Thomas is forcing himself into a bigger role.
The last month for the Brooklyn Nets has been a rollercoaster with way more valleys than peaks. Between Kevin Durant’s injury, Kyrie’s part-time status, and James Harden’s lack of desire to be in Brooklyn, the Nets were a news cycle’s dream.
Not to mention an 11-game losing streak that had Nets fans experiencing war flashbacks from the late New Jersey days.
It’s nearly impossible to find any sliver of hope or bright spot during such a tumultuous time and yet one appeared in the form of a 6’4 guard from Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan.
Despite all the internal turmoil, Cam Thomas has taken his newfound opportunity and ran with it as his offensive surge has been a beacon of hope during an otherwise dark time.
Coming out of college the narrative around Cam Thomas was that he was an absolute bucket. I mean it makes sense seeing as how he led all freshmen in scoring at 23 points per game. This scoring machine didn’t just awaken in college either.
Thomas is the all-time leading scorer at Oak Hill Academy.
Yes, the same Oak Hill Academy that guys like Rajon Rondo, Carmelo Anthony, and oh yeah, Kevin Durant played for.
Early on it was apparent that Cam possessed a unique skill for putting the ball in the basket. What makes him so lethal is that he can score the ball from any and every angle. Rarely is Thomas completely squared up when shooting but when the ball goes in who can really complain.
The rookie gets his buckets in a variety of ways. Tough contested step-backs, pull-up jumpers, turnaround fades, and a dazzling assortment of runners and floaters. It’s fair to say Cam has the third-largest bag on the team and might have the deepest bag out of his entire draft class.
NASTY stepback from Cam ?
— Nets Videos (@SNYNets) January 27, 2022
When the ball touches Cam’s hands, good things usually happen. According to nbastats, Thomas is second on the team in points per touch (0.384) since the start of the new year.
The only player he’s trailing in that category is Kevin Durant (0.420). Cam is also first on the team in points per paint touch (1.714) ahead of Durant and Kyrie Irving who are second and third respectively in that category.
Since January 10 Cam has eclipsed 20 points in a game eight times. He’s been especially potent scoring the ball as of late though, dropping 20 or more points in four of his last six games. This includes a career-high 30 points in Brooklyn’s blowout loss to the Jazz on February 4.
The midrange area is where Thomas has especially thrived. On the year he’s shooting a blistering 60.82 percent from the short midrange according to pbpstats. From January 1 through February 15 Cam is second on the team in midrange shooting (58.3 percent) per nbastats not including Seth Curry and Paul Millsap. Cam also ranks eighth in the NBA in percentage of points from the mid-range at 25.5 percent.
When you’re on a top 10 list that includes names such as Chris Paul, DeMar DeRozan, and Kevin Durant you know you’re doing something right.
Cam Thomas: Born to Score pic.twitter.com/jvdZDKj87t
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) January 17, 2022
Watching Cam in isolation stirs up similar feelings as to when Kyrie or Durant get the ball with their defender on an island. You’re on the edge of your seat anticipating something special to happen.
Even though Cam doesn’t possess the dribbling wizardry of a Kyrie or something patented like Durant’s hang dribble, he instead takes something out of his tool bag to get to his spot and deliver.
Thomas is rarely sped up and even when it appears a defender has gotten him off his spot, Thomas just rises up with his surprising elevation, sinks the shot, and jogs back down the floor with nary an emotion across his face.
Improved 3pt shooting
One of the big knocks against Cam this season has been his three-point shooting or lack thereof. As smooth as his offensive game was inside the arc, that’s how abhorrent it was beyond it. At one point in December, he was shooting a measly seven percent (2-for-26) on above the break threes.
Part of his struggles could also be just poor fits with certain personnel. James Harden-led offenses usually thrive due to a plethora of spacing on the floor which allows The Beard to operate freely.
And, if you send help, he dishes it to a shooter spotting up either in the corner or wing. It’s fair to say Cam Thomas isn’t a spot-up shooter. Which is fine. The strength of Cam’s game comes from the unique creation he formulates with the ball in his hands.
If you track it month by month, however, the shooting has gotten progressively better. In November he shot 19 percent, 26.5 percent in December, and 28.3 percent in January.
February however has seen the biggest leap in terms of three-point efficiency for the youngster. Over his last 10 games, Cam is shooting the deep ball to a clip of 36.6 percent (15-for-41). Recently against the Wizards, he tied his career-high in threes made in a game with four.
The beauty of Thomas’ improved shooting has been the confidence he has in letting them fly. There doesn’t seem to be the hesitancy that reared its head early on throughout the season.
Under a minute remaining on TNT pic.twitter.com/GjnUkgM9Fq
— NBA (@NBA) February 11, 2022
His threes have come at some big moments too. In said game against the Wizards, Thomas hit a three late while also being fouled thus resulting in a 4-point play that brought Brooklyn to within one possession.
During the Nets’ furious fourth quarter comeback effort against the Heat Cam raced down the court and hit Kyle Lowry with a nasty step back, cashing a three to pull Brooklyn within one.
ROOK IS NOT AFRAID pic.twitter.com/fDnSmYnuGU
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) February 13, 2022
As mentioned with his three-point shot, Cam’s confidence, in general, has grown since the start of the season. It’s something that you can see teammates like Kevin Durant, instilling into him game in and game out. Where before Cam may have seen a flashing yellow light or Yield sign, he now sees a solid green light. That confidence has also led to a more aggressive Thomas as well.
In the month of February Cam has averaged 3.8 FT attempts per game which is a significant increase from the 1.4 attempts he averaged in January. He’s not just relying on his perimeter and mid-range shooting and instead incorporating his strong lower body to drive to the lane and create contact. This increased confidence could also be as simple as “who else is going to do it?”.
Cam Thomas has 21!
— Nets Videos (@SNYNets) January 27, 2022
With Durant sidelined, Harden fixated on greener pastures and a slew of injuries, which leaves Cam as the only true shot-creator next to Kyrie. Sometimes the sheer necessity of a situation can birth something great which is what we’ve seen from Cam over this extended stretch
Where the Cam Thomas experience goes from here is a good question. With Brooklyn’s roster devoid of star power over the past few weeks the door was open for Cam to spread his wings. However, the newly acquired players from Philadelphia now mean three more rotational pieces ahead of him. Not to mention the buyout market and ever-changing landscape of the Kyrie-NYC mandates situation. And oh yeah, the return of Kevin Durant and eventually Joe Harris.
As the Nets hit the homestretch of the season and work themselves through the playoffs, Cam’s youth will be replaced by more veteran and experienced players. It would be a shock if Thomas is seeing burn in the playoffs unless the dreaded injury bug hits Brooklyn again.
Still, Cam Thomas did something that is very hard to do. He made sitting through an 11-game losing streak bearable. The sky is the limit for this kid who has shown he has the makings to be a true scoring threat for years to come.