The shot selection for a reputable scorer such as Thomas was not the issue. But Thomas finished 2 for 16 from the floor, tying his season-low field goal percentage, and the game was the most stark example of the shooting struggles that have plagued him for several weeks.
So, from his corner stall in the locker room, Thomas went over his shots. And misses. He was in a decent enough mood to make a joke at his expense — the Wizards’ 111-101 win helped lighten the atmosphere. Still, through the smiles, there was an unmistakable hint of frustration.
“I want to be great. At the end of the day, I’m human. I’m mad as hell I’m not making shots, but I’m not going to go shoot a thousand shots just because I’m not making any — that would not be smart. When I go home, I always watch the game film. I always watch my minutes,” Thomas said. “Every shot I’ve had the last six or seven games I work on, and they’re there. They’re just not dropping.”
Coach Scott Brooks agreed Thomas has been getting good shots.
Thomas is shooting just 27 percent over the past eight games. Although his offensive production during this stretch (9.6 points, 2.4 assists) has declined from his season averages, Thomas has remained in the starting lineup. Brooks said he has stuck with Thomas because the bench unit, led by point guard Ish Smith, has played well.
“Right now, I think [Thomas] has been struggling with his shot. Ish has a nice role coming off the bench with those guys. It’s the craziest thing: Whoever starts from our bench doesn’t seem to play with the same production,” Brooks said Saturday. “They have a good synergy, a good connection with one another, and I don’t want to break that up.”
Thomas joked that his shooting struggles started after the Dec. 21 incident in Philadelphia, when he entered the stands to address two profane fans. He was suspended for two games by the NBA.
“It’s just been a struggle for me lately, and I think the suspension did that,” Thomas said with a grin.
But Thomas’s problems may actually be health-related — specifically, the health of backcourt teammate Bradley Beal and the rest of the starting five that opened the season.
Thomas, 30, has been most effective when paired with Beal. The lineup of Beal, Thomas, Davis Bertans, Thomas Bryant and Rui Hachimura has averaged 140.6 points per 100 possessions, ranking in the 99th percentile of the most-used NBA lineups according to statistical website Cleaning The Glass.
Beal, however, has missed seven of the past eight games with soreness below his right knee. Bryant and Hachimura have also been sidelined during that time, and Bertans returned to the lineup Friday night after missing nine straight games.
“I.T.’s played better with Brad on the floor,” Brooks said. “That coincides with I.T.’s shooting struggles, but he’ll bounce back — hopefully [Sunday against Utah]. We’re going to need two good point guards to beat this team.”
On Saturday, Beal practiced with the team and said he felt “better,” but he will be a game-time decision when Washington hosts the Jazz. Even if Beal does play, Thomas will not depend on his teammate to cure his offense. Thomas remains confident in himself.
“I’ve just been missing shots and I’m never going to mentally psyche myself out. I know what I do, I know what I work on, and I know what shots I get throughout the game, so I just got to do my part in knocking them down,” Thomas said. “I mean, it just happens. I’m a basketball player. This ain’t the first time this has happened in my career. The shots I’m getting, the shots I work on each and every day, is just not falling for whatever reason. The biggest thing with me: I’m going to always remain confident. I’m going to always continue to shoot the right shots, and I’m going to always trust my work. At some point, it will break through.”