Nets guard Cam Thomas dribbles the ball against the Chicago...

Nets guard Cam Thomas dribbles the ball against the Chicago Bulls in the first half of an NBA basketball game at Barclays Center on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

ATLANTA — Earlier this season, Nets coach Steve Nash took a cautious approach with rookie Cam Thomas even though he led the Las Vegas Summer League in scoring and showed the ability to compete on the NBA level at least on the offensive end. Thomas played sparingly in only 10 of the first 17 games with much of his play taking place at mop-up time.

But over the past eight games, Thomas has played double-digit minutes in every one and has averaged 9.3 points over that span while often playing the sixth man role as the first substitute off the bench. In the Nets’ loss in Houston Wednesday, Thomas played a career-high 32-plus minutes, scoring a career-high 18 points, and he played the entire fourth quarter along with fellow rookie David Duke Jr. as the Nets cut an 11-point deficit to four points before fading in the final minutes.

Considering the slow start, Thomas has been buoyed by his recent elevation to the sixth-man role. "I mean, it’s big," he said. "But I don’t really look at it like that. I’m trying to win games. If they feel like that’s the best way, of me being the first sub, oh well.

"Of course, it’s very confidence-boosting to know that your coaches trust you as the first sub, six man. So it’s big for my confidence down the road."

Given his youthful energy, Thomas figured to play a key role off the bench against the Hawks Friday night at State Farm Arena, which marked the third game in four nights for the Nets. That was the key ingredient in the Nets’ fourth-quarter rally against the Rockets in Thomas’ view.

"We just played with more energy," he said. "We turned up our defensive pressure. We started rebounding, finishing possessions and then we got out and ran in transition.

"That’s how we got back in the game. We just found open shooters. Everybody was knocking down shots when they had to or cutting into the basket when we had to."

Nash was happy with what he saw from his young players as their playing time in the fourth quarter showed. "I think David played well," Nash said. "Cam, we need shooting and scoring out there. I think those guys earned those minutes, and we also kind of needed it. We were playing from behind. You’ve got to try and score the ball, too. Can’t catch up without scoring. Cam can score. David can score a little bit and also defend and earned a little extended run there."

Thomas said it was exciting to be on the court with Duke. "Just to see him out there after being in the G League together was just really cool, contributing in a big way," Thomas said.

Against the Rockets, Thomas was a team-worst minus-22 during his time on the court. Despite that issue, he has shown some ability to defend and has held his own against some of the better scorers he has faced in recent games. But ultimately, he is known for his scoring.

Thomas is a so-so shooter from three-point range, but he gets downhill into the paint and has displayed an athletic finishing ability with an assortment of floaters and off-balance shots.

Some have wondered if he learned any of those moves from Kyrie Irving during training camp before he left the team because he has not complied with the New York City vaccine mandate. But Thomas dismissed that notion.

"No, no, that’s my game before I got here," he said. "Of course, you see [Irving] and you ask him questions. But I always had that. That’s my game, really. I’ve been doing that since I was just a baby for real."

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