Lance Thomas was a revelation off the New York Knicks' bench last season. Previously known for his endless hustle on defense, Thomas showed versatility. Shooting 40 percent from deep on his way to averaging 8.2 points, the NBA journeyman proved he could be someone on which the team depended on both ends of the floor.
There was just one problem. Playing in 59 games, Thomas was forced to battle the injury bug as the season progressed. After fighting for so long to earn his keep and prove his worth, this was the first time in Thomas' career that he was regularly relied upon as a key rotation player over the course of a campaign.
Last summer, Thomas saw an opportunity to improve his offense and work on his consistency with each corner 3-pointer. Obviously, that hard work and effort paid off. This time around, Thomas put an extra focus on strength and conditioning as he enters his third year with the Knicks.
"My job was to help him focus on direction. We worked on prehabilitation stuff and movement analysis. We [focused on] anything that was limited in range of motion, like his ankles, hips, or knees," personal trainer Gabriel Blanco said. "We wanted to put him in the best position to have an injury free season."
Blanco, the owner of NSI Fitness in New York, stepped in to work with Thomas and spend considerable time with him while a Knicks trainer was out of town. Boasting a client base that includes high school and D-I collegiate athletes, as well as baseball players preparing for the draft, Blanco said it was refreshing to work with Thomas, who still has a similar hunger to get better.
"The difference in hunger between Lance, and someone who has even more to prove, is non-existent," he said. "On one hand, you expect that level of professionalism and intensity from an athlete. On the other hand, it'd be easy for someone like Lance to get comfortable after signing that contract.
"That speaks to how hard he works. There are no pre-conceived notions. When he trains, he's there to listen, learn, and to work," Blanco added, saying that working with him was easy and enjoyable. Thomas trusted the process and was open to new ideas that would help him improve.
Further discussing the type of shape Thomas is in, the trainer said, "He's a pretty lean guy. He doesn't really have to worry about weight gain because he's always training. Even before we got together, he came in and was already training 4-7 times a week."
But make no mistake: remaining as injury free as possible is one priority, but Thomas still sees room to improve the other facets of his game. Continuing to elevate his offensive abilities is an ongoing priority.
"His conditioning is up there," Blanco said. "He's taking steps forward with his shooting touch. At this point in his career, it's tough to make those changes and make strides. But he's been getting a better stroke on the ball."
Thomas is dedicated and hard working. As evidenced last season, he's well on his way to proving himself reliable and versatile on both ends of the floor. As camp continues, there's plenty of focus on whether or not Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Brandon Jennings will remain healthy. But along with Jennings, Thomas is now part of the first line of defense for a relatively unproven bench. The Knicks need him.
As Blanco notes, focusing on the intangible aspects of his game, like how he moves, works out, etc., could go a long way toward ensuring Thomas allows himself to be a durable performer this season.