Irish PG has the tools, needs more patience

Originally Published: November 8, 2004
By Doug Gottlieb | Special to ESPN.com

Editor's note: Doug Gottlieb played point guard at Notre Dame (1995-96) and Oklahoma State (1997-2000). He will provide player breakdowns for ESPN.com throughout the season.

Chris Thomas has had an incredible amount of time to develop his game at Notre Dame. Being a starter from Day 1 has allowed his confidence to remain at a high level throughout three solid years in the Big East.

I would describe Thomas as a scoring point guard who can pass. Most of what he is able to do is based on his jump shot. His ability to make it with consistency will directly relate to his ability to create for his teammates.

What he does well

Thomas is dangerous on the break with his pull-up jumper that has deep range. He is a streaky shooter and tends to make a higher percentage if he hits his first couple of shots.

He also is dangerous off the pick-and-roll. When he is doubled, he will find the open man. If the big man jumps out too quickly, he will split the trap. If you go under the screen, he has deep range.

Thomas can put the ball on the floor and go both ways, but he seems to prefer shooting off the dribble going left (which is normal for right-handed players) and coming to the right off screens. Besides staring you down and pulling straight up for a three, he has a tremendous step-back move (going to his left) and a decent pull-up jumper going either way.

On the break he has the spring in his legs (despite minor knee surgery in the offseason) to throw down with two hands, but he seems to lack big-time burst like T.J. Ford, Jameer Nelson, or even Carl Krauser.

Where he needs improvement

Chris Thomas has been the guy for Notre Dame since he arrived in South Bend, so some of his weaknesses can be attributed to "learning on the job" and "resting on defense."

Overall, Thomas is an average defender, but some of that may stem from what he is asked to do on the other end of the court. He is smart defensively and stays out of foul trouble, but there is nothing really noteworthy about his actual defense. By playing an average of 38 minutes a game, he tends to coast for stretches on the defensive end. This does not affect the Irish as much as it would other teams because they do not have the overall team quickness to pressure defensively, so a lack of point guard pressure is not as noticeable.

Thomas also tends to take very low-percentage shots at times, even when he is not shooting well. Some of this came from not having Torin Francis down the stretch last year, but he will take some of the worst shots imaginable for a three-year starter. Most teams feel like if you stay on him and pressure him into marginal shots, he will become frustrated and continue to look to take the "backbreaker."

His passing is average within the half-court offense. Considering the respect his scoring gets nationally, he should be able to involve his teammates more and get them easier shots. Thomas does not break the defense down enough for my taste, whether that is the lack of quickness I wrote of earlier, or a mentality that sets up the drive with his jumper instead of vice versa. Either way, he is a great free throw shooter and the more he is in the lane, the better.

Looking forward

Chris Thomas is a well-seasoned, solid point guard with a team that has been constructed to his game. He now has enough talent around him to feel comfortable playing a little less, shooting a little less and passing a little more while not hurting his averages or his team's performance.

Continue to look for him to shoot a better percentage (similar to how Jameer Nelson improved last year) and yet still have the ability and desire to take over games late. If you watch Notre Dame play this year and you see Chris Thomas hit his first few shots, do not get up! He is a deadly streak shooter who loves the spotlight.

Doug Gottlieb is a college basketball analyst for ESPN and the co-host of GameNight for ESPN Radio.

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