On Saturday night, Cam Thomas will likely be playing the final game of his Summer League career vs. the Celtics. It will be his ninth, four last year, five this year and during that time, the 6’3” shooting guard has racked up some impressive stats, at least in scoring. Thomas is currently averaging 27.5 points in those games, a Summer League record (unless you count those players who played only or two games.) That’s one point per game more than Damian Lillard, the previous record holder.
“Cam’s gotten so much better,” said Summer League coach Adam Caporn. “[I’m] really proud of him, working really hard. He’s an elite scorer … and we’re going to put the ball in his hand. I know he’s really grown as a defender and he’s a guy that’ll just make a lot of good decisions, [an] underrated passer, willing passer.
“I think he’s done a good job leading this group. The last couple of days he’s practiced really hard, had a great attitude. I think the leadership responsibilities are the things that grow the most in the second year. He’s gotten better, I will say that.”
Thomas very well will have to grow this season, with so much uncertainty surrounding the team, particularly the team’s superstar duo. Depending on whether there are trades, the shooting guard rotation remains a big question mark. And that assumes he won’t be traded himself. Brian Lewis has reported the Nets have received offers including a first round pick for Thomas so his value is established.
Thomas himself thinks he’s improving.
“I mean, it’s really just everything: Playmaking, defense,” Thomas said of his priorities. “I guess they want to see more catch-and-shoot 3s, so I’m working on that a lot. So I’m just going to work on everything that they want me to. So I just want to show everything out in summer league.
“I’m not really worried about the scoring, stats, [winning] MVP. I’m just worried about working on what they want me to work on so I get on the floor more in the regular season. I’m just worried about improving any way I can.”
Indeed behind the obvious scoring skills, there has been improvement in his defense and playmaking, but getting even a bit better on D would be very noticeable. He had seven assists both in open court and in the paint vs. the 76ers on Sunday, the most he’s had at least since high school.
Thomas has never liked questions about his supposed lack of playmaking skill. Back on February 16, he showed more emotion than at any time in his rookie season when asked about it. “That’s kind of the narrative that’s out there that’s trash, saying that I can’t pass,” he said. “I could always pass.”
Caporn explained that Steve Nash’s suggestion that Thomas show more playmaking skills, was not some requirement.
“[It’s] not a mandate: Just part of every young player’s growth,” Caporn said of Thomas. “He has really bought into his growth as a decision-maker, and I thought he showed that.
“He’s getting better every game. And did what he does in terms of leading us in the fourth quarter and in stretches, still scoring. I see him being an elite pick-and-roll player as time goes on. I think he can find the roll, throw lob passes, see the floor and is so strong holding onto the ball and in the lane in tight spaces. That’s a good recipe.”
Playmaker or not, Thomas keeps showing that he can score, score, score. In high school, he broke the all-time scoring record at Oak Hill Academy whose alumni include Jerry Stackhouse and Carmelo Anthony. Then at LSU, he was the top freshman scorer in NCAA Division I. After his 27.0 ppg performance in Vegas last season, he played in two G League games, averaging 39.5, before taking one last drive on the Long Island Expressway to Brooklyn.
With the Nets, he proved he can score at the NBA level as well. As Lewis noted, he averaged 21.4 points on 47.8 percent shooting in the final eight games heading into the All-Star Break, then a solid 17.9 in the nearly month-long span from February 4 through March 1. and on February 16, had what was perhaps the most dramatic shot of the Nets season, a 28-footer against the Knicks that capped a 28-point comeback he largely engineered at The Garden.
Thomas has always had Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in his corner. KD pushed the Nets to draft him. Thomas and KD had a warm if trash-talking relationship last season as well. And despite Durant’s decision to request a trade, he’s still communicating with Thomas. So the 20-year-old waits like all of us do on what happens next.
The other night, while watching the Nets dismantle the Timberwolves, ESPN’s Monica McNutt spontaneously came up with a new nickname for the 20-year-old. “Mr. Summer League.” It fits.
- Cameron Thomas’ scoring won over Kevin Durant, but can his developing playmaking win over the Nets? - Brian Lewis - New York Post