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Cam Thomas confidence shining through

The 13th highest scorer in the NBA wants you to know he’s ready for more, ready to push himself further, help his team get into the post-season and do some damage.

Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

NO one has ever accused Cam Thomas of not being confident. His desire, his willingness to work at his game, his mastery at getting buckets have been evident from the night he was drafted, his suit jacket lined with a Kobe Bryant jersey. It is who he is.

Others may have doubted him but Cam Thomas will not, no, cannot, doubt himself. Back in the summer, he told an interviewer that given a free hand, he could average 25 a game “no doubt, easy.” Some laughed. He didn’t. Now averaging 26.0 points a game and 14.4 points on drives, second in the league, he’s proving he can match words with performance.

He’s getting noticed now as well. He held court Monday morning at HSS Training Center, telling writers, he thinks he’s Damian Lillard’s equal at least in one area. When a beat writer asked him if Lillard, the darling of some fans eyes this summer, is the best contested, off-the-bounce 3-point shooter in the league, he smiled much he did in talking about averaging 25 points game.

“I think I am,” said the 22-year-old with a smile. He will have to prove that or something close to it Monday night ... and Lillard, being the competitor he is, knows what Thomas said by now, and likely will be ready with an answer. But that’s Cam I Am, the Bucket Getter.

He’s also getting national recognition, as his Hoopshype interview with Mike Scotto, which also broke Monday, shows. He not only brimmed with confidence about his own game, but about where he and his teammates can take the organization this year ... do some damage in the post-season. For Thomas, the two sessions also showed that the 6’3” guard is not just about being confident in his third year. It’s about his maturity as well. So let’s go to the video tape, the whole thing — it’s worth it — first with the beat writers Q and A about Wednesday’s game.

What stands out about the Bucks?

“Obviously, just having the Dame piece, just having that prolific scorer at the point guard position. That’s different for us. I don’t think we’ve had that yet, prolific point guard — well, Luka — but other than that, it’s different. Different kind of personnel they’re trying to run. They’ve got three shooters out there — well, four shooters — around Giannis, so we’ve got to guard that. It’ll be a good test for us.”

Excitement level from what you took away from the Celtics game that could be important tonight?

“Obviously, for that being one of the best teams, supposed to be one of the best teams in the league, we were right there in the game on a back-to-back. We were missing three starters, and we played real hard, but they’ve got great players. They’re going to make tough shots over us, so it just happens, but I think we did a lot of good stuff that we can take from that game and apply it to this game. Just keep it pushing and keep going.”

Specific takeaways from the Boston game?

“Just being solid on defense, being more aggressive, trying to crank up the turnovers a little bit, getting more turnovers on the guys. We don’t turn people over much; We just play solid defense and then rebound at the end, but we want to crank up the turnovers a little bit, so that will be a good thing for us tonight. We’ll try to do that, so we’ll see how it goes.

Is it helpful to have so many different lineups to start the year?

“Yeah. I mean, I’m kind of used to it at this point. We’ve had a whole different team every year I’ve been here, so I’m kind of used to it at this point. Just going out there, doing your job, everybody knowing the personnel that we’re in, the scheme. As long as everyone knows the scheme and their job in the scheme and trusts that someone’s gonna have your back, regardless of who’s out there, then everything will work out.”

Does that help with chemistry?

“Yeah, for sure. Obviously, just part of basketball, you’re going to be playing with people on the court more than some others so it’s just knowing the scheme, knowing the game plan. Anybody can be out there, so as long as you know the scheme, know the game plan, everything will be fine.”

What will it be like facing Lillard?

“It’s good to play guys like that at your position because he’s elite, and you want to play so that you’re elite, too, at the guard position. That’s really the main thing. I’m just going to go out there, play my game, play within the flow of the offense, and whatever happens, happens. But obviously you always want to play against the guys like that because that’s just how basketball competitors are; You want to play against the best. That’s all it is to it.”

How is it adjusting to playing with Ben Simmons/ the benefit?

“Honestly, just more size. We started last game small, so that’s really the main thing. Just more size. Obviously, he plays the point, pushes the ball, gets everybody shots, so just run the floor when he’s in and everything’s [going to] take care of itself.”

Playing elite players/teams this week, how tough is it and how much do you look forward to it?

“It’s not tough. That’s not tough. We’ve played against these guys before. Most of the guys play against everybody all the time so it’s not tough, but it’s obviously just a good evaluation test to see where we’re at as a team, to play these top teams early, to see where we’re at, see what we need to work on and stuff. That’s really the main thing I take from it, but nah, it’s not really nothing to be worried about or nothing. We play against these guys all the time so just go out there, execute our game plan and just try to get a win, obviously.”

Dorian Finney-Smith’s contributions so far?

“For him to be playing out of position, obviously he’s been out of position at the 5, in drop coverage and all that stuff is different. Because, you know, we have a small lineup where you kind of switch everything, but you gotta remember that he is the 5 with that lineup so you gotta be, you know, still pursuing around screens, little stuff like that. That’s main thing, but it’s impressive though. I mean, he’s holding up his own at the 5, playing bigger dudes, bigger teams. He’s been fighting, I’m happy for him, and he’s going to keep on going.”

Positives from Boston game?

“I feel like our pace in the half-court, the way Boston was playing, it was, like, pulled in, pulled in a lot. So it was more like you can drive in, they’re all gonna collapse, and hit the three. So it’s really like drive-and-kicking. I think we shot like 50 threes, so that’s good a good thing. Driving and kicking, cause most of the people that are pulled in are trying to protect the rim, so that’s where we’re gonna take most of our good shots, good threes from. We just gotta keep doing it and trusting that the threes are eventually going to fall. It’s still early, but they’re gonna fall.”

How about the Nets’ rebounding efforts?

Honestly, it’s how we’re gonna play, then that’s what’s gotta happen the whole year. We all rebound, can’t leak out or nothing, so I’m gonna obviously try to take more of that forward, get down there, bang, and rebound a bit more. It’s just something I gotta do but, I mean, I’m fine with it, I like to rebound.”

And personally with his rebounding?

I’ve always been able to rebound really well. I just got out of it because I didn’t have a chance to do it. But now, I have to rebound for us to get the ball. You know, we’re playing small, and that just comes with the pros and cons of it, just, being small means everybody gotta box out, especially tonight against two tall players. We really gotta do it tonight, so that’s what we’re looking for.

How do you cover Dame?

Just his range, really. High pickup point. It’s kind of like Steph (Curry) in a sense where you gotta pick him up or he’s just gonna knock it down, especially when he gets hot. That’s with any guard in this league, but he can shoot from real deep. We just gotta keep him out of his rhythm a little bit just so he don’t get hot and start shooting those long threes.”

Is he the best contested 3-point shooter?

“I think I am honestly, but...

Second best?

“For sure. Him and Steph, they kind of go back and forth. Him and Steph for sure. He’s crazy with it though, he’s crazy for sure.”

Making bad shots?

“If he makes it, it’s a good shot, and he makes it. Obviously he’s talented, one of the all-time greats, NBA’s Top 75, so obviously he’s gonna make some shots so we can’t get discouraged. You know, he is crazy, so you can’t get discouraged when he makes a shot in your face. You just have to shake it off and get back on offense.”

How do you build off your strong start?

“Just staying consistent. Staying, playing in the flow of the offense. But the main thing is staying consistent no matter what, so that’s the main thing.”

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Now, the Hoopshype interview with Scotto:

You’ve spoken about your offseason goals of working on your body and conditioning. How have you noticed those improvements helped you?

“Mainly, most of it has been being able to take more contact, bump people off when I’m driving or getting to my pull-up jumper, and being able to finish through contact. That’s where I’m seeing it the most. I feel like I’m being more aggressive, trying to get more calls. I’m trying to think about the game a little bit more.”

How are your teammates empowering you

“They’re finding me, and it’s a credit to them for my hot start to the season. They’re letting me play my game. It’s also the other way around. I’m finding Mikal (Bridges), Dorian (Finney-Smith), Royce (O’Neale), Spencer (Dinwiddie). Anybody who’s out there with me, I’m finding them. I know when in doubt, they’re going to find me when I want the ball or if the play is for me. It’s all about trust at the end of the day.”

What do you think of the perception that you just get buckets?

“It’s part of it. I feel like I do a lot more stuff, but obviously the buckets part of it kind of overtakes everything because people just see the scoring and don’t try to look at the other parts of my game.”

You mentioned in the past about having a killer mindset. How’d you develop it?

“It started during my eighth-grade year going into ninth grade. One of my coaches, who I’m still cool with now (Donald Hand), was training me back in the day and coaching me a little bit. He instilled that killer mindset. I’ve always been a good scorer, but I didn’t have that killer mindset early on. I really got it when I was 14 or 15.”

You and Dorian both came from Virginia and played at the same AAU program, Boo Williams. What’s your relationship like with him?

“It’s a good relationship. I didn’t really start talking to him until he got on our team. We always knew of each other, and I watched him play in high school when I was younger and when he got to the league. He was watching me when I was in college and playing against each other my first year. It’s a good relationship to have with someone from the area who knows what you stand for because we both stand for the same things from our area being very competitive. We’ve been through a lot of similar stuff.”

What’s helped your growth on defense this season?

“Playing with more effort and our scheme. I feel like our scheme helps me know what’s going on with help and which players are helping defenders if I’m getting isolated. If someone else is getting isolated, I know where to be so I can help them.”

What did you specifically learn from KD and Kyrie?

“I learned a lot. I’d say they helped me with the speed of the game. They don’t let anything speed them up and have patience on offense. It’ll always come back to you, so you don’t really have to force anything. That’s the main thing. Let the game come to you because, eventually, the ball will come around to you.

When KD and Kyrie would shout you out, and you’d play against them in practice, what did that do for you? Did it help you?

“A little bit, but it’s really about getting in the game against other teams where you can evaluate yourself because practices are different from games. When I played my rookie year, and I got in for some spurts with my scoring during games, I realized I could do this. Then, there was a whole month where I played a lot of minutes in January or February, I think. That’s when I realized I could do this at a high level. Then, in my second year, the 30 and 40-point games really solidified it. Now, I want to keep building and show that this isn’t going to stop and stay as consistent as I can. The only thing that’s changed are the expectations from the outside, like the media.

How has the dynamic of the team changed with Durant and Irving gone to the collective group now?

“When you have Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, most media outlets want you to be contending for a championship, and you’ll be playing a lot of TV games. With this team, they’re not really expecting us to do much and not really contend for a championship or even the playoffs. I’d say with KD and Kyrie, we were more under a microscope, while this team is more under the radar. We’re coming up trying to prove people wrong and show that we’re really a good team and we can contend with anybody.”

How does that make you and the group feel that people aren’t expecting a lot out of you guys?

“If you’re a competitor, it’ll fire you up to prove people wrong. At the end of the day, you can’t really worry about it. You’ve just got to put your head down and work to get better as a team and show it on the court. You can only talk so much. You’ve got to show it and do it. If we do that, everything will get better in terms of getting more recognition. Winning games gets you more recognition, so that’s how we’ve got to do it.”

What’s it been like playing with a healthy Ben Simmons this season?

“It’s been good. When he pushes the ball and gets everybody involved, he’s at his best. Once that happens, the paint opens up for him to do his thing and get his floaters and shots by being aggressive. Him being healthy this year has helped our team because he’s a 6’10” point guard who can make any pass and see over the defense. Also, him being able to be himself has been good for us.”

What growth have you seen from Nic Claxton?

“He’s become more of a leader. I think he’s the longest-tenured player on our roster now. On the court, his rim protection is second to none to me. He gives you that sense of protection that if a player gets by, we have a rim protector who can clean up everything.”

Becoming a fan favorite in Brooklyn?

“I don’t see all of it, but I do see some of it. It’s good to have the support of the fans in the arena and social media that they want to see you in the game and going off. The only thing people say is, ‘You’re a walking bucket.’ They say that all the time when I walk into the arena or when I’m warming up before the game. That makes me laugh.”

Your individual goals this season?

“I want to keep playing and stay in the rotation as I keep growing. I want to be the best version of myself. Everything else will take care of itself. I’m not doing anything that I haven’t been doing. I’m just staying in the moment. I want to keep playing and be a valuable piece to the team because I feel like I can really help the team this year.”

Is this your breakout season?

“Yeah, it could be. Anytime you average 26 points a game to start the season, that’s a good thing. Last year, I was probably only averaging about 2-5 points at this same time. Then, by the end of last year, I averaged about 10 points, and now it’s 26. Obviously, it’s somewhat of a breakout, but I just want to keep building. It’s still early. As long as I can stay consistent, that’s the main thing, whether it’s 15, 20, or 30 points. I want to play a complete game, be consistent, and help my team out the best way I can.”

Goals for the team this season?

“I want us to keep getting better. I feel like we can very easily be 5-1 to start the season. Our first two games were basically one-possession games. If we got that last shot against Cleveland, and then Luka Doncic hit an amazing shot at the end of the Dallas game. Obviously, the goal is to make the playoffs and win a championship. That’s what everybody’s aspirations are. I feel like we can make the playoffs and do some damage. We have a lot of length and versatility. Our team is set up for the way that we want to play.”