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Shaq Thomas Season In Review

Some slight improvements here, some small regressions there, but all in all, Thomas continued to be a valuable role player for a 23-win Cincinnati squad.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Numbers

  • 6.4 points, 11.5 per 40 minutes
  • 3.1 rebounds, 5.5 per 40 minutes
  • 22.5 minutes per game
  • 45.7/33.3/58.6 shooting splits
Thomas' junior season was much like his sophomore campaign. He played nearly the same number of minutes per game (22.5 compared to 22.9), while putting up similar numbers in scoring (6.4 ppg compared to 6.8 ppg) shooting percentage (.457 compared to .454) and rebounds (3.1 compared to 2.8). While huge, systemic growth was absent, Thomas' ability to show up big outside of the box score, while giving Mick Cronin a consistent force he could rely on, is nothing to shake a stick at. Thomas really embodies the type of athlete that Cronin has made a habit of recruiting and plugging into the lineup. He's long (6-foot-7), a fierce competitor and a matchup nightmare for his strength on defense. But we already knew all of that. He's been playing for three seasons now and it is at the junior level that you expect to see a bit more of a boost.

To his credit, Thomas did improve, albeit meagerly, on the boards, pulling in 3.1 per game. In addition, he bumped his rebounding rate up from 7.1 to 8.6 from his sophomore to junior season. Those numbers should have been much higher, as he started the season consistently getting four or five rebounds a game, but during a stretch of 16 games from Jan. 15 to March 8, he never got more than three, including five games in which he had none. That is not exactly what you want from a 6-foot-7 player, even one who isn't anchoring himself in the paint.

Thomas did perform at a more efficient rate offensively. Obviously, Troy Caupain and Octavius Ellis were the scorers on the team, but Thomas was always there to get a bucket when his number was called. He connected on 45.7 percent of his field goal attempts, which was a career-high and he also stepped up and knocked down a 3-pointer from time to time. He scored in double figures 10 times, including a 10-point effort in the NCAA Tournament loss to Kentucky. Percentages and points can't really explain how exciting Thomas can be with the ball. Luckily, by the magic of the interwebs, you can feast your eyes on one of his best plays of the season.

Of course, Thomas' biggest impact comes on defense, which is why he is such a valuable member of the team, even if his stat line doesn't show it. He had a defensive rating of 96.5 and 1.4 defensive win shares. Since he doesn't always have to expend tons of energy finding his shot or getting to the hoop, he was usually fresh on defense, where he can guard just about anyone, from a quick guard to a lumbering forward. Getting a little more muscle on his bones wouldn't hurt, but plenty of Cincinnati stretch forwards have been long and slender.

Best of the Best

Saturday, February 21 vs. Houston

For a guy who doesn't embrace the go-to scorer's role very often, Thomas did not shy away from it against Houston in February. He sank 5-of-8 shots from the floor and finished with a season-high 18 points. Even more importantly, he did something he failed to do all season; shoot well from the charity stripe. He drilled 7-of-8 shots from the foul line, a much better success rate than his 58.6 percent effort on the season as a whole. He had a critical stretch late in the contest, as he drained a 3-pointer with 5:27 to play, then stole the ball on the ensuing possession and sank a pair of free throws. The five-point burst gave Cincinnati a 54-49 cushion, which was enough to stave off the hosting Cougars. Thomas' efforts in this game kicked off a five-game winning streak for the Bearcats in which he scored in double figures three times, his longest such streak of the season.

Friday, March 13 vs. Connecticut

Sure, Ryan Boatright was the star of the game, what with his buzzer beater, but Thomas had one of his best contests of the year in the American Athletic Conference Tournament quarterfinals. He scored 10 points as one of three Bearcats in double figures, sinking 4-of-7 from the floor, to go along with a 2-for-2 effort at the free throw line. He also put in work on the glass, especially the offensive side, with five of his seven rebounds coming on the offensive end of the floor. His help in creating extra opportunities aided Cincinnati in owning a 19-6 advantage in second chance points.

For Next Year

So, we've examined Thomas' junior season. We've scoured the remains and put the good with the bad. So what now? What will Thomas do in his senior season? The easy answer is he will remain a glue guy, who scores when he has to, gets a few boards per game, plays shut down defense and provides a few stunning athletic moments leaving us scrambling to record them and throw them on social media. A betting man would peg him for 6.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and maybe a block per game next season, but there is always the chance that he will exceed those expectations.

To do so, Thomas first needs to build off of the effort he had on the glass in the final three games of the season, when he had seven, six and five rebounds, respectively. He could also stand to be a bit more selective with his shots and, hopefully, improve his offensive efficiency even more. Sometimes he launched contested jumpers that had no shot of going in, but limiting his mid-range jumpers to open looks and following on the glass to create easy chances could boost him to be a 9-10 points per game scorer.

Aside from that, Thomas doesn't have to do much else. He is already a strong defender and an excellent athlete and he fits perfectly in Cronin's system. He is one of many returning players for Cincinnati and an important part of a core group that has all the experience and know-how to make a deep run in the AAC and the NCAA at large.