(Photo: CCS Pictures)
Eyebrows were raised when the Brooklyn Nets selected Cameron Thomas in last month’s NBA Draft. At the 27th pick, the Nets were expected to either trade the draft pick or draft a role player who would easily fit into an already loaded roster featuring Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.
Instead, the Nets doubled down on offense by selecting Thomas, a high-volume scorer who netted 23 points per game during his lone season at LSU. To some, the move was surprising given the lack of a need for a scorer. To others, it was viewed as insurance for potential injuries to the aforementioned star trio.
But there is a third option.
This was an organization refusing to leave this talented a player on the board, decidedly going against conventional wisdom of fit and “logical acquisitions”. It flat-out did not matter if Thomas’ key skill was already well-established on the roster. He was too good a prospect. Too intriguing to pass up.
And during NBA Summer League, he’s giving all of us a friendly reminder.
The point-per-minute man
Over the course of four games, Thomas has led the entire league in scoring, averaging 27 points per outing. Not only is that impressive in and of itself, especially for a rookie, but when you consider he’s playing just 28.8 minutes per game, it becomes mesmerizing.
So how is the 19-year-old doing it?
It’s no secret that one of Thomas’ primary strengths is getting to the free throw line. During last season at LSU, he attempted 7.6 free throws per game, a significant number at the collegiate level. That number has increased to 9.8 nightly free throw attempts, which he’s converting at a 84.6% clip.
Thomas has achieved this by adapting to playing against bigger and better players during Summer League. He’s relentlessly attacking the basket off the dribble, absorbing contact from bigger players and forcing the referees to make a call.
Worth noting is that he’s also very advanced at drawing fouls on the perimeter which is something to keep track of for the future.
This is where you might think “Well, hold up. If he’s that good at getting to the line, can’t teams just pack the paint and force him to take jump shots?”
They can, and they’ve tried, but that’s where Thomas’ ability to hit pull-up shots is absolute murder on defenses. During Summer League, Thomas has taken 6.3 three-pointers per game, hitting 36% of them. He can dribble himself into three-point shots, as well as use screens to get himself to the mid-range area, where he will pop jumpers over outstretched defenders. He is literally asking teams to pick their poison when it comes to what type of shots they’re willing to sacrifice.
What’s next for Thomas?
At just 19, Thomas is far from a finished product. He’ll need to spend time improving as a passer and overall ball-handler, especially as he’ll soon make the leap from Summer League to proper NBA competition.
However, it’s vital that Thomas maintains his primarily skill-set, and even builds on it. His scoring, if further developed and given the right role, could end up turning him into a high-volume scorer at the NBA level.
At 6’4 he’s big enough to consistently get his own shot, and as he sharpens his jump shot, tightens his handle and evolves as a playmaker, he could become a devastating offensive player.
There’s no point for Thomas in deviating from his core set of skills that made him a first-round pick in the first place. Instead, it’s about adjusting them to a league that’s bigger, quicker and, well, better. So far in Summer League, he’s been up to the challenge and put up better numbers than most would have anticipated. This should bring him into training camp on a high note, which always makes a drastic difference for young players.