Brooklyn Nets: This player will benefit most from Kyrie Irving’s absence

The Brooklyn Nets had a plan for title contention that featured Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden leading the team every night with a parade of secondary gunners like Joe Harris and rookie Cam Thomas to help pick up the slack. Unfortunately, Irving stands to totally ruin that whole combination.

Irving will not be with the Nets until he gets fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (or until New York City changes its vaccination mandate), as GM Sean Marks shut down the idea of playing Irving on the road and sitting him out in home games due to NYC’s vaccination ordinance to perform indoor activities.

Most teams would be in crisis mode right now, and while the Nets are certainly looking for anyone and everyone willing to step up and make themselves known as a potential Kyrie replacement, Brooklyn can at least bank on the fact they have a bench stacked with potential replacements chomping at the bit for increased playing time.

With Harden moving back to point guard in this scenario, that leaves around 25 vacant points per game. Can anyone step up and fill that hole? The Nets will assuredly audition several players, but the one who may have the highest ceiling and could be the best short-term fix is LSU alum and No. 27 pick in Thomas.

With Harden likely at point guard, Thomas should be in line for either a starting spot or a role off the bench as the team’s premier Sixth Man. Based on what we have seen in Summer League and preseason play, he should be more than comfortable undertaking that role.

Brooklyn Nets rookie Cam Thomas should improve without Kyrie Irving.

While Thomas was fourth in the NCAA in points per game and second among qualified players in the 2021 class behind Pistons big and former Iowa star Luka Garza, Thomas fell to 27th overall because teams were concerned that he appeared to be far behind schedule as a passer and profiles as a below-average defender.

The Nets were comfortable selecting him due to his ability to score with ease, and he’s rewarding them already. Thomas has averaged 12.7 points per game on 50% shooting overall and behind the 3-point line. He isn’t just catching and shooting, either — he’s showing off a wide array of shot creation tools.

If Thomas starts, he could allow the Nets to go small by pushing Harris to the 3 spot, Durant to the 4, and either LaMarcus Aldridge or Blake Griffin to the small ball center role. A smaller lineup might move Thomas to the bench, where he’ll star alongside the likes of Patty Mills and Bruce Brown.

Either way, Thomas is in a position to get a ton of shots up, and that consistent dosage of reps is exactly what he needs at this point in his career. Thomas is not going to collect dust on the bench, and his development might be expedited without Irving in the rotation.

Thomas is never going to be someone like Tony Allen, and while he might make some subtle improvements on that end, the Nets drafted him to be a scorer. He’ll get thrown into the fire as a rookie, but that might help him given he’s surrounded by so much talent.

It takes a special player to lead the SEC in scoring by a wide margin as a freshman, and that’s exactly what Thomas did during his lone season in Baton Rouge. If that talent is properly nurtured alongside Harden, with or without Kyrie, Thomas will become a part of the long-term core in Brooklyn.