Devin Thomas has been one of the staples of this program for three seasons and it is hard to believe he’s entering he final year of eligibility. It doesn’t seem so long ago that a young, under-scouted, freshman PF put up 25 points and 14 rebounds against CJ Leslie and a #18 ranked NC State squad to spark the Deacs’ first court storming of the 2012-13 season. Devin has come a long way since then and been one of the most consistent players in the program since he has arrived. Before we jump into what we can expect from him this year, let’s take a look at his 2014-15 stats and his natural progression to where he is today.
Throughout his three years in the program, DT’s minutes have stayed relatively constant. When he first arrived on campus the team was desperately lacking a strong post-presence and he could easily slide into a starting role right off the bat. His PPG has increased each season from 9.1 to 11.1 to 12.0 with an enhanced role in the offense in Danny Manning’s first season as head coach. His rebounding numbers also took a 17% jump from the previous two seasons to 8.8 RPG last year, which helped the Deacs finish in the top 40 in the nation in the category overall. His block and steal figures have stayed relatively in the same ballpark all three years, while his FT percentage (Although not the most ideal) improved last year to just under 60% from 52.9% in 2013-14. It’s safe to say there has been steady improvement over his career here at Wake Forest and the expectation is that this will continue heading into his final season in Winston-Salem. Another strong season from the Pennsylvania native is likely on the way, but it won’t be without adversity and a significant amount of pressure on his shoulders.
Many thought Thomas would have to be a big-time contributor even before Codi Miller-McIntire went down with a foot injury, but his role now is even larger than before. The Deacs last season could run a fast-paced offense through CMM and find shots on the perimeter with the occasional post-up from Thomas when shots weren’t falling. However, with Codi out for the first quarter of the season, the offense will be much more focused on getting Thomas the ball at the elbow or on the block and seeing what he can make happen while shooters try to get open. It is going to force DT to be much more of a creator than in past years and likely a lot more disciplined in his shot selection. As the senior leader and star player, it would be easy to fall into the habit of maximizing shots and trusting in your own abilities to keep your team in the game. While early on Wake Forest will rely on Devin to score to an extent, the last thing it needs is for the offense to become too predictable and defenders to feel comfortable collapsing on the big-man whenever possible. He certainly put the team on his back in the Exhibition against UNC Pembroke last week and for good reason given his size and skill advantage in the post, but those 14 FGA could be dangerous against a team that is competent in defending down low and can match-up more effectively. For the first couple games of the season, Wake will try and find DT as much as it can in the key, but it will be on him to keep his head up and find open teammates to keep the offense dynamic and not so one-dimensional. Once Codi Miller-McIntire returns from injury (Likely at the start of December) I would expect Devin’s role to be very similar to his role last year. When Wilbekin, Dinos, and Hudson are struggling from outside, feeding Thomas in the post and letting him draw a foul or muscle his way to two points is a great way to cut an opponent’s momentum and keep the team in the game. The addition of Moore and Collins will allow Devin to get a little more rest this season as well, which will be very valuable in up-and-down games that can take a toll on his stamina. In terms of attitude, a fayobserver.com article this week also noted that Thomas is a more mature and positive player entering the year, with the PF saying "I can't be going out there acting like a little baby anymore because something's not going my way. It's letting the team down. It's affecting my game. It's not helping us in the long run." He aims at having a technical-free season, and while I hope it doesn’t come at the expense of the energy he can bring, I think we can all agree that would be fantastic to see from DT this year.
Overall, everything is set for Devin Thomas to have a fantastic farewell season and really put himself in the running for some All-ACC honors at the end of the year. While I don’t expect improvements in his numbers to be drastic, his experience in big-time games and energy will be extremely valuable especially as CMM slowly returns from injury. My predictions on his stats are: 13.1 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 1.9 APG, 48% FG%, 63% FT% and All-ACC Honorable Mention. Here’s to hoping these numbers with his intangibles are enough to help the Deacs to a few extra wins in 2015-2016.