The NBA Draft is officially two weeks from today and LSU freshman sensation shooting guard Cameron Thomas will surely hear his name called at some point early in the night.
Position: Shooting Guard
2020-2021 Stats: 23 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists on 41/33/88 percent shooting splits
*Not officially verified at the NBA Combine, Thomas withdrew from the combine early
Thomas came to LSU as a five-star prospect in the 2020 recruiting cycle out of basketball powerhouse Oak Hill Academy. He wasn’t just the best scorer amongst his fellow freshmen, he was one of the best scorers in all of college basketball, finishing the year fourth in points per game with 23.
He made his presence known from the jump, scoring 27 points in LSU’s season opening win over Southern Illinois Edwardsville. He would go on to have 22 more games scoring 20 or more, and scored double digit points in all but one game he played in. And for context the one game he failed to score at least 10 he played all of three minutes before leaving because of a badly rolled ankle.
His 23 points per game were the fourth most by a first-year player in LSU history trailing Pete Maravich, Bob Pettit, and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who are only three of the four faces on the LSU men’s basketball Mount Rushmore.
Thomas can fill it up better than most thanks in large part to a vast arsenal of moves he already has. Thomas has a surprising amount of strength for being so young; when determined, he can put his head down, drive to the rim at finish at a high rate, or manipulate his body to draw a foul. And when he’s at the line he’s as automatic as it gets, shooting 88 percent from the free throw line and set an LSU record with 42 consecutive makes. That’s what I loved most about Thomas’s one and only year at LSU, if his shot from the perimeter isn’t falling he has the maturity to go get his points the hard way and attack the basket. Some players would keep jacking up increasingly tougher shots from deep, but Thomas knows how to reset and manufacture points.
Outside the painted area, Thomas can also be devastating as he can score in a variety of ways. Watch here in the season opener against SIU-E how Thomas scores in four different ways: a head fake runner, a small step-back for a long two, a three of the catch and shoot, and a floater from the elbow
He’s also not someone you can give any space to work with, as he shows here against Georgia. Thomas gets a screen from Darius Days and just attacks the rim going to his left, blowing by three Georgia defenders and finishes despite the contact.
There’s no one else in the class who possesses both the range and the confidence in his shot like Thomas, as he shows here early in the SEC Tournament final against Alabama.
Shots like those three against Alabama are amazing when they go in, but maddening when they don’t. And unfortunately, Thomas missed so many more of those kinds of shots than he made which leads to teams questioning his shot selection. Our friends over at Fifth Factors Plus charted Thomas’s shots over a six game stretch against mostly quality opponents (Texas Tech, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and two against Alabama) where LSU went 2-4.
Thomas averaged 21 points a game in that stretch but needed 24 shots—plus an additional eight free throws—to get there. The knock on Thomas is he’s a ball stopper and to be fair the numbers back that up. Thomas barely averaged one assist per game at LSU
But I have a theory as to why Thomas shoots so much. I would imagine at every level of basketball he’s played in so far he’s been by far and away the best player on his team, and when you have a scorer that gifted you let him do his thing.
That won’t be the case once he gets to the NBA especially if he goes to a team like the Golden State Warriors*, who Thomas worked out with recently, or the Los Angeles Lakers, who SB Nation’s Ricky O’Donnell projected would take with the 22nd pick in the draft. And remember if he does go in that 15-20 range he’ll more than likely be going to a playoff team with a winning culture already in hand; Thomas won’t be tasked with trying to change the course of a franchise, instead he’ll be asked to elevate a team’s ceiling.
*As an aside I want to say Golden State taking Thomas would be the perfect situation for him. Imagine how much better Thomas could get learning from Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, two of the 10 best shooters of all time.
What Thomas can be for an NBA team is instant offense off the bench, like the way Los Angeles Clippers’ sixth man Lou Williams does. Williams has won three Sixth Man of the Year Awards, tying him for the most in NBA history, and just wrapped up his 16th year in the league. The NBA is changing to where being able to generate your own shot is an invaluable skill. Guys like Williams have long, fruitful careers thanks in part to being able to come into any game and immediately generate points.
That’s what Thomas does and that’s why he’ll be successful at the next level.