Nets’ forgotten man Cam Thomas rises in post-Kyrie Irving era

Cam Thomas, Brooklyn Nets
Feb 6, 2023; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Cam Thomas (24) celebrates his three point shot against the Los Angeles Clippers during the fourth quarter at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Brooklyn Nets are frantically searching for a no. 2 scoring option behind Kevin Durant after they finally sent away disgruntled and controversial star Kyrie Irving to the Dallas Mavericks ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline.

Maybe they don’t have to look far.

Second-year guard Cam Thomas rose from the deep end of the bench these past two games without Irving.

On the day the Irving trade was made official, the 21-year-old Thomas went on another scoring rampage.

One game after torching the Washing Wizards with 44 points in a comeback win, Thomas fired a career-high 47 points against Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers as he almost willed the shorthanded Nets to another thrilling comeback Monday night at Barclays Center.

The Nets fell short, 124-116, but the 21-year-old Thomas became the second-youngest player in NBA history with consecutive 40-point games behind only LeBron James, who is set to overtake Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the league’s all-time scoring leader.

“I love to hoop, man. I love to hoop, whether it’s [with] stay ready [group]. Obviously, I want to play in a real game. Who doesn’t?” Thomas said. “Really, I just try to stay in the moment, and when I do get my opportunity I try to make the most of it because I love to hoop. I don’t want to go out there and look bad. That’s just me personally. So I just want to go out there and give my best, give my all and just play hard as I can.”

Thomas may be too young to become Durant’s Robin to his Batman. But the Nets’ most promising young player is a hooper like Durant.

“I think for young guys to go through something so they can get to the other side, there’s something to that. There’s something to not playing and putting in the work and doing it when you don’t get your results at your timing. And Cam has shown himself,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said.

“[Thomas] joked the other day that he’s the all-time leading scorer in our stay-ready group. So he put in a lot of work, and he’s getting rewarded for it, and maybe it wasn’t at the timing of others. Maybe it wasn’t even at his timing, but he’s taken advantage of it, and sometimes this is just the way it works out.”

Trailing 99-93 in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, Thomas’ smooth jam off an Edmond Sumner blocked attempt sparked a 14-0 run that rocked the Barclays Center, with the Nets surging ahead by eight with 6:20 left.

Leonard and the Clippers countered with a 7-0 run to briefly take a 108-107 lead. Then Thomas scored the Nets’ next six points to give them a 113-109 lead with 3:29 remaining.

That’s when Paul George and Leonard took over. On the other end, Thomas’ inexperience came to the fore as he missed a stepback three-point attempt and committed a traveling violation that allowed the Clippers to escape with the win.

“Kudos to the guys for believing in me to make decisions down the stretch,” said Thomas, who shot 15 of 29 from the field but had four turnovers. “I can make a little bit better decisions down the stretch, but that’s what it is. You live it. It’s part of my second game playing heavy minutes and making decisions. So, you learn, move on, and build on it. So that’s what I’m going to keep doing.”

Thomas can only grow from here. But can the Nets afford to wait, with their championship window — with Durant as the remaining star — rapidly closing?

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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