Last time on Player Pinpoint, we took a look at Tyson Chandler of the Dallas Mavericks. Today, we examine the play of center Kurt Thomas, whose Chicago Bulls face the Indiana Pacers tonight at 7:00 CST.
“I’m just going to cherish these times I’m playing with him”, praised Chicago Bulls starting point guard Derrick Rose… “He has a lot of value in this league,” complimented Milwaukee Bucks General Manager John Hammond… “He’s played in the NBA Finals”, lauded longtime NBA Head Coach Scott Skiles …Upon hearing these words of acclaim, one would venture to think that they refer to a young basketball star, perhaps a high-flying shooting guard or an All-Star forward. On the contrary, however, these quotes are but a small sample of the praise being heaped upon none other than 38 year-old Bulls center Kurt Thomas.
Indeed, at a point in his career when many players his age are relegated to practice-player status, Thomas is in fact currently playing a key role for the Bulls. Impressively, not only is he starting for the team in lieu of injured pivot man Joakim Noah, but in fact, he is also putting up impressive stat lines. Earlier this month against the Indiana Pacers, for example, Thomas secured eighteen rebounds, including four on the offensive glass. A few games later, he grabbed five offensive rebounds on his way to an eleven rebound outing against the formidable Dallas Mavericks. One of his most laudable games came earlier this week against the Milwaukee Bucks, as the sixteen-year veteran scored twenty-two points, dished out five assists, and hauled down nine rebounds.
So how has Thomas managed to log such impressive numbers despite his age? Part of it is his ability to make open jump shots, a skill, which, as many have noted, ages well. As teammate Carlos Boozer said in regards to Thomas’s twenty-two point night, “He was on fire…He always proclaims how good his jump shot is, because he be having some good jump shot practices, but today he carried us”. Statistics further support the praise for Thomas, as he is currently shooting the basketball at an efficient clip of fifty-two percent, with seventy-seven percent of his shots being jump shots. Along these lines, his effectiveness is enhanced by his ability to play the two-man game effectively. As Orlando Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy bluntly put it, “Kurt’s very good in the pick-and-pop shooting the ball”.
Aside from merely being able to score, however, Thomas is also able to impact the game from a defensive perspective by utilizing his proverbial “basketball IQ” in addition to simple physicality. Consider, for instance, his play in a game against the Philadelphia 76ers in late December. Matched up against forward Elton Brand, Thomas was able to play effective man-to-man defense, and in fact used his knowledge of the game to poke the ball away twice while Brand was attempting to make a move. Owing in part to Thomas, Brand finished the game with nine fewer points than his typical fifteen, and that too on two of nine shooting. Thomas’s ability to impact the game when not directly guarding a post player is also evident.
In the words of Bulls Head Coach Tom Thibodeau, “He plays great rebounding position. He’s a great communicator”. Indeed, Thomas’s basketball smarts is a welcomed complement to his physical strength. Notes Van Gundy, “You rarely see a guy with his combination of intelligence and toughness”, indicating the fact that Thomas not only has basketball IQ, but also size and heart. Overall, his defense, a blend of strength and smarts, has been evident many times this season, most notably against the Bucks earlier the month: Playing forty-four out of a possible forty-eight minutes, he played a role in forcing opposing pivot man Andrew Bogut to just eight points on four for eleven shooting.
Even after Noah replaces him in the lineup, however, Thomas will continue to play an important role for the team — albeit in a capacity that doesn’t involve dribbling or rebounding. In other words, Thomas’s leadership is another element he brings to the table. For instance, one of the attitudes he tries to instill in his teammates is a sense of hard work and focus in their championship pursuit.
“I’ll show up as a solid veteran who is going to bring it each and every day”, said Thomas. “When the playoffs hit and everyone sees that I’m still going strong, hopefully that will push some of the younger players who might still be trying to find their niche in this league.” Indeed, simply by setting the example of a strong work ethic, Thomas figures to spark a similar desire in teammates to also play and practice with spirit and tenacity. Such a style of play will be an advantageous in the Playoffs, as hardworking, effort-expending teams have an obvious advantage over lackadaisical opponents. Another facet of Thomas’s locker room acumen is his committment to staying ready to play, regardless of whether he actually steps out on the floor or not. Skiles has noticed this, and offers high praise for Thomas’s preparedness: “ “He had some DNPs earlier and now, boom, he’s out there and he’s a factor.” Thibodeau also values this trait of his, complimenting, “ “Every time he’s been called upon, he’s been ready.”
Make no mistake, Thomas has the ability to play basketball at a high level. But ultimately, even if Thomas isn’t able (or needed) to contribute on the blacktop, it is in this area — leadership — that he can play a significant role in helping the Chicago Bulls realize their championship aspirations.