In what some (me, literally just me) have dubbed "Linsanity for the guys who don't pass the ball in pickup", Cam Thomas of the Brooklyn nets has taken the NBA by storm in the nights since the Kyrie Irving trade. With Durant sidelined and Irving on his way to be the Sidney Deane to Luka's Billy Hoyle in Dallas, Thomas has become must see TV at the Barclays center. He has produced 3 straight 40 point nights on somewhat remarkable efficiency leaving many who are unfamiliar with his game wondering, where has this been all year? Well, that is what I am here to attempt to explain.
First things first, Cam Thomas has been and always will be a walking bucket. The kid (I'm older than him I'm allowed to call him this) is the all time leading scorer at Oak Hill Academy, yes that Oak Hill, the school that helped develop the likes of Rod Strickland, Carmelo Anthony, and yes even Kevin Durant (for one year) amongst countless other future NBA players. After that he went on to average 23 points a game at LSU as a freshman before heading to the NBA where he won Summer League MVP, prior to the start of his rookie season. Scoring has never been Thomas' problem, the issue is everything else.
Thomas needs the ball in his hands a lot, something that we have seen born out of necessity the last few games, in order to be effective. He is not exactly keen on sharing the rock on offense, more turnovers than assists in college and almost exactly a 1:1 ratio (1.3 AST to .9 TO Per Game) since he entered the league. He also is not exactly a knock down 3 point shooter off the catch, mustering just a 32.5% rate at LSU and 27% his first year in the association. As far as defense goes, let's just say Cam has never been one to expend effort on that end that could be used for buckets.
Despite all these deficiencies in his all around game, you cannot deny what Thomas is doing right now. He is carrying a team largely held together with staples and glue to competitive games night after night. The issue is his team is not winning these games.
We see players like this appear out of nowhere to put up major numbers on losing teams more often than one would think. Michael Beasley, one of the pioneers of the walking bucket connotation, averaged 20 PPG back in 10-11 for the T Wolves, Ricky Davis got over 20 per game for the 02-03 Cavs while they were tanking for LeBron. Both those teams finished in the bottom of the league, much like the Nets will if Durant cannot return to the lineup, and those players reverted back to their middle to low-end rotational selves once their teams decided they wanted to make an attempt to win, thus rendering their skill sets useless.
Runs like this from largely unknown players should add even more appreciation to the greats of the league like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Steph Curry. They are able to put up other worldly numbers, similar to Thomas during this 3 game stretch, while also coexisting on the floor with other talented players, and contributing in others ways to winning. There are plenty of guys in the league, as Thomas is showing, that can go get you buckets if you give them enough touches. A player's true value shows when their skillset can be malleable enough to fit what their team needs when they need it to produce wins. This is something that is important to look out for come draft time. A guy like Brice Sensabaugh, like Thomas before him, has taken a power 5 conference by storm as a freshman by scoring from all angles. The problem is his team, the Ohio State Buckeyes, are in danger of missing the tournament largely because of what Sensabaugh lacks in the parts of the game that make his teammates, and his team as a whole, better. A player like this might be seem like a promising prospect but their skillsets do not add much in the wins department, especially at the beginning of their careers when offensive touches are hard to come by. For a winning team, a player in the mold of Mikal Bridges or Trevor Ariza, who may not put up the flashy numbers in college, can come in right away and impact winning without needing the ball making them extremely valuable despite what may seem like a limited skill set.
These next few weeks is where things will get interesting for Thomas. Once the All Star break comes and goes we will most likely see Durant back on the court for the Nets, and Spencer Dinwiddie will join the team sooner rather than later. The insertion of these two ball dominant talents into the lineup will cut Thomas' touches by more than half likely leaving him to either improve upon the other pieces of his game in order to make keeping his scoring prowess on the court a net positive, or return to his spot towards the end of the bench.
Will Thomas be able to coexist in a positive way for the Nets and help them make up for the loss of Kyrie the rest of the year? Or, will he end up like Davis, Beasley, and so many others before him, a bucket getting missionary traveling from tanking team to tanking team in an attempt to fill the fans with excitement and box scores with points while ultimately losing enough to get in position to acquire winning players. We will find out in the coming weeks once the Nets roster takes shape. In the meantime, let's enjoy the marvelous scoring display this kid is putting on night after night and figure the rest out later.