Before the news came out in late January that Tyrus Thomas would miss upwards of eight weeks with a tear of his left lateral meniscus he had been putting up the kind of numbers Bobcats fans had been hoping for since he was acquired from the Bulls last season. Through 34 games Tyrus posted a PER of 19.7, ranking 17th amongst forwards playing 20+ minutes/game and above the likes of Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce, and Rudy Gay. Although he had shown moderate gains in PER over his last three seasons, this year’s rating marks a 17.9% improvement.
In addition to a career best PER, Tyrus has posted highs in Usage Rate (25.7) and True Shooting Percentage (.542) this season. Though he has long been considered an excellent rebounder, as evidenced by his Defensive Rebounding Percentage of 21.4 and Offensive Rebounding Percentage of 10.4 (league average for forwards playing 20+ minutes/game of 17.7 and 6.5, respectively), he has struggled at the offensive side of the floor his first four seasons. So, is Tyrus beginning to make the jump? A look inside the numbers helps provide some answers.
One of the first statistics that jumps off the sheet at you is Tyrus’ Free Throw Shooting Percentage this season. He’s shooting .814 (96 for 118) from the line, well above his career average of .716 coming in to this year. He certainly may have improved his free throw shooting over the offseason, but look for his rate at the stripe to drift back towards his historical average.
The second spot you see a major spike in efficiency is his Shooting Percentage at the Rim. Tyrus is shooting 65.7% at the rim this season, well above his career high of 60.0% his rookie campaign. Now granted 65.7% is not an inordinate success rate (league average for forwards playing 20+ minutes/game is 66.0%), it is unusually high for Tyrus. Why the newfound success at the rim? Again, a closer look at the numbers reveals the answer. In his 34 games played this season 71.0% of his baskets at the rim have been assisted upon, an alarmingly high rate. Comparing to the league’s forwards logging 20+ minutes/game, on average 57.8% of their made field goals at the rim come by way of assist. So what does this mean? Simply, his teammates have been creating a lot of open shots for him at the rim. Unless D.J. Augustin has morphed in to the second coming of Tiny Archibald this success rate isn’t sustainable.
Does all this mean Tyrus hasn’t improved his game? Not necessarily. Does it mean his PER is more than likely inflated? Yes. Once his free throw percentage comes back to Earth and his open looks at the rim drop off, his PER should regress back to around 17. Considering the league average is 15, this is nothing to be disappointed in. However, don’t expect him to finish ahead of players such as Josh Smith and Danny Granger at year’s end.
Tyrus continues to exhibit exceptional rebounding and shot blocking skills when he’s on the floor. He makes it difficult for the opposition to get to the rim and is able to rebound at a rate comparable to players bigger than him. However, although he is a great energy player with outstanding athletic ability he continues to struggle to create his own shot and finish near the basket when unassisted. The bright side? He’s still only 23 years old and has time to develop his offensive game, hopefully to a level on par with his potential. At least that’s what Bobcats fans are holding out for.