Brooklyn Nets guard Cam Thomas drives to the basket past...

Brooklyn Nets guard Cam Thomas drives to the basket past Miami Heat guard Gabe Vincent at Barclays Center on Wednesday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

How much longer will Jacque Vaughn keep Cam Thomas out of the Nets' starting lineup?

With Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant gone, Thomas is perhaps the only player on the team who can consistently create his own shot. The problem is Thomas is so challenged defensively that Vaughn has seemed reluctant to open a game with him on the floor.

For the fifth straight game, Nic Claxton, Dorian Finney-Smith, Spencer Dinwiddie, Cam Johnson and Mikal Bridges were the Nets' starting five Sunday in Atlanta. Vaughn has used this same opening lineup since Bridges and Johnson arrived from Phoenix in the Durant trade.

The team is 1-4 during that stretch, which includes a 44-point loss in Chicago last Friday where the starting group totaled 34 points. Over that stretch, Thomas is averaging 16.8 points, which makes him the team’s second-leading scorer behind Bridges.

Considering that Thomas was one of the few positive notes in the Chicago loss — he scored a team-high 22 points in 30 minutes off the bench — there had been some thought that Vaughn would shake things up for the Atlanta game. Instead, he kept Thomas coming off the bench, where he played a vital role, scoring 11 straight points in the second quarter to make it a tight game.

Before the loss in Atlanta, Vaughn explained his thinking on staying with the same starting group.

“There’s a difference between starting and playing against other starters and who you have to guard on the other end as a starter,” Vaughn said. “I think about that piece of it. I think Dorian Finney-Smith is one of our best defenders we have on the team, so it’s pretty tough to take him out of the lineup when there’s other offensive guys he’s covering up the sins of. Nix Claxton, it’s pretty tough to take him out of the lineup.

“I don’t want to go player by player and why they are in. But the balance of having a unit out on the floor that can cover for each other and have a mix of offense and defense, that’s the goal.”

Thomas, who had a stretch earlier this month during which he scored 40-plus in three straight games, said he is happy to help the team any way he can. He does believe that his ability to attack offensively and set up his own shot is something that can make a big difference.

“For sure. I’ve [done that] on any team I’ve been on in my life,” said Thomas, who is averaging 11.3 points and 17.2 minutes in 43 games. “Especially now, we need guys like that who can help create offense for the team, playmaking for them or playmaking for myself. I feel like I bring this.”

Vaughn used Thomas in crunch time against Atlanta but took him out in the final 30 seconds when the Nets could not afford a defensive mishap. Though the Nets did lose the game on Trae Young’s last-second shot, it would have been a tough stop for any defense.

Considering that the Nets have had so much trouble at the start of games recently, they might want to tap into Thomas’ energy from the opening tip. He was asked if he feels the pressure to make something happen quickly when he is brought off the bench with the Nets down by double digits, which was the case in the last two games.

“For sure. Obviously, you’re looking to score,” he said. “You want to make something happen. Sometimes you force that shot cause you want to make something happen. But even if we get down today, stay poised and stay within the game plan and it will all work out. The game will flow our way if we keep taking great shots.”

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