Saint Thomas Deserves Your Consideration
Northern Colorado junior forward Saint Thomas has found a new basketball home in Greeley, where he's thrived. Can the leap he's taken land him on pro evaluators ' radars for the 2024 NBA Draft?
As I’ve gotten older and minimally wiser, I’ve learned that growth isn’t a linear thing for everyone. People don’t evolve or mature at the same rate. While some will progress at a seemingly rapid pace, for others, it may take a little bit more time to fully extend their wings. I’ve found this also correlates to the process of how potential NBA prospects develop. There isn’t some magical one-size-fits-all approach to determining how quickly or slowly a high school, collegiate, or young player in general will bloom into becoming a legitimate pro prospect.
I’ve seen plenty of cases of this throughout my time covering the NBA Draft as an amateur evaluator. For every basketball prodigy that hits the ground running from the moment they hit their AAU circuit, there are plenty of other players that have to take the road far less traveled to make their way to the association. Whether it’s because of an injury, off-the-court problems, butting heads with the coaching staff, not getting enough minutes within a rotation, etc…there’s a plethora of outside factors that could delay or halter the ability of a prospect to reach their full potential.
Someone who I think is a shining example of this is Northern Colorado’s Saint Thomas. The Loyola Chicago transfer struggled to find a role on Drew Valentine’s squad in his two seasons with the team. He played an average of just 10.3 minutes per game and started in only five appearances during this span for the Ramblers. Making matters more difficult for Thomas, he began to go through a downward spiral regarding his mental health, battling thoughts of depression.
“I didn’t know who Saint was outside of basketball," Thomas said (h/t Denver 7 ABC News). "If I don’t put an orange ball in a hoop, who’s going to love me? Who’s going to rock with me still? Am I still going to know the people that I know? Those questions lingered in my head. Basketball controlled my life. If I have a bad practice, I’m going to have a bad day. Or if I have a bad game, it's like I let down everybody in my family. Things weren’t getting better off the court and basketball was just escalating my mental problems.”
Compounding the problem more for Thomas was the lack of support he claims he received from his basketball support system in Chicago.
“They weren’t approachable. They didn’t really listen about my mental health. They thought I was just young and immature and that was an escape route for me. I couldn’t control my mind and I was trying to get control of it so I knew the best thing for me was to take a break.”
He eventually left the program because the situation wasn’t the best for him and returned to his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska to work on his mental health. The break from the game would end up being a great recharge for Thomas, leading him to enter the transfer portal and find his new hoops home in Greeley, Colorado with the Northern Colorado Bears. Now, with a change of scenery and having a coaching staff helmed by Steve Smiley to give him the support he was missing in the Windy City, Thomas has blossomed into a player with NBA potential.
Behind Thomas’ play, the Bears are in a position to compete for their first conference title since 2011. To put it simply, the junior forward has been dominant this season. He currently leads the Big Sky in total points (446), total rebounds (219), points per game (20.3), rebounds per game (10.0), double-doubles (13), player efficiency rating (27.2), and offensive box plus/minus (6.0).
You know we love a good ol’ fashioned BartTorvik query here at No Ceilings, so let’s use that as a resource to support Thomas’s NBA case from an analytical perspective even more. While I’m hesitant to do this at times because BartTorvik can be skewed immensely to paint a picture or make an argument for a player, I think it still can be a very helpful exercise. I used the following metrics to filter players who might be comparable to Thomas from a physical and statistical perspective.
At least 6’7”
≥ 25% Usage Percentage
≥ 55% True Shooting Percentage
≥ 110.0 Offensive Rating
≥ 6.5 Box +/-
≥ 10 3PT Attempts Per 100 Possessions
≥ 33% 3PT Percentage
≥ 1% Steal Percentage
≥ 1% Block Percentage
According to BartTorvik here’s a list of the following players who met that criteria, and as you can see, Saint is in some pretty good company.
Now, I’m not going to try to sell you that Thomas has the upside of some of the names listed above, specifically Brandon Miller. I’m not sure he’s the pure shotmaker or shot creator that Miller is. However, if you look at guys like Caleb Martin, Julian Champagnie, and Taurean Prince, all are favorable comparisons for the kind of pro I can envision Thomas developing into one day. Rotational wings with balanced skill sets that can impact the game on both ends of the floor are more valued than ever in the modern NBA.
Areas of Improvement
Before we get into Thomas’s overall versatility, I wanted to focus on two areas of his game that I think could use some improvement. Between some of the lapses he has as a defender at times and his lack of overall efficiency as a three-point shooter, both will probably end up being the swing skills in determining his future in the league.
When it pertains to Saint’s defensive issues, I believe he’s much more capable in this regard than some of the numbers may suggest. If I’m being blunt, though, Thomas’ Synergy defensive analytics, for example, are fairly awful. Per Synergy, Thomas is in the 26th percentile in points per possession rank overall defensively and on possessions where he’s in man-to-man defense. That’s not going to be an indicator that instills a lot of confidence in the eyes of many scouts.
Digging deeper into the tape, I’ve found the biggest red flags defensively for Thomas have been his tendency to get caught watching the ball and lacking discipline in rotations. You’ll see in the video highlights below where Saint far too often loses sight of his man because he’ll focus so heavily on the ball, leading to wide-open cutting lanes, usually along the baseline, or he overcommits with help defense when he shouldn’t. Then there will be other plays where Thomas either doesn’t attack a switch with enough urgency or once again helps when he doesn’t need to, which causes defensive rotations to get blown up. Thomas puts himself out of position too frequently, which causes a lot of these mistakes to happen, in my opinion.
As for the three-point shooting woes, I’ve personally found trying to figure out what Thomas’ potential is in this department somewhat perplexing. I’m not a shot doctor, so I tend to struggle with dissecting every problematic nuance of a player’s shooting mechanics. Additionally, I think a big reason he shoots under 35% from the perimeter comes down to the absurd volume Thomas has shot from beyond the arc this season. He’s got the ultimate green light in Greeley, evident by his 10.9 three-point attempts per 100 possessions rate. That’s not something I expect to frankly ever happen for him in the NBA.
First off, by no means do I see Thomas having broken mechanics. His shot overall looks fairly normal to me. However, judging by the film, when I’ve tried to assess where Thomas can improve his shooting form, there are a few minor tweaks I feel he could make that would help increase his efficiency, starting with his feet. If you notice on some of the misses in the compilation below, Thomas’ knees will concave from time to time, which might be affecting the power he generates before he lets the ball go.
His release itself can also be inconsistent. Saint’s guide hand will sometimes drift in front of the ball, or the ball will sit heavy in his palm, rather than on the fingertips of his release hand (shout out to the great Corey Tulaba for pinpointing this when discussing some concerns involving another prospect’s shooting form) thus affecting the trajectory of his shot overall. It’s like he’s shoving the ball on certain attempts with a push-type of shot instead of just letting it go in one fluid motion.
As mentioned previously, the fact that his shooting volume alone will be greatly diminished at the next level should benefit Thomas’ three-point percentage. Trimming the fat of those attempts will go a long way. Nonetheless, if he’s unable to grow into a shooter who can hit threes at a clip of 35% or better, Thomas’s staying power in the NBA might be short-lived.
The appeal and intrigue of Thomas’s potential translating to the pros revolve around the idea that his toolbox is a full one. While he might not have any one particular elite skill, his game is multifaceted and allows him to contribute to winning in a variety of ways. Starting with his ability to get a bucket, Thomas is capable of scoring at all three levels off the dribble. Per Synergy Sports, Saint is currently in the 64th percentile in points per shot rank on off-the-dribble jumpers, the 89th percentile on shots at the rim, the 80th percentile on points per possession rank overall offensively, the 83rd percentile on isolation possessions and possessions against man defense.
While he’s not the most explosive athlete, Thomas isn’t a slouch in this facet, either. Like a lot of great scorers, too, he’s got a knack for getting to the spots he favors most on the floor, utilizing savviness instead of pure athleticism to break down opposing defenders. From pull-up jumpers, stepback threes, one-legged fadeaways, or drives to the rim, Thomas’ bag is plentiful.
Where he thrives most though, I feel, is in post-up situations. According to Synergy, Thomas has 64 possessions this season that qualify as post-ups and ranks in the 53rd percentile on points per possession rank on those plays. In the video reel below, Thomas scores multiple times out of the post and against tough defense. Specifically in Northern Colorado’s 98-92 OT win over Montana earlier last month, he hit several fadeaway jumpers out of post-ups and was undeterred by any sort of physicality defensively. This could end up being his calling card as a scorer at the next level.
The other layer of Thomas’ offensive arsenal that I’ve been impressed with is his playmaking. At Loyola-Chicago, the sheer lack of playing time never really gave him a chance to showcase any of his skills, but that’s drastically changed with Northern Colorado. Under coach Smiley’s tutelage, Saint has been given the keys to the Bears offense and has thrived as a creator.
Per Basketball Reference, Thomas ranks in the Top 10 in the Big Sky currently in points produced (446), total assists (77), and assists per game (3.5), while sporting a 20.5% assist percentage as well. He’s hit the ground running with the opportunity Smiley has provided him. While I’m not sure Thomas will ever be the primary option for an NBA offense, he’s got some real potential to become the connective tissue for a team.
In the video above, you’ll observe Thomas constantly make snappy, quick decisions with the ball, whether it’s in the halfcourt or transition. He’s got the vision to swiftly find shooters trailing in the open floor or is effective coming off of DHO pick-and-rolls. I think he’s one of the more underrated passing wings in this class and should be given more credit for what he’s capable of becoming in this regard.
Earlier I had alluded that I believe Saint’s defensive upside is higher than some of his analytics might suggest. The flaws are evident, especially the off-ball stuff as I tried to highlight at the start of this piece. Nevertheless, I’m trusting my eyes here and even feel some other numbers support Thomas’s case for potentially being an NBA-caliber defender.
He’s put up a respectable 102.1 defensive rating this season, that’s with having the responsibility of guarding other various pro prospects such as Dillon Jones, Nique Clifford, and Tristan da Silva this year for large portions in their team’s respective meetings. His 2.7% steal percentage, 2.0% block percentage, and 2.2 stocks per game average are more data that help detract any of Thomas’ analytical defensive skeptics.
I genuinely don’t like being combative, but I’d love for someone to watch the highlights below and tell me they don’t see a player who can evolve into a serviceable pro defender at the very least—particularly with how he competed against Jones in the matchup versus Weber State. He stifled him at every level, pestered him off the dribble, and even the makes he gave up were tough looks you live with all day.
Saint’s got good hands and shows the instinct to consistently create steal chances, he’s great at stripping guys off the bounce when they try forcing drives. Thomas also has a good feel for helping from the weak side defensively or recovering on drives to come from behind to block shots. He plays with a little piss and vinegar if you will too, which I love seeing from defenders as an evaluator. Not to mention, Thomas’ physical tools are equally intriguing. He’s got a good frame that I think he can add some size to, good length, and overall to me just appears to be a big wing. His size, shooting, playmaking, and defensive ability are enough to get him drafted, in my opinion.
The icing on the cake of what Thomas can bring to an NBA franchise is his ancillary skills that help flesh out his entire repertoire as a player, mainly with his rebounding and off-ball cutting. I’m not going to pretend that rebounding is a fun thing to watch or that people are racing to see highlights of guys rebounding in general. Nor do I think I need to sell you all that much on a player averaging 10 rebounds per game, being a good rebounder. So I don’t want to take up a ton of your time as a reader here.
With all that being said, I think it’s become a bit of a lost art with this newer generation, and it’s nice to see a player commit to the glass in the way Thomas does. This dude is ranked fifth in the country in defensive rebounds (179), and his 17.4% total rebound percentage is awesome. Thomas is a dominant defensive rebounder who attacks the ball, ripping it off the rim, and has a good motor on the offensive glass. I don’t imagine many NBA coaches or decision-makers devaluing a prospect because he is a kick-ass rebounder.
Besides his passing ability, the other area of Thomas’ game I came away the most impressed by was his cutting. This was a kid who coming out of high school was primarily hailed for his on-ball scoring. So for me, to see what he’s developed into as an off-ball threat this season has been delightful to watch.
Per Synergy, Thomas has 34 possessions this year that have been deemed as cuts and ranks in the 70th percentile on points per possession rank on these plays. This is where his feel for the game shows up again as well. Saint’s adept at subtlety lulling his man to sleep, then blowing by them on a front or back cut. His proficiency as a cutter can be seen on full display in the compilation below. The fact he can convert on low-maintenance looks without the ball in his hands offensively should provide more confidence that Thomas will have the adaptability to fit into whatever role he’s asked to play in the pros.
Betting on Versatile Wings
Last week here on No Ceilings, our very own Tyler Metcalf and Albert Ghim wrote fantastic features on Kansas freshman Johnny Furphy, and Miami freshman Kyshawn George, respectively highlighting why both fit the mold of the modern NBA wing.
I’m unsure if Thomas has the long-term potential that either Furphy or George has, but I do think he also fits into a similar player archetype. Teams want wings who can shoot, defend, rebound, and pass. Thomas checks the box in each one of those categories. Furthermore, I don’t think his drafting price will be nearly as lofty as the aforementioned two freshman sensations.
To be completely transparent with you too, I’m just rooting for this kid to make it. Saint’s openness about his mental health struggles is something I can’t help but respect and admire, especially as someone who continues to deal with similar demons myself. The courage the young man has shown to be a beacon for others going through the same difficulties, I think speaks to his character as a human being. He’s found balance off the floor, and it’s only benefited his play on it.
Thomas deserves real draft consideration from NBA evaluators come June, especially in the second round. I’ll bet on wings with two-way versatility that could be a low-risk-high-reward selection in any draft cycle.