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Cam Thomas is a bucket waiting to happen

Miami Heat v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Nets have had four players score 40 or more points in a game this season. That’s never happened before in NBA history. Mikal Bridges broke the 40-point barrier once, Kyrie Irving did it twice and two players, Kevin Durant and Cam Thomas did it three times. And Thomas of course did it in spectacular fashion putting up 44, 47 and 43 in three straight games over four nights with KD injured and Kyrie awaiting his exit.

“No doubt. I feel I have all the tools, the mindset, and the mentality to be one of the dominant scorers in the NBA,” Thomas told Marc J. Spears of Andscape recently. “I have the tools and the mindset, but it’s all about the opportunity. Once I get the opportunity, I’ve shown I can do that.”

And yet, the 21-year-old Thomas is not starting for the Nets but rather coming off the bench to get needed buckets. On Wednesday, before Bridges exploded in the second half, it was Thomas who provided the offensive spark for Brooklyn, ultimately scoring 19 points in 21 minutes, his 3-of-5 shooting from deep putting him above 40% for the season.

His coach likes what he’s seeing from Thomas.

“I think that’s an ideal picture,” Jacque Vaughn said of Thomas game. “For him to come off the bench and have the attention that he got, to be able to make shots for us, to be able to create for us.

“It was a little bit of a lull in our offense before he checked in, and he has the ability to create shots for us, so we really needed it tonight. I thought he was composed. I thought he used each possession and was pretty efficient with it, making the right decisions, which is growth for him.

“So definitely more so what we wanted to see.”

Thomas not so much. He arrived behind the mic post-game looking unhappy then proceeded to confirm it. After saying he’s just doing his job, Thomas admitted he is having a hard time adjusting to his new role, apparently believing his string of 40 pieces should have landed him on the court at jump ball.

“It’s tough,” Thomas said about adjusting to his new niche after shooting 6-for-11 and 3-for-5 from deep. “From doing one thing and trying to adjust to the team because that’s just what you got to do. It’s tough for sure.

“So just got to figure it out ... Coach is still trying to figure everything out, so I don’t know,” Thomas said when asked if it looks like he’ll be coming off the bench the rest of the year. “I don’t have the answer for you.”

Even Stephen A. Smith took note of the controversy...

Of course, how much of Thomas’ lack of enthusiasm is simply his now famous stoic — “ain’t shit funny” — personality. How much is impatience? As he told Spears, it’s about his serious approach to basketball, his “Mamba Mentality.”

“Most people see me when I’m not smiling,” Thomas said. “My teammates see when I’m off the floor joking and laughing. I guess it’s [a] narrative out [on] me … I feel like when I’m inside the lines or I’m on the bench, there is nothing to smile at. I’m at work. I have to take it serious. That is how I’ve been my whole life.

“Nothing is funny when I play basketball. That is why I take myself serious. I want to be perfect in everything and know what I am doing when I get out there.”

Thomas has fans among the league’s top players. Both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving took him under their wings and Devin Booker told Spears he likes what he sees.

“Really special. He’s somebody I’ve been watching since college. In the short stints that he got, the short opportunities, that is what it comes down to. Having the opportunity and taking advantage of it. I was in a similar situation where you are young and able to play through mistakes. He’s just been incredible.”

The other thing is that while some fans see a sullen 21-year-old, unhappy with his minutes, others including his coach see a young ambitious player driven by self-confidence and pride. Cam Thomas knows he’s good and he wants to prove it.

“Everybody knows I can do this,” Thomas told Spears. “But I am trying to show everybody again that I am very capable of doing this from my résumé in high school, EYBL, AAU, all of that. I am very capable of that. I had to show everyone that this is not a fluke. And I think I have been doing that.”

Said Vaughn: “I don’t ever think he got to a position where he doubted himself. For us as a group and an organization, we never doubted him.”

Thomas has exceeded where he was taken in the Draft, at No. 27, in 2021. There is no doubt of that. It’s not just the string of 40-point games that have distinguished him. In the 16 games where he has played 20 or more minutes, he’s averaging better than 22 points a game. His season log also includes a 33-point game vs. the Pacers with virtually the entire rotation resting. For the month of February, he’s averaging 26.6 points on 49/43/91 shooting.

The Chesapeake, Va. product is still learning other aspects of the game, and there have been dramatic improvements in his passing, but the name of the game is buckets and no matter you want to say about Cam Thomas, he is a bucket just waiting to happen.