One man’s trash is another man’s treasure has never meant more than it does to Brooklyn Nets combo guard Cam Thomas. One day later Irving threw the Nets in the trash can and asked to be traded, he sat out because of “calf soreness,” which has become the NBA’s diagnosis for healthy players who need a night off for unspecified reasons. Instead, the Nets turned to a new bucket merchant in Thomas, whose 44 points on just 23 shots were critical in a depleted Nets team’s 125-123 comeback win over the Washington Wizards.
Unsurprisingly, Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes reported Sunday morning that the Nets will let Irving go indefinitely while they look for suitors who can put pennies on the dollar for Irving by the Feb. 9 trade deadline. Meanwhile, with Durant on the mend, Irving deteriorating on the trade block and a cylinder giving Simmons trypophobia, the Nets lineup has shots to redistribute, and Thomas is seizing the moment.
Thomas’ performance against the Wizards was a reminder of why the Nets selected the then-freshman out of LSU in the first round of the 2021 draft. Thomas’ credentials as a supernatural bucket-catcher are undeniable. As a junior in high school, he left Nike’s EYBL circuit as their Offensive Player of the Year, then led all freshmen in scoring during his freshman year at LSU.
An underrated weapon
Thomas’ confidence in his own abilities was not always matched by his position in the Nets hierarchy. Thomas has felt underutilized on the Nets in the past, going so far as to change his Instagram bio to #FreeCT after Steve Nash was fired in early November. Thomas’ infamous eyouroll at the very mention of the Nashes comments related to him looking for teammates during interviews after a summer league game was the canary in the coal mine.
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Thomas hasn’t earned a ticket off the bench yet, but a few repeats of what he did Sunday could leave the Nets with no choice. At 6-foot-4, Thomas has good size but can lose focus on defense, a problem for a team that has re-committed to defense since Vaughn took over from Nash. At one point in Saturday’s Wizards win, Vaughn had to give Thomas away defensive adjustments during a first-quarter timeout, but if he can make buckets at the prolific rate he has a penchant for showing off at times, Brooklyn may have to find a way to make it work.
Edmond Sumner kept Irving’s usual spot in the lineup with his career-high 29 points, but Thomas’ competition for Irving’s minutes is a career backup who tore his Achilles tendon just 17 months ago. Thomas’ five assists on Saturday bolstered his case for a starting role after developing a reputation as a one-dimensional, ball-dominant guard who wore himself out in search of his own shot. His 40 percent field goal percentage and 1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio during his only season at LSU supported those criticisms.
Irving’s absence is another reminder of the butterfly effect of the trade deadline. Taking away a main roster player can create room for a young player to finally spread his wings. over on wizards in the frontcourt, Deni Avdija is flourishing for the first time since being drafted ninth overall in 2020. Putting aside a terrible shooting night in the first half of Washington’s doubleheader, AvFromhe has recorded career highs in points twice since Rui Hachimura was traded to the Lakers on January 24th. The next few weeks will be packed with roster reconfigurations around the league as the annual trade deadline reset begins.
Meanwhile, Thomas has a few more games left to get more minutes before a possible trade at the deadline for Russell Westbrook fills out the backcourt rotation. Thomas called Irving his “brother” in his postgame presser, but if he gets more opportunities, he won’t mind the benefits that come from his brother’s absence.