Cam Thomas grateful for Spencer Dinwiddie ‘mentoring me a little bit’
The plan for Spencer Dinwiddie, at least from his perspective, was simple. He wanted Cam Thomas to feel comfortable, to not step on his toes, to allow the Nets’ second-year guard the freedom to take — and keep taking — shots following a “big-time,” historic stretch.
That worked until Thomas needed Dinwiddie because, for the first time in a week, he couldn’t connect on a basket.
Nearly everything had gone right for Thomas during his stretch of three consecutive 40-point games. But against the Bulls on Thursday, he missed shot after shot after shot — six in a row — en route to a scoreless first half. He needed a veteran guard, like Dinwiddie, to “take pressure off me” and distract opposing defenses. That worked over the final 24 minutes, when the Nets’ new-look backcourt scored 38 of the team’s final 63 points.
“[Dinwiddie] has the potential to make all the right plays and he’s a good decision-maker,” Thomas told The Post following the Nets’ 116-105 victory over the Bulls. “So I’m just glad to have him kinda mentoring me a little bit on the court. … I feel like we played real well off each other [Thursday].”
Thomas had a feeling that this type of shooting dud would eventually unfold. His three-game burst forced defenses to pay more attention — especially after Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant were traded away — and made him the center of scouting reports. Face-guards. Double-teams. Defenders tracking him around the entire court. And the unexpected breakout meant Thomas would have to digest all of that “on the fly.”
“It’s not new to me,” Thomas said, “but at the NBA level, it’s different. These guys, they get paid to guard. They’re the best defenders in the world, so it’s all about just trying to pick your spots and just get it to the guys that get the pressure off me.”
That’s where Dinwiddie helped, in his first game back with the Nets following his acquisition from Dallas in the Irving trade. The ninth-year guard, who previously played with the Nets from 2016-21, gave his new teammate an avenue to distribute the ball when Chicago’s double-teams collapsed and Thomas’ floaters hit the rim. Dinwiddie finished with team-highs for points (25), assists (six) and steals (four).
When Thomas started to rediscover his rhythm in the third quarter — a 3-pointer from the top of the key, another make on the next possession — he stepped in and continued controlling the offense.
Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn said the way Thomas responded after his slow offensive start was “great to see.” It was a sequence of events that he couldn’t replicate any better — from the 0-for-6 start to the reset on the bench to the return, and impact, on the game — and created a scenario in which Thomas could still contribute despite the increased attention from an opponent’s defensive structure.
Thomas’ stat line of 20 points, with six rebounds, four assists and 13 free throws, demonstrated how that approach materialized.
“What I loved about it was [Thomas] did have some composure throughout the course of the night,” Vaughn said, “where second half, he figured out where to get to his spots, how to drive the basketball. So that was growth within itself because he started not making shots.”
When Thomas was on the bench in the first half, and when the Nets returned to their locker room at halftime, Vaughn told him to “just stay with it.” He didn’t want Thomas to become unfocused — not every game will have a label of perfect or efficient attached to it. Vaughn wanted Thomas to “fight through” his worst shooting percentage, in a game with more than three attempts, since Nov. 12.
It helped that the latest stage in Thomas’ budding evolution featured a new sidekick, too.
“Every night your shot’s not gonna fall,” Thomas told The Post. “It’s just the reality of basketball. It’s about what you do when your shot is not falling, and I feel like I showed that [Thursday].”