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Player Preview: Matt Thomas, the sharpshooter’s sharpshooter

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The Raptors signed the best shooter outside of the NBA. But what else can Matt Thomas do for Toronto? Let’s investigate.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Iowa State vs Nevada James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Amongst fans, Matt Thomas has become something of an urban legend. We’ve heard tales of his propensity for knock-down shooting, though most of us have yet to see it live. When the news spread that he signed with the Raptors to a three-year, $4.2-million contract, a tweet surfaced that piqued public curiosity:

Immediately, a flood of rash comparisons poured in. On Twitter, I’ve seen Thomas likened to some of the best snipers in recent NBA history, including JJ Redick and Kyle Korver; however, before we evaluate the aptness of these comparisons, let’s peer into his past and try to apply some context.

Thomas, a 6’5” shooting guard, played four seasons of college ball at Iowa State, teetering back and forth between the bench and starting lineup in his rookie and sophomore years. Eventually, Matt cemented his place in the rotation, starting nearly all of Iowa’s games in his junior and senior years. As his college career progressed, so did his three-point accuracy. In true Danny Green-esque fashion, he shot a blistering 44.5 percent from deep in the 2016-17 season, prompting his next move: the NBA Draft.

However, like Fred VanVleet, Thomas went undrafted. At a career crossroads, Thomas opted to play ball in Europe. Across two seasons for Spain’s Liga ACB, he put his sharpshooting on display. While the Raptors were off winning their first ever championship, Matt Thomas was busy winning a championship of his own: the EuroCup. There, he shot a ridiculous 47.7 percent from beyond the arc (48.5 percent in the Liga ACB), planting his name firmly on the map — and dead centre on Masai Ujiri’s radar.

Now that we’ve gone over some history, let’s discuss how he’ll fit into the Raptors’ rotation.

Role on the Team

As previously mentioned, Thomas can shoot the hell out of the ball. He operates mostly as a catch-and-shoot player, adeptly navigating screens to find his space — much like Klay Thompson. As a floor spacer, he could be nicely paired with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, whose shooting woes are no secret. He won’t be asked to handle the ball much — or, ideally, at all — but a fluid offense with a talented playmaker like Kyle Lowry may do Thomas wonders.

Thomas has also shown some flashes of brilliant passing in Europe, potentially supplanting Danny Green in that regard. We’ll have to wait and see if he gets a chance to use that skill though. Even in an offense with active cutters and screeners, Matt should see much of his time firmly planted in the corner as the shot clock winds down, waiting for the ball to swing his way.

Of course, this all sounds great, but there are limitations to Thomas’ game that I have yet to talk about.

Needs Improvement

For starters, Thomas is undersized for his position. If he isn’t granted ample space when the ball reaches his hands, he may find it difficult to get his shot off against longer, more athletic defenders. As well, he’ll face some issues navigating screens against stronger opponents, who are more likely to fight through and stick with him in the NBA.

On the defensive end, the Raptors will have to hide him on the opponent’s shortest, least athletic man on the floor. Not for a lack of effort, his wingspan (reported around 6’5”) will prevent him from sealing passing lanes. When combined with middling athleticism, he won’t be able to consistently close the gap between himself and his assignment without being blown by. For Thomas to stay on the floor, he must be paired with someone like Stanley Johnson, whose strength, athleticism and defensive prowess make up for his offensive shortcomings. Toronto has the manpower to hide Thomas, but we’ll see how much they’re willing to risk in that regard.

Expectation

To that end, I don’t expect Matt Thomas to make a serious mark in the rotation in his rookie year for Toronto. Still, his shooting may prove invaluable in late-game situations that call for a three-ball.