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Cam Thomas rising in rookie rankings

New York Knicks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Michelle Farsi/Getty Images

Cam Thomas was not invited to the Rising Stars Challenge in Cleveland Friday. He was not among the 12 rookies that the league selected for the All-Star Friday Night festivities.

But in two rookie rankings — and on the court — the 20-year-old keeps rising. Both the CBS Sports Rookie Rankings and Chad Ford’s Big Board put him near or at the top of first year players. And that was before Thomas heroics at the Garden Friday night when he hit the dagger in the franchise’s biggest comeback ever. In his last eight games, Thomas is averaging 21.5 points a game along with 4.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists.

Jasmyn Wimbish of CBS Sports ranked Thomas at No. 5 for the week, writing Thursday...

Thomas has been lighting up the scoreboard since the beginning of February that it almost makes you forget that the Nets just ended a woeful 11-game losing streak. Thomas’ production has largely been due to necessity, as injuries have been unkind to a Brooklyn team that was favored to win the championship before the season started. But a Kevin Durant MCL injury, a James Harden-for-Ben Simmons swap and having Kyrie Irving for road games only have found Brooklyn tumbling down the standings and relying on their thin depth to pick up the pieces.

That’s where Thomas has stepped up off the bench. He’s making enough shots to warrant his minutes, and with Joe Harris still out indefinitely with an ankle injury, Thomas should continue to see consistent playing time as long as he continues to produce.

And Chad Ford named him Rookie of the Week and looked back at how Thomas was viewed before Draft Night when he was taken No. 27.

Thomas was a polarizing draft prospect, and even on draft night, it was unclear whether he’d be a lottery pick or slide to the late first round.

Here’s what we wrote about him on my final Big Board 7.0:

“Thomas was a surprise invite to the NBA’s Green Room (a signal he’s a top-20 pick) after hovering on the first-round bubble all year on our Big Board.

“There’s a lot to like. He’s an elite scorer with crazy deep range on his jump shot. But that’s all he is. He lacks elite size, athleticism, and every other part of the game. He doesn’t pass, and he’s not a great defender. But man, he can score.”

He was the last player in the Green Room to be selected (he slid all the way to No. 27) but has shown real promise when he’s gotten minutes.

Many of Thomas’ accomplishments are not just at the same level of those picked above him last July. They’re better. Thomas, for example has scored 20 or more points 10 times since January 1. Cade Cunningham of Detroit, MVP of the Rising Stars Challenge and the overall No. 1 pick, has six. Franz Wagner of Orlando, has five and Evan Mobley of Cleveland, perhaps the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year, has four. For the season, Thomas has now moved into the top 10 of scoring at 9.8 points per game. Unlike the others, Thomas spent some time in the G League (where he averaged 39.5 per game in two contests.)

As Brian Lewis notes, only two other Nets rookies have put up such gawdy numbers in a similar stretch: Bernard King and Buck Williams.

Perhaps more importantly, Thomas overall game has shown improvement, as evidenced by what happened at the end of the Knicks game when Steve Nash put the ball in Thomas hands, having him play the point in the final, crucial possessions. He ultimately scored 16 points in the quarter, including eight straight, while also running a two-man game with LaMarcus Aldridge, 16 years his senior.

“He’s definitely confident, but he has to be,” Aldridge said. “When you come in this league, if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will, so I think that’s why he has a leg up on playing well because he already believes in himself. He had KD and Ky in his corner, always coaching him, always talking to him, and when you have two players of that caliber coaching you up, you’re going to be confident for sure.”

How big of a fan is Kevin Durant. Buried in his story about the final days before the James Harden for Ben Simmons, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report had this historic tidbit..

(Durant) was instrumental in Brooklyn’s drafting Cam Thomas with the No. 27 pick in July, sources said, and Durant reiterated his desire for Thomas to remain with the Nets past this deadline.

Then, there was Durant’s tweet post-game Wednesday.

With everyone getting health — and Kyrie Irving’s status possibly changing — Thomas will probably not be getting the minutes he’s racked up lately, but by now, the Nets know what they have.