Kyrie Irving praises ex-Nets teammate Cam Thomas after torrid start

DALLAS — High-scoring Nets guard Cam Thomas continues to captivate the NBA with his torrid start to the new season, but his offensive outbursts come as no surprise to former teammate Kyrie Irving.

Thomas led the Nets with 30 points on 12-of-19 shooting in Friday’s 125-120 loss to the Mavericks, which marked the third-year guard’s first time facing Irving since the latter’s trade from Brooklyn to Dallas last winter.

“This is nothing new for me,” Irving, 31, said after the game. “I’ve been seeing it in practice for quite a while now, just getting reps with him and just telling him to stay patient and wait for his time, but also when he gets in, take advantage of the opportunity, which I feel like he’s doing.”

Thomas, 22, started for the injury-riddled Nets in Dallas after scoring 36 points off the bench in Wednesday’s season-opening loss to Cleveland. He’s now averaging 33 points per game, which ranked fifth in the NBA through Friday and nearly doubled that of the Nets’ next-highest scorer, Mikal Bridges, who is averaging 19 points.

The strong start follows a 2022-23 season in which Thomas delivered four 40-point games — including three consecutively in February — but saw his playing time dwindle during the stretch run. Thomas has struggled on defense, while his dominance as an isolation scorer doesn’t fit the style of team basketball Nets coach Jacque Vaughn wants.

But Thomas played at least 25 minutes in both of Brooklyn’s first two games, and he was part of the defensive rotation that limited Irving to 17 points on 6-of-17 shooting Friday.

“If you look at some of the games that he had last year, it makes you wonder, ‘Why isn’t he playing more? Why isn’t his role a little bigger?’ But that’s for Brooklyn to figure out,” Irving said. “He’s still a young player, developing. Still has to play both sides of the ball. He still has to continue to improve, and in order to be a winning player, you also have to be selfless in your approach.”

Thomas credits Irving for mentoring him when he entered the league as a first-round pick in 2021. Both players describe their relationship as a brotherhood, which Thomas reiterated after reconnecting with Irving after Friday’s game.

“It was just kind of like a big brother being proud of his little bro, just doing what I’m doing these first two games,” Thomas said. “Obviously, I’d rather have the wins, but he was just telling me that he’s proud of me and how I’ve been playing. It means a lot, honestly, because we go way back.”

Irving’s praise came a day after he mentioned Thomas supported him as he dealt with turmoil in Brooklyn. Irving missed much of the 2021-22 season after declining to meet New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate and was suspended eight games last year after tweeting a link to a documentary that critics slammed as anti-Semitic.

“He was in the trenches with me, so he understands what it’s like to kind of be at the bottom, mentally, and work your way back up,” Irving added Friday. “For him, wish him nothing but the best.”