LAS VEGAS — The Nets have told Cam Thomas to level up his passing.
He responded with his best assist game since high school — at least — with seven assists to lead the Nets to a 91-84 summer league victory over Philadelphia on Sunday.
“Yeah, I just want to come on here and show that [I] could do it,” Thomas said. “It’s what they see, and whatever they see how good I am at it. I think I’m really good at it. But there’s always something.”
Thomas’ career-high in the NBA is four assists, as was his best at LSU. When asked afterward if it was his all-time best, he shrugged, “I don’t know. I don’t keep track of that.”
All-time best or no, it was auspicious. Thomas has shown he can score, leading the summer league in scoring last year to earn co-MVP honors. And on Sunday against Philadelphia, he had 26 points, three rebounds and two steals.
“With him as great of a scorer as he is, he’s using that as his go-to — using his aggression to create the plays for him,” David Duke Jr. said. “He has great instincts. Being a good scorer just makes it that much easier to be a passer, because everyone’s going to load up on you. He understands that for sure, you can see it game by game.”
The passing was the most auspicious sign. Nets head coach Steve Nash had told NBATV he was looking to see Thomas improve his playmaking, and if it wasn’t quite an organizational mandate, it was taken to heart.
“Not a mandate: Just part of every young player’s growth. Cam is an elite scorer. He’s really bought into his growth as a decision-maker, and he showed that,” Nets summer league coach Adam Caporn said. “Showed it last game, too, but reflected in the game and he’s getting better every game.
“And did what he does in terms of leading us in the fourth quarter and in stretches, still scoring. I see him being an elite pick-and-roll player as time goes on. He can find the roll, throw lob passes, see the floor and is so strong holding on the ball and in the key lane in tight spaces. That’s a good recipe.”
And even though Thomas’ jumper wasn’t falling — going just 5-for-17 from the floor — he played aggressively, getting into the lane to either earn trips to the foul line or create for others. The second-year guard went a perfect 15-for-15 from the free-throw line, and took over late when the Nets needed it.
Thomas had an encouraging sequence when he scored a three-point play, then drove and found Kessler Edwards for a 3-pointer, and ended it by hitting a midrange jumper.
“Just improving on what I can, really just improve on what they want to work on in the offseason,” Thomas said. “I got MVP last year so that’s not a goal or anything. If I happen to get it this year, it’d be a blessing. But I’m not really worried about the scoring, stats, MVP. I’m just worried about working on what they want me to work on so I get on the floor more in the regular season.”
That includes his playmaking, spot-up shooting, defense and even leadership. The irony is Thomas — just 20 — has 23-year-old rookies like Alondes Williams looking to him for advice.
“It’s crazy when you look at it. A few weeks ago, I thought about that because Day’Ron [Sharpe] was like, ‘We’re still the youngest on the team’ and I was like, ‘Man, you are right. We are still the youngest on the team, even though we’ve got more NBA experience.’ So just for them to look at me like that, I don’t take that for granted, because they don’t have to listen to me. I’m younger.
“I do [have] more NBA experience, so they should listen and I’ll help any way I can. So I’m happy to help.”