One man’s trash being another man’s treasure has never meant more than it has in regard to Brooklyn Nets combo guard Cam Thomas. One day after Irving threw the Nets into the dumpster bin and demanded a trade, he sat due to “calf soreness,” which has become the NBA’s go-to diagnosis for healthy players who need the night off for unspecified reasons. In his stead, the Nets turned to a new bucket merchant in Thomas, whose 44 points in only 23 shots were critical to 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 sideline Irving indefinitely as they scrape the bottom of the barrel for suitors who can provide pennies on the dollar for Irving by the Feb. 9 trade deadline. In the meantime, with Durant rehabbing, Irving souring on the trade block and the cylinder giving Simmons trypophobia, the Nets lineup has shots that need to be redistributed and Thomas is seizing the moment.
Thomas’ performance against the Wizards was a reminder of why the Nets drafted the then-LSU freshman in the first round of the 2021 Draft. Thomas’ credentials as a preternatural bucket-getter are undisputed. As a high school junior, he walked out of Nike’s EYBL circuit as their Offensive Player of the Year, then led all freshmen in scoring during his freshman year at LSU.
An undervalued weapon
Thomas’ confidence in his own abilities hasn’t always been matched by his position on 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 canned in early November. Thomas’ infamous eye-roll at the mere mention of Nash’s comments pertaining to him looking for teammates during a summer league postgame interview was the canary in the coal mine.
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Thomas hasn’t earned his ticket off the bench yet, but a few repeat performances of what he did on Sunday may leave the Nets without a choice. At 6-foot-4, Thomas has good size, but he can lose focus on defense, a concern for a team that’s re-committed itself to the defensive end since Vaughn took over from Nash. At one point in Saturday’s Wizards win, Vaughn had to give Thomas defensive adjustments during a first-quarter timeout, but if he can pour in buckets at the prolific rate he has the propensity to showcase on occasion, Brooklyn may have to find a way to make it work.
Edmond Sumner held down Irving’s usual spot in the lineup by posting his own career-high 29 points, but Thomas’ competition for Irving’s minutes is a career reserve who tore his Achilles tendon just 17 months ago. Thomas’ five assists on Saturday were a supplement to his case for a starting role after he developed a reputation for being a one-dimensional, ball-dominant guard who wore the leather out looking for his own shot. His 40 percent field goal percentage and 1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio during his lone season at LSU backed up those critiques.
Irving’s absence is another reminder of the trade deadline’s butterfly effects. The subtraction of a major roster piece can create an opening for a young player to finally spread his wings. Over on the Wizards’ frontcourt, Deni Avdija is flourishing for the first time since he was drafted ninth overall in 2020. Putting aside a horrendous shooting night on the first half of Washington’s back-to-back, Avdija has logged career highs in points twice since Rui Hachimura was traded to the Lakers on Jan. 24. The next few weeks are going to be rife with roster reconfigurations across the league as the annual trade deadline reset begins.
Meanwhile, Thomas has a few games left to make a push for more minutes, before a possible deadline trade for Russell Westbrook crowds 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 stem from his bro’s absence.