Lance Thomas has impressed the Knicks since Day 1 with his defensive effort, hustle and positive attitude. But it wasn't until last season that he came to play with a newfound aptitude to hit the 3-point shot. Realizing that he had to become more versatile on the offensive end, Thomas worked tirelessly the entire summer prior to become a better shooter from deep. In a contract year, he stepped up big time as a premiere '3 and D' guy. Making himself invaluable, Thomas cashed in on a four-year, $24 million contract as New York spent big this past summer.
It's taken the team 16 games to do so, but as the Knicks finally begin to hit their stride, Thomas, a 28-year-old journeyman who has yet to play a full 82-game season, is nowhere to be found, nursing an ankle injury over the last two weeks, having only appeared in eight total games.
While his role was valuable and tough to fill last season, Justin Holiday and Mindaugas Kuzminskas have stepped up in his absence. Holiday's career path hasn't been much different than that of Thomas'. Holiday, 27, has proven to be a lethal shooter off the bench after nearly getting cut back in training camp. The Knicks have depended on him in various crunch-time situations thus far. Holiday makes big shots, doesn't shy away on defense, and can hold his own playing alongside players from the team's starting unit. He's averaging 6.4 points on a 43/43/83 shooting statline this season.
Kuzminskas opted to finally grace the NBA stage after spending several years overseas because he felt as though it was time he could make an impact. His prowess has only come in bunches thus far, but the potential he's shown proves he had the right mindset. The swingman still has to find more consistency in his game, but serves as a threat from deep. His basketball IQ is still developing on the NBA side, but his lengthy frame gives him the flexibility to guard multiple positions.
Together, Holiday and Kuzminskas are playing well enough that it'll be difficult for Thomas to earn back his minutes upon returning. He may have been playing hurt to start the season, but nevertheless, Thomas wasn't playing as well as did last season. Playing gritty defense is one thing, but he has to make shots. The Knicks' second unit likes to run the floor. Thomas can't be a liability, especially when Holiday and Kuzminskas are developing respective rhythms.
It'll be interesting to see if Jeff Hornacek makes Thomas earn his spot all over again, or if Holiday and Kuzminskas will see their minutes cut when he comes back. Basketball is a rhythm game, and it'd be a shame to disregard what a very promising duo has done in favor of a guy in Thomas, who had been underperforming prior to his injury.