The Nets know Cam Thomas is a bucket. The rookie knows it, too.
But both say he’s so much more.
“His willingness to adapt to the NBA game and prioritize making reads out of pick-and-roll where he draws a crowd and gets off it; that makes the game easier for him,” coach Steve Nash said. “I’ve talked to him about it a number of times. He’s really improved at it, and the areas where he can make improvement and we’ve asked him to make improvements, he’s been very willing the last three or four weeks.
“So, big growth for him offensively and defensively by 1) having a great attitude to improve, and 2) really caring about those aspects that we’re offering for him as growth areas. He’s turned a corner there when he’s had a great attitude and has been willing to take on board some of the teachings and the things we’re asking him to do. That’s really opened things up for him and made it seem like more variety to his game and more difficult to defend.”
That openness to coaching the past month has been rewarded with rapid development. And never was that more evident than in Wednesday’s 21-point outing to beat the Knicks in the Garden.
After a five-point, 2 of 11 start through three quarters, Thomas poured in 16 in the fourth — including a dagger 3-pointer with seven seconds left. His teammates showered him with water in the victorious visitor’s locker room afterwards.
“He’s a bucket,” Seth Curry said.
But more than that. Thomas also grabbed four rebounds, played the point down the stretch and handed out a couple of assists — one to LaMarcus Aldridge, with whom he actually ran some two-man game.
“That’s the narrative that’s out there that’s trash, saying that I can’t pass,” Thomas said. “I could always pass, but it was just what my team needs. I have LaMarcus Aldridge in the midrange wide open, and they’re doubling me and leaving him open. Who’s not gonna pass it to him? He’s the No. 1 midrange shooter in the league. So that narrative needs to stop, I feel like.”
As his defense and playmaking have improved, it’s allowed him to get on the court and stay there on a veteran-laden roster.
A potential lottery pick who fell to Brooklyn at No. 27 in the 2021 NBA Draft, Thomas was the top-scoring rookie in the NBA this month and entered Thursday’s game against the Wizards averaging 17.9 points on 48.8 percent shooting in February — the best by any Nets rookie since Kenyon Martin in March 2001.
“He knows how to score early already. His growth is coming along as far as knowing how to read, when he’s doubled, when to drop it off. The toughest thing as a scorer is you always can just shoot it. Now he’s learning to take this shot, pass, this time,” said Aldridge, who noted Thomas’ self-assurance. “That’s why he has a leg up on playing well, because he already believes in himself.”
That confidence has been soaring, averaging 21.6 points, 3.9 boards, 2.9 assists and a steal in his past seven coming into Thursday. He joined Cade Cunningham and Franz Wagner as the only rookies this season — and Cliff Robinson and Bernard King as the only Nets under 21 — with 150 points in a seven-game span.
“I’ve been really proud of Cam,” Nash said. “He’s clearly turned a corner, knowing when to get off the ball, knowing it’s not about how many shots I get up but how good a shot I can get up. And he’s shown willingness and ability to pass. The more he mixes that in, the more difficult it is to read him, the more he’ll get open looks. And he’s been outstanding in trying to work toward that.
“And defensively, he cares and he’s taking steps of pride at that end of the floor that allow him to play more. I’m really proud of him trying to take on these challenges that aren’t necessarily his identity for his career so far. It’s not easy, so I’m really proud of him. He’s developing clearly on both ends of the floor.”