Lance Thomas: The Story of a D-Leaguer Turned Crucial NBA Role Player


Between the much discussed drafting of Kristaps Porzingis, and the addition of well-known veterans such as Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez, the news that Lance Thomas had re-signed with New York on a one-year, $1.6M deal went completely and utterly under the radar.

A modest contributor on arguably the worst Knicks team in NBA history, Thomas did not exactly represent a coveted free agency capture at the time of his signing. Yet as the season has progressed, one thing has become clear: There’s a lot more to Lance Thomas than initially meets the eye.

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The former D-Leaguer has etched out a crucial rotation role with New York, and has become a major cog in a Knicks team that’s playing .500 basketball at the latest point in a season since the 2012-2013 squad that made the Eastern Conference semifinals.

After playing quality basketball all year, Thomas underwent a coming out party of sorts against the Orlando Magic last night. While the Knicks did lose 107-99, he was absolutely sensational, scoring 24 points while going a perfect 9-9 from the field.

Offensively, Thomas is currently tallying the best season of his career. The former Duke Blue Devil is averaging 8.9 points on .497% shooting, representing a reliable and efficient offensive option off the bench.

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Following extensive work on his jumper last summer – with Thomas claiming he shot 500-600 shots a day – his 3-point statistics have leaped massively. He’s sunk 25 triples on .446% shooting, by far the best numbers of his career. To put it into perspective, his previous season best was 7 treys on .318% shooting, a number he’s already tripled so far this season.

It’s not just his 3-point shooting that’s improved though. Thomas is equally capable of putting the ball on the floor, attacking the basket with unheralded tenacity. Having added 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason, the combination of newly adopted strength and wiliness in traffic make him a dangerous player off the dribble.

He’s averaging .480% shooting on shots from 3-10 feet from the rim, currently second on the Knicks among players who’ve tallied over 100 minutes on the season (Cleanthony Early is averaging 100% during 27 minutes of play). His driving and finishing may not be pretty, but it’s certainly become an effective weapon.

Defensively, Thomas has also managed register a lasting contribution. He’s more than held his own against some of the best wings in the league this season, using his muscle and frantic effort to his advantage. In an interview with Marc Berman of the New York Post, Thomas acknowledged his new and improved defensive arsenal.

"“It’s helping me defensively. My rebounding numbers don’t show it, but I’m holding off guys, allowing guards to come in and get rebounds. I feel a lot stronger on the floor without fatigue, which is something that’s amazing. It’s hard not to play the game tired. I don’t feel tired when I’m out there. I’m giving all on defense but still have something in the tank on offense and taking advantage.’’"

With opposing team’s offensive rating – an estimate of points produced per 100 possessions – being 103.3 when he’s on the court and 105.0 when’s he’s off it, his contributions on the defensive end of the floor have been evident for all to see.

Nov 29, 2015; New York, NY, USA; Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) looks to pass the ball with New York Knicks small forward Lance Thomas (42) defending during the 1st qtr of the game at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas’ effort has enabled him to develop a well-rounded style crucial to New York’s fortunes. By both improving his contributions on both ends of the court, and retaining his usual hard-nosed, intangibles based approach, he has refined his game to evolve into an ideal rotational role player.

Having played the seventh most minutes on the team so far this season, his hard work has been rewarded by Knicks coach Derek Fisher. While talking to Berman, Fisher revealed his appreciation for players in Thomas’ mold.

"“Coaches do appreciate guys who don’t appear to be as talented or have statistics that stand out the most, but do things coaches appreciate. Those are things important to me. My evaluation of performance, I’m not looking at field-goal percentage and points, but how committed are you to things that don’t stand out on the stat sheet?’’"

Next: NBA Trade Rumors: Available Stars Knicks Must Pursue

The Knicks are surpassing everyone’s expectations as of late, and productive bench players like Lance Thomas are a major reason for such an occurrence. Should he continue this rich vein of form, Thomas will likely be in line to receive a solid payday come his impending free agency this summer. The Knicks would do well to make sure that they’re the team he commits to long-term.