(Rick Bowmer / The Associated Press)
Twice within 24 hours, the question was brushed off like a pestering piece of lint.
“Who’s the better shooter from 20 feet away, you or Kurt Thomas?” Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge was asked.
“Of course I am,” Aldridge said. “You can even ask Kurt about that.”
“Hey Kurt, who’s the better shooter from 20 feet away, you or LaMarcus?”
“That’s not even close,” said Thomas, Aldridge’s 39-year-old teammate. “Of course he’s going to say he is, but I think everyone knows I can shoot the outside jumper, and I believe I show it night in and night out.”
Both players have shown near peerless proficiency from that distance for their size. But while Aldridge may be heading to the All-Star Game next week, it is Thomas who has bragging rights in this case.
According to Hoopdata.com, Thomas, the NBA’s oldest player, is shooting 59 percent this season between distances of 16 and 23 feet. Not only is that 15 percentage points better than Aldridge, but it’s among the best in the NBA.
In fact, when it comes to forwards who attempt at least two shots a game from that distance, nobody has been more accurate than Thomas this year. Not Kevin Durant, not Kevin Garnett -- not even Dirk Nowitzki.
Then again, these are forwards we’re talking about. Surely there are guards who can outshoot a man who actually played on the same Knicks team as 51-year-old Blazers assistant coach Buck Williams, right?
Yes. But not many.
Citing Hoopdata.com once again, there are two players this year who have attempted at least two shots a game from between 16-23 feet and made them at a higher clip than Kurt Thomas. One is Warriors guard Stephen Curry, the other is Suns guard Steve Nash.
In other words, Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce and every other elite guard in the NBA sit below a guy eight months away from turning the big 4-0.
That is the very definition of aging gracefully.
Of course, in his younger days, Thomas’ wasn’t known for knocking down shots so much as he was knocking down other players.
Some of the headlines from the New York Times during his Knicks days include “Thomas Suspended and Fined for Fight, Keeps Lashing Out,” “Thomas Adds Suns’ Coach to List of Sparring Partners,” and “Thomas is Tossed, Knicks Fall Short.”
Yes, Thomas head-butted Josh Howard when Howard was a rookie with Dallas, jawed with Scott Skiles when Skiles was coaching in Phoenix, and once kicked a chair after practice while calling Jalen Rose “a little punk.”
Perhaps that’s why Blazers center Marcus Camby, who was teammates with Thomas with the Knicks, dubbed him “Dirty Kurty.”
But while Thomas came into this year having tallied 60 technical fouls and 12 flagrants through 16 seasons, he has acquired none of either with Portland.
Thomas insists he is the same player he was before -- but instead of using his head to crack skulls, he’s using it to think.
ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy, who coached Thomas in New York, agrees.
Van Gundy remembers Thomas serving as an enforcer during those pugilistic playoff games with the Heat. However, he also touted Thomas’ “unusually high IQ,” and an uncanny ability to acclimate to new conditions.
“The thing that I really admire now is his longevity and his ability to fit into different teams as he sort of bounced around,” Van Gundy said. “He was great last year for Chicago when they had injuries to (Carlos) Boozer and (Joakim) Noah. I’m surprised they didn’t sign him back.”
Thomas, who has worn nine different jerseys in his 17-year career, said playing time was his primary motivation for signing with the Blazers this season.
And by the looks of things, he’s justifying his 16.5 minutes a game.
Portland coach Nate McMillan acknowledged Thomas as one of the team’s premier screen setters and physical defenders. Thomas also is averaging 3.8 points, grabbing 3.8 rebounds ... and knocking down shots as efficiently as any forward in the league.
Of course, one has to consider that most of Thomas’ jumpers are wide open, while the stars of the NBA are generally contested.
So to break the tie, Blazers guard Wesley Matthews was asked the question of the day.
“Wesley, who can shoot better from 20 feet away, LaMarcus or Kurt?”
“It doesn’t matter,” responded Matthews, “because I’ll beat them both.”