Cam Thomas of the Nets sets up a shot during the...

Cam Thomas of the Nets sets up a shot during the fourth quarter against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Everyone was talking about the dagger — the 29-foot stepback three-pointer from the top of the key that Cam Thomas hit in the final seconds of Wednesday night’s epic comeback win over the Knicks, a shot that propelled a jubilant Kevin Durant out of his seat on the bench.

Steve Nash talked about it, too, but he seemed nearly as impressed by another, much quieter play — his rookie throwing it back to LaMarcus Aldridge, who hit a mid-range jumper with a little less than a minute left to put the Nets up by three.

It isn’t that he doesn’t want Thomas to shoot – it’s his strength, and it certainly helped the Nets plenty when he went off for 16 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter Wednesday. It’s just that all the other things are a sign of Thomas’ continuing maturation and the work he’s put in to add complexity to his game.

"I think 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, I think that makes the game way easier for him," Nash said Thursday as the Nets prepared to host the Wizards in their first-half finale. "Big growth for him offensively and defensively by one, having a great attitude to improve and, two, 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 kind of take on board some of the teachings and the things that we’re asking him to do, and I think that’s really opened things up for him and made it seem like more variety to his game and more difficult to defend."

Some of that has to do with natural skill, but another factor in his growth was sitting on the bench, in the form of Durant. Both he and Kyrie Irving have taken Thomas under their tutelage, Aldridge said, and the 20-year-old guard has flourished, going into Thursday’s game having scored in double digits in seven straight games. He’s averaging 21.5 points and 3.3 assists in that span.

"He’s definitely confident, but he has to be," Aldridge said. "When you come in this league, if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will, so I think that’s why he has a leg up on playing well because he already believes in himself. He had KD and Ky in his corner, always coaching him, always talking to him, and when you have two players of that caliber coaching you up, you’re going to be confident for sure."

Thomas insisted he’s always strove to diversify his game, and took exception to the idea that he came into the NBA a fully one-dimensional player. It’s just that people are seeing it more now that he’s been thrust into prime time: an athlete who’s had to take on a bigger role as Durant, Irving, Ben Simmons and Joe Harris remain inactive, as they all were Thursday.

"That kind of the narrative that's out there, that’s trash, saying that I can't pass," he said. "I could always pass, but [it's about] what my team needs. I have LaMarcus Aldridge in the mid-range wide open, and they're doubling me and leaving him open. Who’s not gonna pass it to him? He's like the No. 1 mid-range shooter in the league. So that narrative needs to stop, I feel like. But you know, it's big for him to have trust in me to run angle pick-and-rolls, [to trust] a rookie like that to make the right decisions. I'm just happy that he had his trust in me to win us this game. I can't thank him enough for that."

But while that may be true, Thomas is still so young in his NBA career, and Nash said all his skills are coming more into focus – something that’ll no doubt be pivotal if he’s going to help shape the Nets’ future.

"It’s not just Cam getting buckets," Nash said. "He was measured in his approach. He was looking to get off it if they overplayed him and I think that’s a huge part of his development."

One the Nets hope is only getting started.

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