If there is a subplot in the trade deadline drama that is the Brooklyn Nets, it’s whether Cam Thomas should get a starting slot, whether the mercurial Thomas gets more time, more opportunities.
Jacque Vaughn seems intent on having the 21-year-old guard play the microwave role off the bench. The Nets have become notoriously slow starters, going down early and staying there as they did vs. the Bulls, falling behind 11-0, then 14-5, on their way to a historically bad 44-point loss in the Windy City. It was the second 40-point loss in February. They lost by 43 to the Celtics in the last game of the Clean Sweep era back on February 1.
In Chicago, Thomas was one of only a few bright spots, scoring 22 points on 3-of-6 shooting from deep, yet another indication he’s improved his deep shooting. Thomas 3-point percentage is up to 41.5% for the season, just slightly behind Joe Harris at 41.8% and Seth Curry at 43.2%. Last season, he was at 27.0%.
Overall for the month of February, Thomas is averaging 26.1 per game, 16th in the league, buoyed by his three straight 40-point games as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant were ushered out the door. His shooting splits are an impressive 48/44/49 for the month. And he did it with only three starts, far fewer than anyone else on the list of top February scorers. Only one of the players of the month’s top 25, Anthony Edwards of the T’Wolves, is younger than Thomas, by two months.
Joe Prunty, Jason Kidd’s former assistant who’s now interim head coach in Atlanta, mentioned Thomas prominently in talking to reporters before Sunday afternoon’s game vs. the Hawks, per Brian Lewis.
“Yeah, definitely [they’re different],” Prunty said, referring to the new-look Nets. “I think when people look at them, they’re going to look at them and they’re not going to see, quote-unquote, ‘names.’ This is a dangerous team and very talented. A lot of guys that can score the ball.
“So Cam Thomas, people may not have even knew who he was, but he goes and gets 40, 40, 40 [in consecutive games]. Mikal Bridges just had a game a few games ago 40. So no, this team is [talented].”
Thomas does not lack for confidence. That’s for certain, as he recently told Marc J. Spears of the ESPN-affiliated Andscape.
“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 Spears. “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.”
The question is how much of that opportunity will he get? Vaughn likes seeing him come off the bench, as he said following the Nets win over the Heat when Thomas scored 19 points in 21 minutes. He provided the spark for Brooklyn to stay in that game until Mikal Bridges got going in the fourth.
“I think that’s an ideal picture,” Jacque Vaughn said of Thomas’ game that night. “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 still isn’t crazy about the idea. He wants the starting role as he showed in that same post-Miami game presser, looking positively sullen.
“It’s tough,” Thomas said about adjusting to his new niche. “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.”
Thomas is still a second year player, still 21 years old, and still refining his game, particularly on defense. As our Lucas Kaplan noted in his film study last week, Thomas still has a lot to learn and opponents have taken to doubling him, particularly when he’s the only ball-handler on the floor.
The read to the open man either takes him long enough to allow the defense to recover, or, more frustratingly, he doesn’t see it at all. You almost wish his turnover rate was higher, that he would take more chances trying to exploit a double-team rather than turning his back to a potential advantage, which is an unfortunate habit Thomas has right now...
In other words, the offense stalls...
This is the most necessary (and wide-spread) area of improvement for Cam Thomas, not just as it relates to his career, but for the immediate success of the Nets.
Thomas has already distanced himself from two criticisms leveled against him last season: his wanton desire to fire up from deep and his aversion to passing. He’s improved more than a bit in both areas. Bottom line, though, is this: his proficiency at getting buckets can’t be ignored, particularly when the team scored a season-low 87 points Friday night and Vaughn’s starters combined for just 34 points on 12-for-42 shooting. While Curry tallied 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting, all those points came in the fourth, well after the game was decided.
So one of the things Nets fans will be watching Sunday when the Nets take the court at State Farm Arena is whether Thomas will be out there.
- Nets may turn to Cam Thomas to ignite sputtering offense - Brian Lewis - New York Post