Last time I checked, the object of the game was to score more than your opponent. So long as that remains the case, guys who can go out and put the ball in the hole will always have tremendous appeal, in college or the pros.
Cam Thomas, freshman at LSU, appears to be such a player. The 6'4" combo guard comes to the NBA from Oak Hill Academy, Thomas had really impressive accolades as a scorer. He led the EYBL in scoring last year (29.1 points). He's Oak Hill's all-time leading scorer, topping the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Michael Beasley, Stephen Jackson, Brandon Jennings, Jerry Stackhouse and Kevin Durant. LSU Tigers head coach Will Wade called him "the best scorer I've seen come out of high school or AAU..."
Thomas has lived up to the hype early in Baton Rouge. In his first four games, Thomas is averaging 22.3 points, shooting 40.0% from 3 on 7.5 attempts a night and is 19-23 from the free throw line. His explosion against St. Louis, leading the Tigers to score 53 second-half points while putting up 21 in the second frame himself. The Bilikens won the contest but Thomas stole the show.
Despite decent size and plenty of accolades to his name, Thomas isn't getting a great deal of draft love. SI's Jeremy Woo had him 37th in a December 8th Big Board listing. ESPN's Jonathan Givony didn't have him much higher on his preseason board at 32nd. Something isn't jiving with such a consistently prolific scorer being excluded from first-round conversation, even in a deep draft class. We decided to look briefly at his scoring acumen and see if there's something non-translatable about his scoring package that might prevent him from being an elite NBA prospect.
As a preface to the video breakdown below, we're only looking at his scoring acumen. Taking that many shots through four games gives us a sample of what Thomas is capable of at best. With only 7 assists and 7 turnovers, we know the non-scoring stuff is where he has to improve. For many, that may be what holds him back. But countless other NBA guys have made it as fairly one-dimensional scoring elites. Thomas still feels low in the conversation with his numbers and track record.
While the 40% shooting from 3 on high volume is great and noteworthy, the rest of his game is what's more appealing. Sure, everybody needs to be able to score it. Despite mundane lift and athleticism, Thomas does everything to make up for it. He's a bursty athlete in straight lines who is a sharp cutter. His last-step is always excellent, sometimes shoving defenders off to create space, always landing on balance and routinely featuring step-throughs or other unorthodox moves.
He looks the part as a mid-range scorer, too, with tough buckets and step-backs. His violent jump into his shot may dissuade some since it requires so much energy, but I think it helps deter shot blockers and, if he can be consistent with it, doesn't bother me.
Combine those thoughts with the 40% shooting and a guy who can get the flamethrower's touch once he sees a couple go down and Thomas is a really polished scorer for a freshman.
I can sympathize with a few of the concerns. He's not explosive at the rim and relies on two-foot finishes. Some see that as a poor sign, but as someone who believes vehemently in the teaching of two-foot safety in the lane, I view it as a strength. It hasn't hindered subpar vertical athletes like Josh Hart from finishing in the NBA.
He's also taking jumpers in bulk, settling for tougher shots and not getting to the rim a ton. His first step isn't super fast. It's long, though, and with a live dribble he has enough shift to play with the big boys.
Thomas is nowhere near a lock for the first-round, even by my projections (he was preseason 25th on my board, so still a fluid situation). That said, what he's done early deserves more notoriety and attention than it's getting. With more impressive outings, consistent volume and no drop in his shooting efficiency, it may not matter what other facets of Thomas' game are missing. What he does here will be enough to fall in love with.
Leave a Reply.
Adam Spinella, Head Boys Basketball Coach at Boys' Latin School (MD)