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Tyrus Thomas and the great red herring of athleticism

On physical profile alone, Tyrus Thomas had that greatest lure of all, the striking athleticism. Upon first glance, you would think he had amazing talent, because, while physical tools are just one part of the great 'talent' misnomer, they're so readily identifiable and so regarded in their importance that they are easily enough to make synonymous with 'talent.' And Tyrus had the kind of physical tools that made scouts ring their wives.

However, Tyrus Thomas was never all that good of a player. He just looked like he should be.

He was a poor, disinterested rebounder, who grabbed a few through these physical tools alone but who never developed the core strength, positional sense or effort level to even be average in that facet of the game. He could block any shot into any spectator's lap, but it was all he was interested in and effective at doing defensively. And while he could run the court, cut to the basket and either finish with authority or draw the foul ... he just wouldn't.

Therein lies the major problem. Tyrus wanted to play a certain way, his way. The way he envisioned himself to be was as this unstoppably athletic perimeter forward, able to get past any defender with one power dribble and similarly adept at rising over anyone who dared to guard him with a soft jumper. But the way he envisioned himself to be wasn't the way NBA coaches did.

Tyrus wanted the glamour and the glory of beng the dynamic, perimeter-orientated slashing athletic combo forward, and played accordingly, but he lacked the work ethic to ever actually get good at the things he wanted to be good at. Had he been good at slashing and shooting, his complete absence of a post-up game, poor non-dunk finishing around the basket and awkwardly thin frame could have been overlooked. But in practice, Tyrus spurned that at which he should have been good in preference to that at which he never was.

Unable to consistently make any shot other than the dunk, but thoroughly convinced of the tightness of his handle and the smoothness of his jumpshot, Tyrus became a 36% shooting power forward with a poor rebounding rate, jarring ineffectiveness defensively and an extremely high turnover rate, becoming one of the worst players in the NBA from once being one of its most tantalising. And he brought it upon himself with his own decision making.

It would have been OK for Tyrus to want to be perimeter-centric offensively had he been effective enough as a player. Josh Smith has similar flaws, for example. But they are (mostly) tolerated on account of his all-around impact on the game. The same could never be said of Tyrus, who just didn't want it enough. At one point, he even managed the incredibly rare feat in the NBA of turning up underweight.

However, Tyrus Thomas was also never all that bad of a player.

Even if his "talent" was largely predicated on his physical tools, those physical tools were so immense that it covered up a lot of problems. Whilst his defensive fundamentals and positioning may have been weak, his shot blocking instincts were nonetheless strong, and a legitimate deterrent on the defensive end. He could also handle the ball and pass better than expected, albeit considerably worse than in his own estimation. On talent alone, Tyrus should never have left the NBA.

The situation in Charlotte became toxic for a number of reasons. The apathy, of course, was a big one. But injuries also factored, and the contract Tyrus received to be a part of the Bobcats's future only made the whole endeavour more noisome. So too did the draft pick traded to acquire him - long after Tyrus's departure, that pick is still yet to be conveyed. Thomas therefore unwittingly, but through much fault of his own, became a symbol of the stunted growth of the Bobcats franchise.

It's over in Charlotte, and almost certainly over in Chicago, but it's not necessarily over for Tyrus in the NBA. Given a clean bill of health and a rude awakening, Tyrus surely has enough time and talent to right his career and become a productive NBA player for several seasons to come. The chances of a career resurgence, you would think, will be quite high, starting from the moment when the penny drops. Ultimately, it is up to Thomas to drop that penny. If the shock of being out of the league isn't it, perhaps it will be the day the paychecks stop in two years time. But he doesn't have two more years to waste.

The road back is an extremely lengthy one. Even if Tyrus were to get a clean and consistent bill of health, drop the chip on his shoulder and bulk back up to NBA big man size, that still leaves a best case scenario in which he returns to his former, highly flawed self. Tyrus doesn't just need to bulk up and grow up - he also needs to work on many significant holes in his skillset before he can become a reliable rotation player, and completely reinvent his approach at the game. And if he must insist on being predominantly a jumpshooter, he must spend several months ensuring he is really, really good at it first. This, then, is an enormous ask.

But he can still jump like that. So he will get another chance.

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