. So now, what does that first and second possession look like for him?” added Vaughn. “That’s the challenge that I have for him.”

In other words, Vaughn wants Thomas to handle whatever is thrown his way on a game-to-game basis.

Thomas is only 21 and still has two years left on his rookie contract. As anyone who’s followed his exploits in the NBA, in the last two summer leagues (27.0 ppg both years) or in his two-game stint last season in the G League (39.5 ppg) knows: Cam knows buckets. Vaughn just wants to see more consistency, better decision-making.

“I just want him to be a hooper who makes the right choice,” Vaughn said. “Sometimes three passes in a row is going to be the right choice [and] sometimes three shots in a row is going to be the right choice.”

Of course, some of that comes with experience and development and Vaughn noted that Kevin Durant, who adopted Thomas last season, is working closely with him this season.

“That’s been a huge development with our team,” Vaughn said. “His want and desire to be the best basketball player he can be, I think that’s a trait Kevin appreciates. Kevin’s a worker. And when he sees Cam at the same bucket with him working on his game and Cam working on his game at a different bucket, that means a lot when your peers see you work on your game.”

It’s all part of the NBA challenge, but as Saturday night showed, it’s worth the effort. So what’s next?

“Value that first and second possession just the way you value the possession when you knew [you were going to have] this ninth, 10th, and 11th shot,” Vaughn said. “Can he get better that way? And if he does, man, that is a huge step for a young guy. To be able to work towards [the] very first mid-range shot or penetration that I get or jab three that I get is just as important as that fourth-quarter shot when I had the leeway to take four shots in a row. That growth for him would be huge as a player.”

The Nets had at least one offer for Thomas over the summer, according to one report, but they passed on a future first round pick.

Vaughn also said that unlike Steve Nash he doesn’t need Thomas to be a facilitator although both during the summer and early part of this season he showed he has some skills in that regard.

“I haven’t like put him in a lane where I’m grading him on how good he is as a facilitator,” Vaughn said.

With everyone healthy (finger crossed) as the Nets go on a two-game road trip this weekend, it’s uncertain how much, if any, time he’ll get on the court. Still, after his 21-point fourth quarter effort Saturday, they know better than ever what he can do.