With little to no lingering effects of the orbital and plantar fasciitis injuries he's battled this season, Lance Thomas is finally playing at the level the Knicks knew he was capable of. Averaging 10.8 points on 58% shooting and 5.5 rebounds over his last four games, the forward is simply making the right plays that help New York on both ends of the floor. They've gone 2-2, with one of those losses being a last second heartbreaker to Toronto. The team is playing at an elevated level and Thomas has been a big part of that.
After a dismal campaign to this point, suddenly making a playoff push (being 4 games out with 21 left) still doesn't seem so much out of the realm of possibility. Carmelo Anthony is playing at a high level, Kristaps Porzingis has returned from injury, Thomas is filling his role, and Joakim Noah's season-ending injury may prove to be a blessing in disguise because it allows other players to be given deserved opportunities. Thomas is included in that conversation, especially because the Knicks had settled into a comfortable rotation with him on the sidelines. Noah's absence should continue to open things up.
Everyone wants to win. Just about every player has the hunger to compete. Unfortunately, fighting tooth and nail to break in to the postseason as an eighth seed (only to get swept right out) isn't what's best for the long term future of the franchise. Coincidentally so, keeping Thomas past this year might not be, either.
At 28 years old, Thomas is a well respected journeyman who provides a veteran presence that is unmatched by most around the league. There's no doubt he's a special player. Unfortunately, his respective efforts may be better suited on a team with an immediate contending future.
Last summer, the Knicks rewarded Thomas for his two seasons of loyalty with a four year, $27 million contract. Amidst the booming NBA economy, such a deal appeared par for the course for someone set to play a sixth man role on a team that figured to compete for, say, a division title.
On a team that figures to get even younger and take their time setting down the building blocks for a more promising future, Thomas' immediate impact would assumedly go under appreciated. All the while, his contract could prevent the Knicks from having the flexibility to go after players with more serious upside.
Thomas is playing fantastically as of late, but his triumphant return should not contribute to any illusion that scrapping their way into the playoffs is the best move for New York's future. The Knicks have struggled. Now should be a time for making evaluations for next season and (perhaps secretly) hoping for a high draft choice come June.
Thomas proving his worth and reminding the league what he's made of all over again doesn't come without its benefits, however. He's once again a very capable player and the Knicks' investment wasn't in vein or premature. This should give him value amongst contenders and New York could use Thomas to acquire potential assets from a team that needs him now.