Nets guard Cam Thomas looks on against the Washington Wizards...

Nets guard Cam Thomas looks on against the Washington Wizards in the second half of an NBA basketball game at Barclays Center on Friday, Dec. 8, 2023. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Cam Thomas’ return brought excitement for fans who missed the high-scoring guard. Thomas himself was thrilled after missing 10 games with a sprained ankle.

In four games back, though, he’s found himself in a shooting slump. Thomas had two games with at least 20 points but he’s shooting 38.4%. Over the last three games, that percentage has dropped to 32.4%.

For comparison, Thomas shot 47.9% in his first eight games when he averaged a team-high 26.9 points. As great as he is scoring the ball, he was doing it efficiently, especially on two-point field goals.

Call it part of Thomas’ education. Teams are better prepared for him and he’s facing more double teams and being blitzed more on pick-and-rolls. As good as he is making tough shots, those shots are getting tougher with more defenders around.

“It’s different now because it’s a key factor for different teams,” Thomas said of the extra attention. “When I used to do it, it was just like, oh, surprise he’s cooking. Now it’s part of their game plan so now I got to figure it out.”

At one point during the Nets’ win over the Hawks Wednesday, coach Jacque Vaughn sat next to Thomas after being pulled from the game. Instead of letting him stew through a tough night, Vaughn remarked how this was good for him.

Thomas finished the game 3-for-10 shooting and had almost as many points (six) as turnovers (five). Vaughn’s point, though, was if teams are treating him like they would Mikal Bridges or other leading scorers around the league, it’s a sign of respect for the third-year guard.

Now Thomas must learn more about how to adjust and impact games besides scoring. It's something he had begun to do before he got hurt.

“That's just growth for him,” Vaughn said. “Like, do your part as a teammate and it's more than scoring and he realizes that, whether that's on the defensive end, whether that's making the right play.”

Against the Magic, Thomas had seven rebounds and five assists, both season-highs, despite shooting just 7-for-23. On Friday, he added four assists to 17 points on 7-for-19 shooting.

Thomas is no stranger to highs and lows. Last season, he went from scoring 40 points in three consecutive games to losing minutes and being out of the rotation. That won’t happen now as the Nets (12-9) need his scoring, especially with Lonnie Walker out for this upcoming five-game road trip.

But Thomas has also improved this season in non-scoring parts of his game He’s understanding how it’ll make him a more well-rounded player as well as a better scorer.

"I’m only in my third year, my first year actually playing and being a part of a scouting report of the other team,” Thomas said. “I’m ready for it. Just got to look at the film, get used to everything they’re gonna try to throw at me.”

Dinwiddie embraces Father Time

Earlier this week, Spencer Dinwiddie posted a picture of himself on Instagram with a caption of “Sage Mode: Wisdom of Age.”

He made the comment at shootaround Monday after being asked if he’s a smarter player at 30 years old than earlier in his career. Of course, Dinwiddie answered thoughtfully before joking that he’ll be headed to the old folks’ home soon.

“Anything in life, if you're dedicated to it and open and humble enough for it, then you learn and you evolve with every experience,” he said. “It's kind of like a little baby computer. It's going to take in information and we're going to try to continue to learn and grow. Just a wisdom of age, right?”

As the Nets’ oldest player, Dinwiddie often jokes about being the grizzled veteran. But there’s no joke how productive this phase of his second stint in Brooklyn has been.

His stats are modest at 14.6 points and 6.3 assists while shooting 39.7%. The advanced stats, however, show he has the highest plus/minus on the team as the Nets outscored opponents by 120 points with him on the court. Dinwiddie’s 154 second-half points are also second behind Bridges.

With Dinwiddie’s contract expiring after this season, the Nets will have a decision to make on his future. It gets harder knowing Nic Claxton and perhaps Thomas are greater priorities to re-sign.

But for now, Dinwiddie is proving his value beyond the raw numbers. The 10-year veteran isn’t going quietly into the twilight of his career.

Road trip ahead

The Nets leave Sunday for a five-game road trip that begins Monday against the Sacramento Kings. It’ll also remind them of how difficult the first 10 games of the season were.

The first three games - at the Kings, Phoenix Suns and defending champion Denver Nuggets - are against teams with winning records. They’ll also face Golden State, which is still formidable but struggling to close games, and the Utah Jazz.

The Nets are 5-7 against teams at .500 or better. Throw in the Suns and Nuggets are part of a back-to-back and it gets no easier.

The Nets still are looking for a statement win besides their two wins over the Magic. They’ll have chances this trip but Bridges has a different, more feasible goal in mind.

“Just don't come back less than .500, that's how I feel,” Bridges said. “Obviously, I want to win every single game, but that's just a mindset . . . just don’t come back under .500.”

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months