NBA

Cam Thomas… Mr. Summer League

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On Saturday night, Cam Thomas will likely play the last game of his Summer League career against the Celtics. It will be his ninth, four last year, five this year and in that time the 6’3” shooter has racked up some impressive stats, at least in points. Thomas is currently averaging 27.5 points in those games, a Summer League record (unless you count players who have only played one or two games.) That’s one point per match more than Damian Lillard, the former record holder.

“Cam has improved so much,” Summer League coach Adam Caporn said. “[I’m] really proud of himself, working really hard. He’s an elite scorer… and we’re going to put the ball in his hand. I know he’s really grown as a defender and he’s a guy who will make a lot of good decisions, [an] underestimated passer, willing passer.

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“I think he’s done a good job leading this group. The last two days he trained very hard, he had a good attitude. I think leadership responsibilities are the things that grow the most in the second year. He’s better, I say.

Thomas will have to grow very well this season, with so much uncertainty surrounding the team, especially the superstar duo in the squad. Depending on whether there are trades, the rotation of shooting guards remains a big question mark. And that’s assuming he won’t be traded himself. Brian Lewis reported that the Nets have received offers, including a first-round pick for Thomas, so his value is established.

Thomas himself thinks he’s getting better.

“I mean, that’s really it: the game, the defense,” Thomas said of his priorities. “I guess they want to see more 3 catch-and-shoot, so I’m working on that a lot. So I’m just going to work on whatever they want me to do. So I just want to show everything in the summer league.

“I’m not really worried about the score, the stats, [winning] MVP. I’m just worried about working on what they want me to work on, so I’m more on the field in the regular season. I’m just worried about improving myself in any way I can.

Indeed, behind the obvious goalscoring skills, there has been an improvement in his defense and game play, but to improve a bit further on D would be very noticeable. He had seven assists both on the open court and in the paint against the 76ers on Sunday, the most he’s had at least since high school.

Thomas never liked questions about his supposed lack of in-game skill. Back on Feb. 16, he showed more emotion than at any time in his rookie season when asked about it. “It’s the kind of narrative that’s out there that’s trash, saying I can’t pass,” he said. “I could always pass.”

Caporn explained that Steve Nash’s suggestion that Thomas show more in-game skills was not a requirement.

“[It’s] not a tenure: just part of every young player’s growth,” Caporn said of Thomas. “He’s really embraced his growth as a decision-maker, and I think he’s shown that.

“He is improving with every game. And did what he does by leading us into the fourth quarter and into the stretches, still scoring. I see him becoming an elite pick-and-roll player over time. I think he can find the roll, throw lob passes, see the ground and he’s so strong he holds the ball and in the lane in tight spaces. It’s a good recipe.

Playmaker or not, Thomas keeps showing he can score, score, score. In high school, he broke the all-time record at Oak Hill Academy whose alumni include Jerry Stackhouse and Carmelo Anthony. Then at LSU, he was the NCAA Division I freshman leading scorer. After his 27.0 ppg performance in Vegas last season, he played in two G League games, averaging 39.5, before taking one final trip on the Long Island Expressway to Brooklyn.

With the Nets, he proved he could also score at the NBA level. As Lewis noted, he averaged 21.4 points on 47.8 percent shooting in the last eight games before the All-Star Break, then a solid 17.9 over the nearly month-long stretch. from February 4 to March 1. and on Feb. 16, had what was perhaps the Nets’ most dramatic shot of the season, a 28-footer against the Knicks that capped a 28-point comeback he largely engineered at the Garden.

ICYM…

Thomas has always had Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in his corner. KD pushed the Nets to draft him. Thomas and KD also had a warm if chatty relationship last season. And despite Durant’s decision to ask for a trade, he still communicates with Thomas. So the 20-year-old awaits like all of us what happens next.

The other night, watching the Nets dismantle the Timberwolves, ESPN’s Monica McNutt spontaneously came up with a new nickname for the 20-year-old. “Mr. Summer League. It fits.

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