Knicks Turn to Thomas for Leadership & Intangibles

Lance Thomas‘ stat line Wednesday night against Memphis, with one huge exception, was as bland as one of those pre-made bagels with cream cheese you find at the corner deli.

Thomas had eight points, four rebounds and one assist in 32 minutes in the Knicks’ 99-88 win over the Grizzlies.

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But no player was more responsible for the win than one of the most responsible players in the NBA. Thomas, one of the Knicks’ co-captains, had a game-high +26.

And that doesn’t include the biggest plus he provided.

After the Knicks had given up an unacceptable 32 points on their home court, Thomas did what co-captains do. He took charge.

Thomas challenged his teammates to step it up on defense. Like that old E.F. Hutton commercial, when Thomas speaks, teammates listen.

“He’s a true professional, man,’’ Courtney Lee, the other co-captain, said of Thomas. “Knows every play. He’s in practice doing his work early. He’s a dude that you can really hold accountable and he holds everybody accountable.

“When he gets in, he makes the most of his opportunity and that’s just going out there and playing hard. I’ll take effort over talent anytime, man. He’s one of those soldiers in here that I like to ride with.’’

The only players that don’t like to ride with Thomas are the ones he defends. He’s made life miserable at times for LeBron James and Kevin Durant. He pushes Kristaps Porzingis in practice.

The Brooklyn native has never been the flashiest player on the court but if you’re picking teams in Rucker Park or the West 4th Street cage and want to stay on the court, you ride with Thomas.

He was named a co-captain in his senior year at Duke where he averaged 4.8 points.

But Duke won the NCAA Tournament. In the title game, Thomas was tasked with guarding Butler’s Gordon Hayward, the Horizon League Player of the Year.

Hayward averaged 15.5 points per game on 46-percent shooting that season. With Thomas badgering him like one of those Double Decker Hop-On bus ticket salespeople in Midtown, Hayward scored 12 points on 2-of-11 shooting.

“I love getting a stop,’’ Thomas told reporters after the game. “I love taking the challenge if a guy is trying to give me his best move and stopping him. That’s what gets me going.’’

Thomas got the Knicks going with his leadership and defense. After surrendering 32 points in the first quarter, the Knicks held the Grizzlies to 17 points in the second quarter and 18 in the third.

A former NBA coach told me, “Every team needs a Lance Thomas. A lot of players think about scoring. He thinks about winning.’’

The win lifted the Knicks to 12-12 overall and 11-5 in The Garden going into Saturday night’s game against the Bulls in Chicago.

It’s the start of a five-game stretch in which the Knicks play teams with a combined record of 36-80 as of Thursday.

The fifth game, however, is against the Oklahoma City Thunder in The Garden, which means Thomas, the defender, could be matched against ex-Knick Carmelo Anthony, the scorer.

“Everybody loves to score but it’s all about what you do to help the team win,’’ Thomas said. “I consistently bring energy and defense.’’

And leadership.

Thomas made his first start of the season against the Grizzlies due to the injury to Tim Hardaway Jr. With Hardaway, the team’s second-leading scorer out, the Knicks will need more on the defensive end.

That likely means more Thomas.

Consider this: A player that has spent time with the Austin Toros (2010-12) and the Foshan Dralions (2013-14) and has averaged 5.6 points for his professional career, is a co-captain.

“It’s a lot of responsibility that comes with it,’’ Thomas said. “You’ve got to practice what you preach. A lot of guys, I have their respect because I do that.

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“I lay it on the floor every time. I tell guys the truth. I live in the uncomfortable. I’m not afraid to tell a teammate, call him out or push him to be better.

“A lot of guys don’t know how to get out of their comfort zone. Some guys aren’t vocal. I’m all those things and that’s something I take pride in. I’m honored to be a co-captain.’’