Tyrus Thomas, at his skinniest in 2011-12 (Getty Images)
You look … different.
You hear that … a lot, as NBA training camps start up. Once-familiar faces come back with new tattoos, side parts, new uniforms, alternate uniforms, or a different shape altogether. On Tuesday, we'll delve into a few of these shapes, starting with disappointing Charlotte Bobcats hybrid forward Tyrus Thomas.
That tag, the one that screams "disappointment," probably won't ever leave Thomas' side. The athletic forward was essentially taken second overall (following a series of swaps) in 2006 by a Chicago Bulls team desperate for a low post presence that they actually drafted and traded away (in exchange for Thomas) in the form of LaMarcus Aldridge. Thomas, with a few advanced defensive metrics buttressing his case, probably outperformed Aldridge in his rookie year, but save for a few flashes he's basically worked as an inconsistent man without a position or go-to move; serving as a maddening element for fans in both Chicago and Charlotte and for a litany of coaches.
His last coach, NBA lifer Paul Silas, actually got into a physical confrontation last year with Thomas, as Silas presided over a rebuilding team that put together the worst winning percentage in NBA history. Remember, Silas is the man whose boss once fired him from a job with the Hornets by sending a low-level team employee to his front door — and the boss/team owner lived directly next door to Silas at the time. The coach handled in stride and laughed it off, the very definition of unflappable. And yet Tyrus Thomas got to him.
We knew why, last spring, but we have a clearer picture now. Thomas apparently showed up to training camp last December severely underweight as a result of poor eating habits that led to ulcers. From the Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell:
Simple question for Charlotte Bobcats forward Tyrus Thomas: What happened last season?
"Life happened," Thomas replied Monday with not a hint of sarcasm or annoyance.
"I was hospitalized the week before camp with stomach ulcers,'' Thomas said. "Lost 20 pounds and never really gained it back'' until after the season.
As someone who has suffered from ulcers in the past, I can relate. To a point — I was 20 years old at the time, and drinking endless amounts of coffee and Diet Coke and sleeping irregular hours while working a dot com job. And I knew that amount of coffee and cola was a problem going in, but like most people my age I thought myself invincible.
For Thomas to be pulling this stuff at age 25, with (by 2011) over half a decade's worth of team-mandated health and nutrition information (pardon the expression) jammed down his throat, is a little less forgivable. Especially when Thomas appears to sign off on Bonnell's blame placed on "New Orleans cuisine," which is the best, but not to a point where it creates open sores on the interior of your stomach.
The Observer reports that Thomas is up to 245 pounds, as he enters 2012-13, and in hearing his discussions with new coach Mike Dunlap (and Dunlap's "where have you been all my life" feature regarding his disdain the sort of low-percentage jumpers Larry Brown was in love with), you get a feeling this is Thomas' best shot at success since that rookie year.
Because the Bulls never really got Tyrus Thomas. They drafted him as a project, both in professional and on-court terms, but treated him like a 10-year veteran. Minutes and play were yanked around as punishment, as if 19-year-olds ever understand that, and they lost him through a series of coaches that didn't bother to connect. It's not great coaching to sit back and watch as Tyson Chandler or Andres Nocioni go after endless loose balls. It's great coaching when you get the previously unmotivated to do something special, or to create an environment that allows a still-developing player (Thomas was a 5-10 guard just a few years before Chicago drafted him to be their power forward of the future) to flourish.
This is not to make excuses for Tyrus, but there is plenty of blame to go around when a guy who leads the NBA in Defensive Rating (depending on your minutes cut-off) as a rookie slips between the cracks.
Perhaps with Dunlap aboard, and those extra pounds, Thomas can get it together as he enters what should be his prime. We'd just be happy with a player you wouldn't want to shove against a locker room wall.
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