TODAY'S PAPER

As captain, Lance Thomas brings energy and defense to Knicks

Knicks forward Lance Thomas shoots against the Orlando Magic at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 3, 2017. / Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Lance Thomas doesn’t often fill up the boxscore, but he’s usually one of the Knicks’ most active players and definitely the one talking the most. He can be seen directing the defense as well as the offense when he’s on the floor.

Off the floor, Thomas is very low-key. He doesn’t like to talk about himself. Fittingly, it was another player who revealed that Thomas was voted one of the Knicks’ captains by his teammates.

“He’s a true professional, man,” said Courtney Lee, the other player the Knicks voted a captain. “He knows every play. He’s in practice doing his work early. He’s a dude that you can hold accountable and he holds everybody accountable. When he gets in, he makes the most of his opportunity, and that’s just going out there and playing hard.

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“I’ll take effort over talent anytime, man. He’s one of the soldiers in here that I like to ride with.”

Now that Carmelo Anthony is playing for the Thunder, Thomas is the longest-tenured Knick. This is his fourth year with the team. Anthony listed Thomas as one of his favorite teammates and closest friends.

Thomas rarely gets any hype because he’s not flashy or statistically productive. He’s averaging 3.8 shots and 4.2 points per game, but his value goes beyond stats. He puts his team and teammates first, which is why they talk about him with such reverence.

Earlier this week, Enes Kanter tweeted a picture of him and Thomas and wrote, “One of the best teammates I ever have in my career.” Kanter expounded on that after Wednesday night’s win over the Grizzlies.

“He just plays hard, man,” he said. “He just plays really hard. I just love his energy and everything, what he brings to the team. He just gives us so much.

“He’s always communicating with us. When we have a bad stretch, he’s always bringing us together, just talking. He’s one of the leaders on the team. That’s why we picked him as a captain.”

Thomas relishes his role on the team. The selfless Duke product feels a responsibility to impact a game in any way possible. It’s usually on the defensive end.

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“I love getting the stop,” he said. “I like taking the challenge of a guy trying to give me his best move and stopping him. That’s what gets me going in a game and it gets my teammates going. I take that challenge every night.”

With Tim Hardaway Jr. shelved with a stress injury in his left leg, Jeff Hornacek started Thomas at small forward against the Grizzlies. He played a season-high 32 minutes, scored eight points and was a plus-26 — easily the highest point differential of any Knick.

“We put him in the lineup for defense,” Hornacek said. “He only scored [eight] points, but his impact defensively, the talking, getting people going.”

Thomas hadn’t broken 30 minutes all season before Wednesday, and now it’s possible he will be a full-time starter until Hardaway returns. Hornacek said it will be based on matchups but that defense is going to be critical without Hardaway. That’s Thomas’ strength.

Even if he doesn’t start, Thomas should continue to see his minutes go up. He’s averaged 22.8 minutes in the last four games after averaging 14.1 with three DNP-CDs (did not play- coach’s decision) in the first 20.

Thomas said he won’t change how he prepares for games. “I just try to keep my approach consistent,” he said. “I’m going to warm up before the game the same way, I’m going to eat the same thing. I’m not going to play mind games with myself because I know what I bring to the team — that’s defensive intensity.

“Regardless of where I am in the lineup, that’s what I’m going to bring when my number is called.”

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