As Langston Galloway’s shooting has melted into a putrid sludge, Lance Thomas has emerged as the main dude off the bench. Thomas is leading the Knicks’ bench players in minutes per game over the last 10 games, edging Galloway by a few decimal points.
I get it. Thomas has the second-highest TS% among the Knicks’ rotation players, second only to Jose Calderon. This season he’s more prolific and more accurate from three than he’s been in his entire career. He also has a solid .318 FTr.
But the size of Thomas’ role indicates how flawed the Knicks’ roster is, and shows why we should temper our expectations for a playoff appearance.
That’s because Thomas’ shooting has been pretty much his only strength. Especially for someone who stands 6’8”, Thomas is a wimpy rebounder. His individual REB% is tiny. He’s the worst rotation rebounder, even worse than Calderon. When he’s on the court, Knick opponents grab 29.4% of available offensive rebounds, a rate that would be the second-highest in the league; it’s basically like adding Andre Drummond to the enemy roster. When he’s off the court, opponents are suddenly much more middling at grabbing boards.
On defense, he’s a mixed bag. Tracking stats love Thomas: Opponents shoot 5.4% worse when he’s defending them. Defensive rating does not: According to basketball-reference.com, his mark of 110 is the worst on the team. (NBA.com, which has a different, I think more noisy calculation, gives him a more average score.) That’s likely due to how conservative Thomas is: He rarely forces turnovers or blocks shots.
The thing is, Thomas should be a good defender. I mentioned his length, but he’s also quick on his feet. Unfortunately, the Knicks are so short on good perimeter defenders, that Thomas is often matched up with the other team’s best or second-best outside scorer. On Saturday, it was Damian Lillard. That did not go well.
He had some moments, but for the most part, Lillard burned Thomas alive. In the fourth quarter, when Lillard was Thomas’ primary responsibility, he lost the Portland point guard on Mason Plumlee picks three possessions in a row. On a sideline-out-of-bounds play in the final seconds, he got stuck on a Meyers Leonard pick to allow Lillard a wide, wide open alley oop catch that would have brought Portland to within two. Luckily, Lillard missed.
Unfortunately, us Knick fans are going to have to live with Thomas’ flaws. The Knicks are a bottom-five shooting team, and Thomas can shoot. This roster offers few other solutions. I’d rather see some minutes go to developing younger players with more upside, like Jerian Grant and Derrick Williams, but Fisher is coaching to win, and even though I’m mostly burying playoff hopes deep inside, as I do with all my other hopes, I know I’d be thrilled with some postseason basketball, especially with no picks this year. So, long live Lance.