The Nets' Cam Johnson, left, and Cam Thomas.

The Nets' Cam Johnson, left, and Cam Thomas. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke, Errol Anderson

After Cam Thomas’ latest scoring binge Monday, Ben Simmons brought up one of several stats that’s come along with Thomas’ hot start to the season.

“What was the stat he had? Something compared to MJ,” Simmons asked.

Thomas scored 291 points in his first 10 NBA starts, ending with the Nets’ win in Chicago last Friday. It was the most since Michael Jordan had 273. Jordan’s first 10 starts came in his rookie season while Thomas’ first 10 were over three seasons. 

Yet it shows the rare air Thomas is flying in even before his 45-point outburst Monday. He’s the ninth player in NBA history aged 22 or younger to have at least 200 points through the first seven games of a season.

Thomas, who has four games with at least 30 points this season, entered Wednesday seventh in the league in scoring at 28.7 points per game and the youngest scorer in the top 10. Mikal Bridges called Thomas “a certified bucket” and “our best scorer” after Monday’s game. Simmons was just as effusive.

“He’s growing tremendously. He’s been great,” Simmons said.

In a league where three-point shooting is more common than ever, Thomas has thrived mostly on a diet of mid-range shots and getting into the paint. Monday was an atypical shooting night as Thomas took 16 three-pointers, four fewer than he attempted in the first four Nets games combined.

For a team that needed more shot creating besides Bridges, Thomas has been a valuable asset. Bridges acknowledged how it has allowed him breaks on offense to focus more on defense.

Coach Jacque Vaughn has often said that he has more trust in Thomas because of his growth in other areas, such as defense and rebounding.

“You saw him score from all levels on the floor, but also be able to distribute the basketball,” Vaughn said Monday. “So that's the next phase of this thing is he's going to still have attention and what he does with the attention.”

The other part of that next phase is what happens when Cam Johnson returns from his strained calf? Johnson was upgraded to doubtful before being ruled out ahead of Wednesday night’s game against the Clippers.

The team should have a formal update on Johnson’s status later this week since it’s within the 10-day window of him being re-evaluated. That begs the question of how much will the Nets keep turning to Thomas and can he keep up his scoring as a reserve?

The second question might not be a worry. When Johnson started the season opener, Thomas came off the bench and scored 36 points. So the key is finding meaningful minutes for Thomas to close out halves alongside the starters.

Imagine closing lineups with Bridges, Thomas and Johnson on the floor? Defenses would have to pick their poison, especially with Simmons running the point.

Ultimately, Thomas presents a good dilemma to have. How do you both nurture a growing player and ensure he’ll have the same impact as a reserve as he’s had while starting?

One thing is clear: Thomas’ scoring is critical for a Nets offense ranked in the top 10 in points per game and offensive rating. When Johnson returns, it’s up to Vaughn to find ways to keep Thomas on the court since his skill set is a clear matchup advantage.

“I think he can score the basketball against anyone in this league,” Vaughn said. “I think he has the confidence to do that, and we’re gonna put him in positions where he’s helping us win, whether that’s creating for himself or creating for others.”

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