Deshaun Thomas remains in the audition stage with the San Antonio Spurs, thrown into a basketball mixture of “America's Got Talent” and “The Apprentice.”
The Spurs drafted Thomas with the 58th pick in the second round last month, a sign they like what they see. But late second-round picks come with no guarantees. Plus, the Spurs have essentially one real roster spot remaining, with restricted free Gary Neal or comeback-bound Greg Oden as possible players for that spot.
All Thomas can do is perform, be judged, take some advice and perform again.
So far, he's making the Spurs' decision a tough one.
Thomas has averaged 17 points and five rebounds per game in three NBA Summer League games, shooting 54 percent from the field and hitting half of his three-pointers.
The conversion from a scorer in college at Ohio State (and before that at Bishop Luers High School) to scorer in the NBA, summer version, has been a smooth one.
“Pop's going to put demands on him that are going to require him to play differently than he did at Ohio State, but he can score,” Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said Monday on NBA-TV, evoking the style of coach Gregg Popovich.
“He can score in a lot of places on the floor and with Deshaun, his attitude and eagerness to learn and grow has been overwhelming over the first week. We haven't had him a long time and a lot of things need to go well for him to maximize his opportunity, but there is a hole in our roster behind Kawhi (Leonard) right now, and we're looking forward to what Deshaun brings and how his approach has been so far.”
Two things aren't surprising to those of us who have watched Thomas since he was a phenomenal freshman at Luers:
1. He's a scorer. It's telling, and a good sign, that Thomas has been hitting NBA-distance threes so far. That shows he can stretch his range. He's also able to drive, especially when matched up against 4s (power forwards).
2. He's a worker. He has been criticized for his defensive limitations, particularly his quickness in one-on-one situations, but there's no denying his effort.
Whether those assets are enough to make a talented Spurs roster is tough to say. Landing a spot on an NBA roster is among the tougher tasks in professional sports.
The Spurs are guaranteed at least two more Summer League games in the new Las Vegas tournament format so Thomas' audition continues then. There's been speculation, too, that if he isn't in the Spurs' plans for 2013-14, the team would be in favor of him playing in Europe for more seasoning with a stronger chance at a roster spot in a year's time.
Thomas' willingness to soak in everything the Spurs want him to do has been evident so far.
“I know what's at stake and what I have to do,” Thomas told reporters. “I have to come out and play hard, play with great energy. I played with a great coach who preached defense and that's coach (Thad) Matta.”
Thomas also said he believes he could play the 3 or 4 spot, even though he could be matched up against bigger players at the 4 or quicker players at the 3. He played often as a small 4 at Ohio State.
“You have to be versatile out there,” Thomas said.
He can control a few things in this audition. He can give full effort, which he's doing. He can absorb the coaching, which he's doing. And he can keep putting the ball in the basket, which he's doing without an overwhelming number of touches.
“My goal is to go out there and be coachable and listen and play my game,” Thomas told reporters after his first Spurs practice.
Thomas isn't going to become a shut-down defender. But with continued work on his strength and grasp of the pro game, there's no reason he can't reduce his defensive liabilities. There are a few examples, including Carmelo Anthony, where a pro player's scoring prowess overrides some defensive limitations.
It'll be up to the Spurs judges – Popovich primarily – whether Thomas moves on to the training camp phase or needs another route to the NBA. The Spurs could also use the NBA Development League's Austin Toros for further Thomas seasoning, if it ultimately comes to that down the road.
Even late in the second round, teams draft players for a reason. They see potential and possibility.
As long as Thomas keeps his great attitude and proves his knack for scoring continues no matter the competition, his chance to shine in the NBA will come. The only question is whether it'll be sooner or later.