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COLUMN

Work ahead as Thomas gets shot with Spurs

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For more sports commentary, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1.

Fort Wayne native goes No.58 to San Antonio in NBA Draft

Friday, June 28, 2013 - 6:05 pm

Deshaun Thomas should prepare for three things as a late second-round NBA draft pick:

* An uphill fight for a roster spot with the San Antonio Spurs.

* Possibly a little time in the D-League.

* The hardest work of his basketball life.

Whether Thomas makes the most of his opportunity is up to him. It'll mean heavy-duty work on his basketball skills, something he's willingly attacked throughout his career at Bishop Luers High School and Ohio State University. It'll mean improving weaker areas of his game, including his defense. It'll mean dealing with setbacks and frustrating moments and finding a way to remain positive.

Being drafted late in the NBA's second round is better than not being drafted at all. It means the Spurs – one of the highest-quality franchises in the league – believe enough in Thomas' potential to pick him and bring him in. San Antonio has a reputation for savvy drafting.

The problem is second-round picks have flaws that push them down in the draft, and Thomas surprisingly slipped to No. 58, much lower than most expected.

Thomas' biggest asset is his ability to shoot, something that ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said makes him believe Thomas will find an NBA spot even if not with the Spurs. Thomas can make shots from all over the court. He can hit three-pointers from NBA distance. He anticipates well to get second-chance points. He can drive. He's a solid free-throw shooter.

But Thomas is a bit of a tweener at 6-foot-7. He needs to be a bit stronger to play power forward, a bit quicker to play small forward. On the other hand, the Spurs' Danny Green, a 6-6 former second-round pick, nearly stole the NBA Finals.

So in order to land a spot in the NBA, Thomas will need to show what he can do every day in practice. He'll have to show he can play defense while continuing to shoot the lights out. That's not easy with so many players of similar size and skill all around. But if the Miami Heat's Mike Miller can use his shooting skills to make a living, why not Thomas?

Presuming Thomas makes the Spurs' opening-day roster, he could still spend some time in the NBA Development League honing his game with the Spurs' team, the Austin Toros. Twenty-six of the 60 players drafted in 2012 spent time in the D-League, including 11 first-round picks. The league is a viable minor-league training ground now and NBA teams use it for younger players.

There are two ways to approach a stint in the D-League. Players can pout, act like they're better than the guys already working for their livelihood in the D-League and make no progress. NBA teams watch players' attitudes when they go to the D-League. Do they work with their new team? Do they work, period?

The other option is for players to attack the D-League assignment with vigor. Work on their weaknesses. Stay after practices to work harder. Indiana Pacers guard Orlando Johnson took that approach and it paid off with some significant playing time in the Pacers' regular season.

Many college stars never figure out that they have to prove themselves again when they get to the NBA. College reputations and statistics become yesterday's news the minute players embark on pro careers. What have you done lately?

Thomas has shown he is driven to excel as a basketball player. He didn't come from a privileged background. He had to rise above some tough circumstances, and he did. He showed patience when he played relatively sparingly as an Ohio State freshman and eventually became the team's most reliable scorer as a junior. He averaged 19.8 points per game last season.

If he can show he is at least serviceable as a defender and can translate his shooting touch to the NBA level – and there's no reason to believe he won't – he can find a spot as a pro.

There are no guarantees from this point. Thomas could face some days of one step forward and two back. But the key is to keep pushing, keep moving, keep working.

It takes a while before most struggling pro players understand the bottom line: You can control effort, attitude and work ethic. If Thomas combines the three, as he has during his career to this point, he increases his odds of success.

Thomas is ready to make a living in basketball, but it'll take big-time work for the chance to play. No doubt, he's up for it.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.