For Deshaun Thomas, Being ‘Locked In’ Often Means Settling Down
By Brandon Castel
DAYTON, Ohio — Deshaun Thomas had a solution for his recent shooting struggles: just keep shooting. Chris Jent had a better one.
Ohio State’s second-year assistant coach, and a longtime NBA shooting instructor, knows there is more than just volume to a shooter finding his touch when things are a little awry.
“Just find the happy medium,” Jent instructed Thomas during a recent film session.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“When (you’re) at the three point line and someone’s flying at (you), do you put the ball on the floor and shoot a one-dribble pull-up? Or give them a shot fake? Do the types of things to make that next three-point opportunity easier.”
Making shots has always come easy to Thomas. The smooth lefty has the size and ability score around the basket, but he also has a pure shot from behind the arc. When it’s working, he scores in bunches.
It’s almost always working, or at least it was during last year’s NCAA Tournament run. Thomas torched opposing defenses for 87 points in the first four games of the tournament, before cooling off with just nine during Ohio State’s 64-62 loss to Kansas in the Final Four.
Thomas also led the Big Ten in scoring this season at nearly 20 points per game during the regular season. It was his first year as the focal point of an offense since he earned Mr. Basketball in the state of Indiana.
He averaged almost 30 points and 14 rebounds a game during his four-year career as a starter at Bishop Luers High School, but there was a little bit of an adjustment this year from being the number two or three option on this team a year ago.
and Jared Sullinger
Photo by Jim Davidson
“It was pretty easy to score last year because everybody was focusing on him. I was just sitting back, being patient,” said Thomas, who averaged over 18 points a game last March when Jared Sullinger was also in the lineup with him.
“When you’re the man, you have to be able to rise up to the occasion and score. My teammates have been stepping up as well, but this year, being the man and being that scorer, it gives you a little pressure.”
Learning to Relax
One of the biggest problems for Thomas when he’s not making shots is that it tends to snowball. He wants them to go in so badly, he starts thinking about his next shot before the Buckeyes even have the ball back.
“I had a tendency last year and freshman year to give up and put my head down knowing there’s not a next play,” Thomas said.
“You have to find other ways to do that besides scoring when your jumper is not going. That’s grabbing an offensive rebound or hitting a clutch shot.”
Photo by Jim Davidson
Thomas hit the biggest shot of the game during Ohio State’s narrow victory over Michigan State in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament last weekend. It came at the tail end of a 6-for-19 shooting performance against the Spartans.
“Some of the shots I take, they’re questionable,” Thomas admitted, “but I know if I am going to get it going that I am just going to have to keep shooting the ball.”
So he kept shooting. Another 19 shots the next day against Wisconsin, and again only six of them found the bottom of the basket. The Buckeyes won the game, 50-43, thanks to their stifling defense – not to mention some tired legs from the Wisconsin shooters.
The Ohio State coaches never lost faith in Thomas, but they spent a lot of time in practice this week watching film and looking at some of the “questionable” shots Thomas launched in the Big Ten Tournament. They were looking to see how he might have been able to create a better look for himself.
“He’s taken the responsibility of continuing to stay in the gym and try to figure it out that way,” Jent said.
“He’s getting quality shots, I think the next step for him is deciding when he’s putting the ball on the floor and when he’s not. Reading the defense before he catches, just to make sure he gets the best quality shots he possibly can.”
Working Smart, Not Hard
The biggest thing for Thomas was probably his outside shooting. After hitting six threes during a 28-point outburst up in East Lansing back on Jan. 19, Ohio State’s star went into a shooting slump.
He made only nine of his 42 attempts (21 percent) from behind the arc in the month of February, including a combined 0-for-10 mark in both games against Northwestern. He was even worse in March, hitting just five of his 27 attempts (18 percent), including a 3-for-20 showing at the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago.
“We watched some of my shots. Some of them could have been questionable,” said Thomas, who has never met a shot he didn’t like.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“I could have put it on the floor or drive. I want every shot to go in and sometimes my team needs me at moments. I don’t want to let them down.”
Changing His Game
With a little film work, and a better understanding of why he was shooting 21 percent from three over the last two months, Thomas looked like a different player on Friday night.
Iona didn’t really have anyone who could match up with the 6-7 lefty who can shoot over just about anyone, but it was the way Thomas played that allowed him to return to being the efficient scorer he was early in the year.
“I feel like I played a great game,” Thomas said after scoring 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
“Coach wanted me to play more relaxed and know that I’m going to get my shots. I don’t have to force shots to get points. He said just be more relaxed and let the game come to me.”
With that in mind, Thomas started taking what the defense gave him. When a smaller defender came flying out to the perimeter, Thomas showed the ball as if he was going to shoot over them. Then he put it on the floor for a nice one-dribble pull-up.
Nothing but net. Just the way Jent told him.
“It’s just being more relaxed and comfortable with my game,” said Thomas, who hit all three of his attempts from behind the arc.
“I used it in practice and coach saw it on film. We knew they were going to fly out at me, so I put it on the floor after a pump fake and found great shots. It was on a roll for me.”
When that wasn’t there, Thomas did a good job of swinging the ball to a teammate on the perimeter. He grabbed three rebounds and dished out two assists in a 95-70 blowout, but the Buckeyes need Deshaun Thomas to score the basketball, and they need him to score it efficiently.
“It depends on what type of team you’re playing and Deshaun is doing a much better job of understanding the defensive personnel,” Jent added.
“He’s a scorer. It doesn’t stick. It rolls right off and he’s on to the next possession. That definitely helps because you keep your confidence.”
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