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Encouraging early returns on Nets' 2021 draft

Cam Thomas is interviewed after being drafted by

Cam Thomas is interviewed after being drafted by the Brooklyn Nets during the 2021 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center on July 29, 2021. Credit: Getty Images/Arturo Holmes

Is it possible Nets general manager Sean Marks has worked his magic in the late stages of the first round of the NBA Draft yet again? If the first three games of Las Vegas Summer League play are any indication, Marks might have struck another rich vein of talent in the form of No. 27 overall pick Cam Thomas.

The 6-4 shooting guard from LSU was in the green room on draft night as one of the projected top 20 picks, but he fell to the Nets despite averaging 23.0 points per game to lead the SEC and to lead all freshmen in NCAA Division I. Maybe his borderline shooting percentage of 40.6% and 32.5% from three were taken as a warning sign, but as we have seen in Summer League play, Thomas is not a shooter, he’s a scorer.

There’s a difference. He’s shooting 41.5% overall and 31.6% from three in Summer League but is tied for fourth in scoring at 24.0 points per game on successive performances of 19 points, 22 points and 31 points. In the second game, he hit a three-pointer with 1:13 left to put a win over the Bucks out of reach, but that was nothing compared to the end of the Nets’ win over the Wizards on Thursday.

He hit a three-pointer at the end of the first overtime to force a second overtime, which then became sudden-death. Thomas then hit an awkward-looking one-legged three-pointer to win it. Prior to those two shots, he was 0-for-4 from three-point range, but coach Jordan Ott was confident putting the ball in his hands in those big spots.

"I have trusted him," Ott said after Thomas beat the Wizards. "We as an organization, and obviously, I’ve trusted him. We drafted him in the first round, and we love where he’s gone. Love his progress, love where he’s headed. It’s been great to be around him the first week and a half."

Thomas thanked Ott and his teammates for trusting him for the big shots. He said he has grown comfortable in that role over his years of AAU ball to Oak Hill Academy and then LSU. He described the three at the end of the first overtime as his trademark, "step-back, my go-to move."

Thomas described his game-winner as the sort of one-on-one move he might use to beat his man at Manhattan’s Dyckman Park. "I went to the shot that I always make and I always work on, the one-legged three," Thomas said. "As soon as it left my hands, I knew it was good."

When it went in, Thomas shouted, "I do this!" Explaining his reaction later, Thomas said, "People always want to doubt me and doubt my ability to score the ball. We were down five, and we came back to win it in double-overtime. I felt like that was a really great moment."

The Nets’ other first-round rookie, No. 29 pick Day’Ron Sharpe, and second-round pick Kessler Edwards said they have seen similar theatrics from Thomas throughout their history together.

"I feel like Cam got drafted to score the ball," Sharpe said. "You look at Cam from high school, college, everybody knows Cam’s a scorer. That’s his main trait. When he got drafted, you know that’s what he came here to do – score the ball."

Edwards echoed Sharpe’s view and added, "I feel like there’s only certain types of dudes who just have that mentality where they turn it on at clutch time when it’s time to win. He’s definitely one of those dudes, so he definitely carries us over the top at the end."

Ott acknowledged Thomas sometimes starts slowly and puts up ugly first-half numbers. But he has a knack for working his way into the game and showing up when it matters the most.

"The way he plays in the second half, ultimate gamer, young guy finds a way often. Even just getting to the free-throw line when nothing is there. It’s pretty incredible. A lot of the day (against the Wizards), it was not beautiful, but he found a way to carry us.

"You can see him step by step by step and then a big jump. Unbelievable the down-the-stretch shots he hit."

Based on the early reviews, score another draft win for Marks.

New York Sports