Nets fans have been clamoring on social media to see more of rookie Cam Thomas ever since the 27th overall pick out of LSU led the Las Vegas Summer League in scoring. While coach Steve Nash resisted the urge to throw Thomas into the fire early on, his role has increased recently because of injuries.
On Monday, the Nets announced Joe Harris underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone chip from his sprained left ankle. They offered no timeline for his return, but Harris’ agent, Marc Bartelstein, told ESPN his client will miss four to eight weeks.
While Patty Mills has stepped into Harris’ starting role and leads the NBA with 50.0% three-point shooting ahead of Harris’ 46.6% mark, the time is ripe for Thomas to provide bench scoring with increased playing time. "I’m going to be ready to go in and try to make an impact as best I can," Thomas said after practice on Monday.
His next opportunity was against the Knicks Tuesday night at Barclays Center. Thomas scored in double figures in recent wins at Cleveland and Boston but had only three points in a 12-minute stint in Saturday’s loss to the streaking Suns. If there is a glaring hole in his game, it’s his 2-for-19 three-point shooting, but the two threes he hit at Cleveland helped spur a comeback and his shooting from deep is bound to improve with more exposure.
"I’m getting comfortable," Thomas said of his increased playing time. "First, it went from playing like two minutes to being in a meaningful game, getting real minutes. I feel like I’m very comfortable out there, just knowing different schemes, knowing where to be on offense. I’m getting way more comfortable as I get into the rotation more."
Thomas understands the difficulty of filling some of the scoring void left by Harris. "Of course, we’re going to miss him, but it’s next man up," Thomas said. "If that’s me, I’ve got to be in the rotation and knock down those shots he usually makes and bring what I can to help the team elevate and have us in a good stretch."
Thomas did that in Cleveland, and Kevin Durant and James Harden credited him for taking advantage of all the open space he had when the Cavaliers were sending multiple defenders to them. As the leading freshman scorer in the NCAA in his one season at LSU, Thomas was used to being the focal point of the defense, so playing alongside Durant and Harden is a welcome change.
"It’s great," Thomas said. "To have the defense not keying on me — so they’re going to be keying on those guys. It just opens up for me the catch-and-shoot threes, closeouts, easier one-on-ones. It’s been great playing with those guys out there and I’ve really been enjoying it."
In particular, Thomas and Durant have developed a strong working relationship. Following practice on Monday, they were two of the last players on the court working together.
Asked about the guidance he has received from Durant, Thomas said, "It’s big. One of the greatest, just to have a relationship with him and just have that ability to talk to him, trash-talk him and have that mutual respect. He knows that I’m a good player, and I know that he’s a great player. Having that mutual respect is big. Most rookies don’t have that. Just for me to have that relationship with him, it’s big-time."
Durant and Thomas have had fun kidding each other about their one-on-one games with each insisting they are winning. "Whenever you want to play, I’m there," Thomas said.
The Nets just hope that camaraderie and combativeness carry over to games.