Lance Thomas has been a key role player for the Knicks, with his free agency impending, New York should focus on resigning him.
After several players fizzled and fell out of New York’s rotation, the Knicks have to keep the ones that continue to play well. After years of finding his place in his league, Lance Thomas has provided defense and shooting for the Knicks, making him a fine piece for the Knicks to spend money on this offseason.
In a year where the salary cap jumps to $92 million next season, the focus of the summer will be on how much money will these players receive. What’s a “fair contract” for certain player prototypes and which young, slightly proven player gets thrown $10-$20 more million expected to switch teams. The 2016 and 2017 free agency classes are going to be interesting, to say the least.
The New York Knicks are in a particular position. They have a young, potential star player, they have a veteran star player, who might get traded. Other than that, the Knicks have several positions, both in the starting lineup and the bench rotation, available.
This is both good and bad for the Knicks. Good in the fact they can go after everyone in free agency, but bad because there’s no ideal baseline on the roster, meaning they don’t have the young players with a track record to supplant the larger contracts they’ll have on the roster.
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They do have some pieces to work with. We’ve mentioned Kristaps Porzingis – the basketball unicorn, capable of shooting threes and protecting the rim. Jerian Grant is on the outside looking in as a slashing pick-and-roll point guard. After a full year to see Langston Galloway, I think the best inference for him is a solid reserve guard who can do a bit of everything – defend, shoot and provide a secondary ball-handler.
A player I would add to that list is Lance Thomas.
Thomas is a bit older than all of those guys at age 27, but in terms of NBA minutes, he’s around 4,100 minutes for his career. After bouncing around with New Orleans and Oklahoma City previously, Thomas was sent to the Knicks in the three-team trade between New York, Cleveland, and Oklahoma City, Thomas was sent to New York, where he saw playing time as a role player in New York’s tanking season.
This year, they brought him back and you saw Thomas’ game take a step forward. After attempting under 50 threes in his first two stints, Thomas is currently at 40.4% from three on 106 attempts. His 8.2 points and 2.2 rebounds this season isn’t exactly breaking the bank, but it’s fine production from someone who you had on a 10-day contract last season and for $1.6 million this season.
Offensively, Thomas is one of those players that can score the basketball without needing several possessions. Thomas is at 17.1% usage rate, which is a bit high, but that’s more because of his position on the roster as someone who gets late shot clock attempts. As a cutter, Thomas is shooting 50% from the floor this season on 30 attempts and dynamite in transition, finishing with 53.1% shooting, via NBA.com’s statistics.
Defensively, the Knicks need a guy like Thomas for the long-term. He’s someone who doesn’t get rave reviews from defensive metrics, but the Knicks have been solid since he got there. Where the league moves closer to more shooters and guards who can defend and shoot, Thomas is that, but at the forward position. Currently, Thomas is third on the Knicks in net rating at -0.6, only trailing Carmelo Anthony and Porzingis, in terms of big minutes.
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Despite the negative rating, Thomas is a defensive pivot on the Knicks. You can play him at the small forward with some solid defensive wings, or play him at power forward to filter minutes of Anthony at small forward. An example: Combine Thomas with Galloway and Anthony, the trio has a defensive rating of 99.4 and a net rating of 11.9. Place him with Galloway and Afflalo, the Knicks have a defensive rating of 97.0 and a net rating of 11.9. Afflalo and Anthony aren’t good defenders at this stage, but the combination of Thomas, a good defensive guard, and a scorer has solid results.
In an exploding cap, it’s tough to truly know his value, but if you believe Thomas could be a solid reserve off the bench who can provide value on offense and defense, then he must be retained. In a perfect world, I think the Knicks would love to sign him for something around $18 million around three years. That deal gets Thomas a massive pay increase (Thomas has made just over $2 million in his career) while locking in a solid reserve for the Knicks for the foreseeable future.
The Knicks will aim to be flashy, but putting together a solid base has always been enticing to me as a good team genuinely owns a solid eight-man rotation. Lance Thomas, after 100 solid games in a Knicks uniform, is coming up on his first payday and despite a recent knee injury that the Knicks neglected, New York should be that team to pay him a comfortable salary to bring him back for the 2016-17 season.