DALLAS — There are fans at all levels of the Nets organization who wanted to see Cam Thomas get more minutes in his first two seasons.
The gifted young guard may not give Brooklyn coach Jacque Vaughn a choice in his third.
Thomas followed a strong summer with a solid training camp and an even better regular season opener. He scored 36 points in Brooklyn’s heartbreaking 114-113 loss to Cleveland, the most in either of the NBA’s first two nights.
Before Friday’s game in Dallas, the only players who had more points this season were former teammate/mentor Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard. Of course, the 22-year-old has always been good when it comes to scoring on people.
“Yeah, huge. I mean, he’s been able to do that his whole life; he’s a scorer,” said Ben Simmons, who, like Thomas, played at LSU. “I think he’s just learning to read the game a little differently, getting into his rhythm and still making good reads.”
Oh, Thomas was paced. How much this has been a big topic of discussion.
Is it time to do more?
Thomas’ impressive game against the Cavaliers represented the most points scored in a season opener from the bench since the league began tracking starters in 1970-71.
Note the off the bench part.
Vaughn distributed his playing time sparingly, pointing out things like his lack of playmaking, questionable defense and first game iso that would have been redundant on a team with Durant and Kyrie Irving or might conflict with the egalitarian movement style of the Nets. will try to play now after their All-Stars leave.
Thomas proved he could score. He’s done nothing but play basketball all his life. He is Oak Hill’s all-time leading scorer (2,219 points), a prep powerhouse that produced Carmelo Anthony, Jerry Stackhouse and Rod Strickland.
Then he dominated the Las Vegas Summer League not once, but twice, winning the Co-MVP title and leading in scoring as a rookie, and returning to the top in points total before last season .
But once the games really counted, he was relegated to being in and out of the rotation. He had four 40-point games — including becoming the youngest player in NBA history to record 40-plus points in three consecutive games — but couldn’t get consistent playing time despite support at every level of the Nets organization.
These voices might be even louder now.
“I need it,” Mikal Bridges said. “I mean, that’s his job: to come off the bench and cause instant offense.
“Defensively, he played hard, being in the right spots, so that was an important thing for him to learn. But that’s what he’s supposed to do off the bench. He is expected to lead this bench in scoring and offense. …then teams over-help and find other guys. That’s what it’s supposed to do. He can score with the ball.
The way he’s started this season — on an offensively tough team that could use every possible score behind lead option Bridges — bodes well.
It was already certain that Brooklyn would choose Thomas’ option. It was just a coincidence that it happened the day after his big match.
The Nets exercised the fourth-year options on Thomas and backup center Day’Ron Sharpe, retaining both through 2024-25 for $4 million this season.
For many rookies, the third year is a pivotal campaign, considered crucial. Thomas got off to a good start.
“It felt good, obviously,” Thomas said after his opening night scoring outburst. “You know, obviously you want to win, but it’s good to always think about what you’re doing well. … it’s a good thing to do (in the) first game of the year. But I just have to keep building on that. It was only one match. I’m big on consistency. So I’m just going to dump this and move on to the next game.
The next match is Friday in Dallas, against old mentor Irving, who was dominated by Thomas 30-17 but came away with the victory and probably had some advice to give his former teammate.
The gifted young scorer from Brooklyn has already picked the brain of one of the game’s most accomplished scorers and is ready to put those lessons to good use if given the chance.
“Yeah, definitely my first year in training camp, he took me under his wing a little bit,” Thomas said of Irving. “But then once the season started, we really, really got going. We really became a family, me, him and K. So, you know, at the end of the day, it’s more than just basketball.
“He always supported me. When I wasn’t in the rotation, he was always talking to me. It was just a brotherly atmosphere, playing the game together. We were just always like, just like a little brother-little brother thing. So, for me, it’s more than just basketball.
For Thomas, efficiency is an issue. But in his impressive opening performance against a strong Cleveland defense, he shot 13 of 21 from the floor and 2 of 5 from 3-point range. As always, he found his way to the charity stripe, hitting eight from 11 over the line in 25 minutes.
“Everything was positive,” Thomas said before Friday’s game in Dallas. “We did a lot of good things. Obviously there was also a lot to clean up – it was the first game – but everything was positive.
He continued his red-hot shooting Friday, going 12-of-19 from the floor against the Mavs and a perfect 5-of-5 from the line.
“We just have to stick to our principles, what we learned in training camp, and continue to defend, because that’s what our team is built to do: defend. So we just have to stick to our principles and do this and everything will be fine.
Do you want to watch a match? The Nets schedule with links to purchase tickets can be found here.
The best laid plans
Brooklyn fans have been clamoring for Thomas to get more playing time. While Vaughn held everyone except Bridges under 29 minutes in the opener, Thomas logged a modest 25:08.
“If you watched that thing, he was tired after that sequence we put him in before,” Vaughn said. “So I switched to offense-defense with him and Nic (Claxton). But the way he shook my hand at the end of the match, after the period we had given him, I thought the minutes were generally where they should be.
“Probably a little more than Mikal, but other than that, that was the plan. Our guys won’t be much over 30 because we have to play extremely hard and I don’t want them to let themselves go. So I want them to be tired when I take them out of the game. That will be our goal, and let’s see if it works.
For this to work, Spencer Dinwiddie may have to play better, or Thomas may have to play more.
The veteran started as a shooter, off the ball with Simmons running the point. Dinwiddie struggled with just five points, three assists and a minus-10 rating.
For his part, Thomas admitted to being a little out of breath, but said he could have gone longer if Vaughn needed to – and that he may go longer in the future.
“I was good,” Thomas said. “Obviously it’s a bit tiring. It’s common to play as much and score as much as I did, you’re going to get tired. My wind was good. …But that doesn’t really worry me. As long as I’m on the field, contributing and helping the team as best I can, that’s all that matters to me.
New York Post