It’s worse than unfortunate that the NBA season has been suspended indefinitely, but until we have more basketball, we can only reminisce on what was. The 2019-2020 Toronto Raptors team was full of surprises; one of the most pleasing of which was elite sharpshooter, Matt Thomas. Not only has he jumped on the NBA scene as a rookie and solidified himself as one of the NBA’s top three-point shooters; he has won a spot in every Raptor fans’ heart. How did Masai get so lucky in finding this guy? To answer that, we have to start from the beginning.
Matt Thomas was born in Decatur, Illinois but lived most of his childhood in Onalaska, Wisconsin. Matt started to deal with adversity at a very young age. At only 11 years old, his father committed suicide. Because of this, he grew very close with his mother. Matt’s mom had a very big impact on his life, specifically in sports. She was an amazing athlete. She was a swimmer, softball player, tennis player, and most importantly a basketball star. She holds the single game scoring record at Wahlert High School in Dubuque, Iowa, with 48 points. This love, and talent for the game of basketball travelled from mother to son.
Matt Thomas used the early struggles in his life as motivation. Never wanting to be back in a state in which he was in as a child, he worked harder to ensure that he wouldn’t be. Matt was an amazing high school basketball player, just like his mother. As a junior he was named First Team All-State by the Associated Press in 2012. Averaging 21.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, and was able to lead his team to the Division 2 State Championship, in which he dropped a light 30 points. Matt turned it up another notch in his senior year. Averaging 28.7 points, and 9.7 rebounds per game. He led his team to the state semi-finals that year, and although he wasn’t able to match the team success he had in his junior year, his individual progression was something to behold. Thomas scored 40 points three times, including 41 points in the sectional final and a career high 50 points in just 2 and ½ quarters against Tomah. If that doesn’t scream Klay Thompson-esque, I don’t know what will. Thomas concluded his four-year career as a Two-Time First-Team All-State pick, with an absurd 95-12 record. This was the birth of the Iceman.
Due to his strong junior and senior years, Thomas was considered one of the best players in his class, as he was a 4-star-recruit. A consensus top-100 national recruit, Matt was ranked No. 51 by ESPN, No. 54 by Rivals.com, and No. 58 by Scout.com in the final national rankings. Matt was able to bring his college options down to Virginia, Minnesota, Boston College, Iowa State, and Marquette. Eventually, he chose to join Iowa State.
I won’t be getting that in depth into Matt Thomas’s college career and overseas career. For more on that, check out our preseason piece on justifying the hype around the Iceman.
Fast forward to the summer of 2019. The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that Matt Thomas and the Toronto Raptors agreed to a three-year, $4.2M deal. Raptors fans as a collective said “who?”. He quickly won fans over by just one number: 99. When fans found out that he shot 99% effective field goal percentage on open catch and shoot threes, fans were amazed. Being one of them, I wanted to see for myself how excellent of a shooter he really was.
Matt Thomas made his first appearance as a Raptor in Toronto’s first preseason game against the Houston Rockets. He had 8 points on 2/5 shooting from deep. In only 14 minutes, Thomas was quite productive in the time that he was given. That would continue against the Chicago Bulls, where Thomas had 12 points on 5/10 shooting, showing that he wasn’t only just a shooter, as he was able to put the ball on the floor. This was not only shocking to me, but brought glee to Raptors broadcasters Matt Devlin, and Leo Rautins. Both were raving about Thomas’ underrated ability to rebound, and his ability to adjust to what the defense gives him, lighting a fire of excitement under every Raptor fans’ heart.
Nobody expected anything major from Thomas, as the current Raptors team was deep as is. With Lowry, Vanvleet, McCaw, Norm, and rookie sensation, Terence Davis, there simply weren’t enough minutes for Thomas to get into the rotation. Then, the Raptors guards started to get injured. Lowry, Vanvleet, Norm, and McCaw all missed time due to injuries. The Bench Mob 2.0 took advantage of that. Although Thomas never had a huge game, he was an instant offense for the Raptors. Running set plays with Thomas curling off screens, or having Thomas be a decoy, as they set up a play between another pair of players allowed Nick Nurse opportunities to put points on the board in a hurry. The Iceman became a real asset for Toronto’s offense, and although his defense was shaky, he was able to be an average team defender in the minutes he received. Among few electrifying performances, none was better than his red-hot shooting annihilation of the Indiana Pacers, as he had 17 points. With what seemed like a game of 2K for Toronto, Raptors fans got a glimpse of what high school Matt Thomas was like – a performance that definitely made his mother proud.
Bobby Webster and Masai Ujiri hit the jackpot with this kid. To get a shooter as skilled as Matt Thomas for the contract on which they got him is an absolute steal. This is also a testament to Thomas’ work ethic, proving that hard work will get you closer to your dreams. He wasn’t drafted, he had an amazing Summer League, and yet he still wasn’t picked up. He played great in the EuroLeague, and now, he’s playing for the defending champions of the NBA. Taking a page out of Fred Vanvleet’s book, Thomas bet on himself and it paid off.
Despite not getting consistent minutes, Matt Thomas has been a true professional for the Raptors. He’s always ready when called upon – something he learned from not having anything given to him easily. We might be in a drought of basketball right now, but I can’t wait to see Matt Thomas come off a Serge Ibaka screen and knock down an in-rhythm three with a defender chasing him. Now that’s Matty Ice.
This is a guestpost by Nickeem Khan.