I want to write this post so badly, but in the back of my mind, I can’t shake the feeling that I’ll regret it. I can see myself, along with all of you guys, pointing and laughing at my naivete, all of us slapping our knees in chuckling delight as we reminisce on how foolish I used to be. But I’m here, and you’re here, so I’ll just come out and say it:
Tim Thomas has been awesome.
I know that better men than I have fallen for Thomas’ 3-point shooting charms. He’s a shot-maker in the purest sense, and the 3-4 flexibility he brings can be a tremendous asset. But in Dallas, there’s no disputing that he has been a tremendous asset during what could have been a very dark time. With Shawn Marion and Erick Dampier out, and Josh Howard’s return nowhere in sight, the Mavs could have been paper thin at forward. They may have leaned heavily on James Singleton or the three-guard lineup, neither of which has been terribly effective this season. Dirk Nowitzki may have logged even more minutes than the ridiculous amount he has already, which could have short-term (Dirk being tired in the fourth quarter of recent games) and long-term (Dirk being tired down the regular season stretch run and the playoffs) implications. But since returning from his post-knee surgery recovery, Thomas has averaged 17.1 minutes over seven games, and he’s done everything we’d hoped he would and done little of what we’d feared.
For one, Thomas is sticking to his role. He runs the floor (or at this point, does what he can with his bum knee), spots up when appropriate, or dives to the basket when he has an opening. But more importantly, Thomas isn’t forcing things offensively. His usage rate is at a career low 19.2%, seventh in the team hierarchy and right where you want your dead-eye shooters. But whereas Thomas’ most productive stretches in the past have come as a result of his signature role of a shoot-first-look-for-teammates-later gunslinger, he seems to be flourishing with his newfound discretion. Take a look at Thomas’ season numbers per 36 minutes in comparison to his career numbers (stats via Basketball-Reference.com):
It’s hard to get really excited over a seven game sample size, but Thomas is making shots at the highest rate of his career (.656 TS% and a .636 eFG%, both second to only Erick Dampier among Mavs), not turning the ball over much at all, staying within his game and within the system, and letting the ball come to him. Could it be that the Mavs are the team to rein in Thomas, and milk his offensive skill without bogging him down? Could it really be that Rick Carlisle is the coach to get the most out of Thomas, finding the happy medium between smothering him (a la Scott Skiles) or letting the inmate run your offense (a la D’Antoni)? Or could it really, really be that the Mavs’ offense can find Thomas enough shots to satisfy his primitive, 3-point shooting urges, while still getting him to buy into the bigger plan? These ideas sound even crazier to me than they do to you, but over Thomas’ first seven games, the evidence is there.
If this is a dream, don’t wake me. I’m not ready to watch Thomas regress to the mean, either in terms of his shooting or his emotions. If the Mavs can manage to keep Tim engaged (a tall order) and involved (an order which depends on his shooting which depends on his interest level which depends on a tall order), Thomas could be one of the Mavs’ most effective role players. I know the odds aren’t in their favor, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the Carlisle has taught another old dog a new trick.