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2014-2015 Thunder player grades: Lance Thomas, king of effort

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Never stylish, always reliable.

I'd take Thomas over Aldrich or Stoudemire any day. I think the Knicks would, too.
I'd take Thomas over Aldrich or Stoudemire any day. I think the Knicks would, too.
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Full Name: Lance Thomas (yes, he has no middle name)

Nickname: None (yes, he has no nickname either)

Contract Status: Sent to the New York Knicks as part of the Dion Waiters trade on January 5th. Currently a free agent.

Notable Factoid: Graduated with a degree in visual art from Duke, and is reportedly quite the accomplished sketch artist. (Here's a wallpaper he made.)

Player History

Lance Thomas was born in Brooklyn, New York and spent all four years of high school in New Jersey. In his junior and senior years, Lance led St. Benedict's prep to two state titles. Thomas' success translated to an appearance as a McDonald's All-American as well as in the 2006 FIBA Americas Under 18 championship. After the conclusion of both events, Thomas attended Duke University.

Thomas would play four very eventful years for the Blue Devils, culminating in the 2010 national championship. However, Thomas was never better than 5th on his team's scoring list, and got regularly shuffled in and out of the starting lineup. The only award Thomas managed during his four year career with the Blue Devils was a spot on the ACC's All-Defensive team in his senior season. Still, Lance Thomas was a consummate team player. Thomas' shot selection was always good despite his limited offensive game, and he was a decent rebounder for his size. In fact, Thomas ranks 10th among Duke's all-time offensive rebounders. According to Duke's official website, Thomas had "the ability to be a defensive presence in the post and on the perimeter."

Unsurprisingly, Thomas went undrafted out of college in the off-season of 2011. Four year Duke grads will always have a lot of clout though, so Thomas was still able to secure a spot on the New Jersey Nets' Summer team. After that, Lance was selected in the second round of the D-League draft by the Austin Toros. In about four games for the Toros, Thomas had close to 20 point and 10 rebound averages, along with shooting over 50% from the field. He was immediately snapped up by the New Orleans Hornets for their December training camp. (Training Camp was in December due to the lockout.)

Thomas managed to grab a spot on the Hornets roster, but failed to make an impact in just 3.5 minutes of action. Thomas was waived, and he subsequently signed back with the Austin Toros. Lance's numbers were a bit more realistic this time, as he averaged about 15 points and 6 rebounds per game on over 50% shooting. Meanwhile, the Hornets were 4-21, and clearly in rebuilding mode. New Orleans decided to take another chance on Lance, and he was eventually signed for the rest of the season.

Thomas managed to stay on the Hornets for the duration of the 12-13 season, though he only played in 59 games and scored over 10 points only twice. The 2013 off-season saw the Hornets (Pelicans) invite Thomas to their Summer League team, cut him immediately afterwards, and then sign him back 6 weeks later. The Pelicans were gracious enough to keep Thomas on their roster for 7 games, but eventually waived him on November 12th.

Thomas then decided to go to China, signing with the Foshan Dralions of the CBA. Thomas' individual stats for the Dralions were great that season. Lance managed 26.1 points per game, easily his highest total since high school. 11.2 rebounds per game were nothing to sneeze at, either. However, Foshan finished at 11-23, well out of the CBA playoffs. In the Summer of 2014, Thomas played with the Bulls in the Summer League. That fall, Lance was signed to the training camp roster of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Pre-Season Expectations

Here's what I had to say about Lance Thomas after seeing him play against the Grizzlies in the Pre-Season:

Lance Thomas was a burden on the boards and gave too much space to Jon Leuer.

To be honest, I really didn't think Thomas was going to bring anything to the team. In pre-season, it was apparent that Lance's offense was limited to mid-range jumpers and baseline weak-side cuts. I haven't watched college basketball in years so I had no idea of what Thomas did there. Furthermore, Thomas's stats in New Orleans weren't exactly inspiring. Lance just seemed to me like another one of those hard worker types who managed to stay on with teams through excellent basketball IQ and a positive attitude. In all honesty, I didn't see a great reason for him to make the final roster.

Regular Season Grade: B

Boy, was I wrong. The Thunder needed Lance Thomas simply to fill out a uniform. A sudden plague of injuries forced Thomas, the 15th man, into a regular role. Thomas ended up averaging 25 minutes a game with 13 starts in 17 games of serious action. Durant's return on December 2nd against the Pelicans essentially ended up making Lance Thomas redundant. Consequently, Thomas was quickly buried on the bench. By the time Thomas was shipped to New York, everyone had already forgotten about him. Thomas certainly could have helped out OKC's defense late in the season, but it's extremely hard to fit him in lineups next to other offenseless players Andre Roberson or Steven Adams.

Still, Lance Thomas deserves a ton of credit for carving out a role for himself. Lance actually spent the first four games of the season on the bench behind Perry Jones. It would have been in the Thunder's financial interests to favor Jones, as he was signed through 2016 on a guaranteed contract. Furthermore, the Thunder had invested a late first round pick in Jones, and were eager to see a return on their value. However, Thomas managed to usurp Jones in the starting lineup on November 4th, a game before Jones would go down with a knee injury. After that, it's pretty fair to say that Thomas played about 9 games simply because he was the only small forward available. But there was a three game period from Nov 23rd-Nov 28th where Thomas split the swingman spots with Roberson, Morrow, and Lamb. Had Brooks wanted to, he could have simply usurped Thomas from the rotation by that point.

Thomas certainly wasn't a world beater, and generally he isn't even impressive. But Lance was a major part of the early-season Thunder defense. That OKC defense managed to hold high octane teams like Denver, Sacramento, and Boston to point totals well below their season averages. Heck, that defense even got the Thunder three points away from upsetting the Clippers, two points away from upsetting the Grizzlies, four points away from upsetting the Rockets, and five points away from upsetting the Warriors. If the Thunder had just one more effective scorer on any of those nights, I could be writing to you about how Lance Thomas was the forgotten man who pushed OKC to the playoffs. Sigh....

Most Memorable Game: 14 points in debut vs. Blazers

The Thunder ended up losing this game by a bunch, and I admit that it's here only because it's the only Lance Thomas Thunder highlight reel on YouTube. But I still think this is one of Lance Thomas' best moments. In that same game, Telfair went 1 of 9, Jones went 1 of 9, and Collison went 1 of 5. Thomas' 7 of 10 was actually good for second most points on the team. At a time where the Thunder as a whole were really struggling, it was really nice to see this guy who just wouldn't give up out there. By the way, those two fourth quarter buckets at the end of the reel were the Thunder's only points at all over the first 5:19 of the fourth. If Thomas hadn't scored them, the Thunder wouldn't have even had a shot at coming back late.

Also, lol @ Tirico, who mistakenly says those are Thomas' first NBA points ever. It feels like Tirico went and looked up Thomas on Wikipedia at halftime and then dropped a bunch of random Lance Thomas facts to make up for it.

Future Expectations

Lance Thomas actually managed to cement himself within the Knicks' rotation as soon as he got to New York. The Knicks lost a ton this year, but Thomas registered 6 games with 15 points or more, and 13 games with 10 points or more. Lance's shooting is even looking sustainable, at 43%. The stats don't tell the whole story, though. Thomas is facing up near the basket more, and has actually become quite adept at hitting tough close-range floaters. Lance has even taken his game out to the three point line, averaging 33% on half a shot a game. Before this season, Thomas had never even hit a three in-game.

The numbers don't stick out, and his game doesn't stick out, either. But with Phil Jackson looking to establish a complicated triangle offense and New York perhaps looking to establish a defensive identity, there could certainly be a role on the Knicks for a Duke-educated defensive specialist.

What did you think of Lance Thomas this season? Drop a comment and let us know!