When a player has a place alongside LeBron James in the NBA record books, you'd think it's safe to assume he has a secure role on a team without a superstar. Yet that's not the case for Brooklyn Nets guard Cam Thomas, who tied James last season as the youngest player in league history to score 40-plus points in three consecutive games.

Following his historic scoring run amid the departures of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, Thomas could not crack Brooklyn's rotation late last year despite the team's glaring need for offensive firepower. Entering his third season, the 21-year-old's role with the Nets remains in question.

While Thomas' greatest skill is unquestionably his high-level scoring ability, head coach Jacque Vaughn said Thursday that Brooklyn isn't built to win playing isolation basketball.

“Cam does have a skill of being able to play isolation basketball and get a bucket, that's proven. I think for us as a team going forward, we’ve got to ask ourselves: Are we good enough, do we have the personnel around us, do we have the ability to play isolation basketball and win games? Those are the questions I’ve got to ask myself and present to the group,” Vaughn said. “I'm always thinking about what situations can we be in over and over again as the season goes along – not just sporadic in games – and put ourselves in a position to win. I don't think we can play isolation basketball and win basketball games on a consistent basis.”

“I think this team is built around versatility and depth, and we'll have to use all that, while also agreeing and notifying the rest of the group that there are some individuals who are going to have the basketball in their hands who have a talent. He has a talent that's going to be used on both ends of the floor, and that's what he's going to be asked to do.”

Thomas' shot profile last season did not align with a Nets coaching staff that frequently emphasized its desire to get up 40 threes per game. He attempted 53 percent of his shots from mid-range, which ranked in the 99th percentile among combo guards, per Cleaning The Glass. He shot just 41 percent on those attempts, ranking in the 34th percentile.

In addition, Thomas has never been regarded as a high-level passer. The LSU product led all freshmen in scoring during his lone college season, averaging 23.0 points on 17.2 shots per game, but just 1.4 assists. In five games as Brooklyn's lead ball handler last season, Thomas averaged 42.6 points compared to 2.4 assists. His lack of effort and understanding of principles on the defensive end also leaves much to be desired.

Cam Thomas' role with Nets in 2023-24

Cam Thomas, Jacque Vaughn, Sean Marks, Nets

Vaughn didn't mince words when pressed about Thomas' benching after his historic scoring stretch last season, indicating he would like to see the guard improve his playmaking and defense. Thomas had a different interpretation of the coaching staff's expectations last year while speaking on Monday at Media Day.

“Improvement comes with playing and just doing it a little bit more, as far as the playmaking aspect,” he said. “I feel like most of the time when I come in, they want me to score, put the ball in the hoop to provide that spark and get us going. That was really the main thing (last year). But this year, if I have a more prominent role, obviously I’m gonna add that (playmaking) because that’s something I want to do, I want to work on. And obviously playing on both ends. Those are really the main things.”

There is reason to believe Thomas can thrive in a supporting role with Brooklyn this season. He made significant strides as a three-point shooter in 2022-23, converting at a 38.3 percent clip. He also said he added 10 pounds of muscle this summer, which he hopes will help him on the defensive end.

Ben Simmons complemented Thomas' maturity at the start of training camp, indicating the third-year guard is growing in how he approaches improving his skillset.
“Since I last saw him, he’s grown tremendously, he’s matured a lot. I think he’s just understanding how to be a professional and get better,” Simmons said Tuesday. “He hasn’t had a normal start to his career in terms of everything going on…But he’s fine. He’s doing great, putting in the work every day. He’s been very consistent, so I’m happy for him, excited for him to play.”

The Nets ranked 23rd in offensive rating after trading Durant and Irving last season and will unquestionably be searching for scoring in 2023-24. Thomas' microwave scoring ability is a valuable weapon on a roster that lacks shot creation. Vaughn and his staff will be tasked with harnessing that skillset within the system they put in place for their new-look roster.

Thomas is unsure of his role with this new iteration of the Nets but once again assures he'll be ready when his number is called.

“I would hope so, but you never know,” he replied when asked if he'll have more opportunities this season. “You've just gotta stay ready at all times. Whatever the role is, if it's still the same role or if it goes up more, I'll be ready for it no matter what. I'm just gonna stay ready at all times no matter what the role is.”