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Monday, October 18, 2010
Tyrus Thomas' time to shine?

By Tom Carpenter
Special to ESPN.com

30 Questions

Is Tyrus Thomas still a candidate to break out, or is it time to give up on him as a potential fantasy difference-maker?

Why are people like myself so enamored with the potential of Tyrus Thomas? Because we've seen glimpses of players like Josh Smith and Thomas' Charlotte Bobcats teammate Gerald Wallace in Thomas' game for brief stretches. That means he's capable of cranking out large block and steal totals while racking up some decent scoring and rebounding. The catch is that after four NBA seasons, he has failed to do it on a regular basis, much less a full season. Is this the campaign we'll finally see him break out and fulfill his large potential?

Let's take a look at some of his mouthwatering stats to see just what his potential might be. Despite averaging just 21 minutes in 25 games with the Bobcats last season, Thomas averaged 10.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 1.5 blocks. When he averaged 27 minutes during the 2008-09 season with the Chicago Bulls, he averaged 10.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.9 blocks. Those are intriguing per-minute stats, especially for fantasyheads who love a player who can crank out hustle stats.

What should really get you salivating: some of the brief stretches when he was focused, playing hard and getting starter's minutes. In a dozen February games during the 2008-09 run, Thomas averaged 32 mpg, 15.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.5 spg and 1.9 bpg. He also cranked out nearly 2.3 blocks per game in January, March and April of that season. When he returned from an injury for three games last November, Thomas averaged 30 mpg, 16.0 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 1.3 spg and 2.0 bpg.

Yes, that's all the sample size of success that we have to look at. Why is it that a baller who can pile up hustle stats at that pace hasn't permanently forced his way into the starting lineup? While he's had to deal with deep frontcourt rosters and a string of different coaches from Scotty Skiles to Jim Boylan to Vinny Del Negro to his current head Larry Brown over his four seasons, the blame falls primarily on his own shoulders.

Tyrus Thomas
Tyrus Thomas can be a dominant force on defense, but his offensive skills still need a lot of help.

His freakish physical abilities have allowed him to block shots and rebound pretty naturally, but they haven't translated into a well-rounded game that would force a coach to create playing time for him. To express this in the most obvious terms: Thomas had the worst turnover ratio among all power forwards in the NBA last season. Basically, he's played completely out of control on offense and that's something no coach can handle for long.

Despite these negative aspects, there are a number of factors going in his favor this season. First, keep in mind that despite having four seasons under his belt, Thomas is barely 24 years old, so maturity and growth could be right around the corner. Wallace had four full seasons before he broke out at 23, and while J-Smoove cranked out quality stats by the time he was only 21, as he learned to play more under control, his field goal percentage increased steadily from 42.5 percent in his second season to 50.5 percent in his sixth campaign, and his turnovers dropped from 3.2 during his third season to about 2.4 the past two campaigns. The point here is that like most young players, Thomas is far from having fully developed his game.

The other factor in his favor this season -- and maybe the most important -- is that all reports are that coach Brown really loves the kid. If you've followed Brown's coaching habits, you know that if he likes a player, he'll give the guy every opportunity to succeed. If he doesn't like a player, that player's going to live in the doghouse. So it's obviously great to have coach in his corner.

The biggest obstacle in his way right now is that Boris Diaw and Gerald Wallace are slated to start at the forward spots for the Bobs, so he's mostly likely headed for a reserve role for the start of the season. However, Diaw has been involved in all sorts of trade rumors, so a hot start by Thomas could lead to Diaw's departure. Meanwhile, Dominic McGuire is out until the end of November, so there will be more frontcourt minutes available for Thomas out of the gate.

I'm targeting him about Round 9 in most leagues, as I round out my starting lineup. He should have as much upside as anyone you could draft at that point, and he has the best chance yet to make a name for himself in fantasy. Do not give up on Thomas. If he can lay claim to starter's minutes, he could average 14 ppg, 8 rpg, 1.5 spg and 2.0 bpg with decent percentages.

Tom Carpenter is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.