“He’s a defensive liability!” “He dribbles the ball too much, the offense slows down with him on the floor.” “Last season was just a fluke, he will never be an All-Star again!” Isaiah Thomas has been doubted since the minute he entered the NBA. From being the last pick in the 2011 NBA Draft to being shipped from Sacramento to Phoenix because he wasn’t seen as a starting point guard, Thomas has had to overcome his fair share of adversity. But now, as one of the better players in the league heading to his second straight All-Star Game, Thomas is looking at his doubters in the rear view mirror.
Thomas has always had to prove himself. Whether at the University of Washington, in Sacramento or Phoenix, or even in Boston, Thomas has had to go above and beyond to show people why his aspirations of being “the best little guy ever” are not so far-fetched. After making his first All-Star Game last season, Thomas has come back even better. He is the catalyst for the Celtics’ offense and has had plenty of, “How did he do that?!” moments. He is, rightfully, starting to get the national attention that he deserves. Charles Barkley advocated for Thomas to start this year’s All-Star game after falling short behind Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan, and Kevin Garnett went as far as to say that he had Thomas in the MVP discussion. Thomas got his opportunity in when he arrived in Boston, and he grabbed it and hasn’t given it back.
As of today there are 10 players in the league averaging more than 25.0 PPG. While the normal names appear at the top of the scoring list, i.e. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Thomas’ is the new kid on the block. His offensive arsenal has continually grown since entering the league, and this season everything has come together. Thomas is shooting a career-high 38 percent from three-point range, scoring at an above-average clip from mid-range, and shooting 54.6 percent in the restricted area, a feat made even more impressive by the fact that he is only 5’9”. Thomas’ offense has been off the charts this season, and while the knocks about his defense are certainly warranted, it would be hard to argue that he has been a top offensive force thus far.
Player 1: 28.9 PPG, 6.2 APG – 24.70 PER
Player 2: 24.6 PPG, 6.2 APG – 24.10 PER
Player 3: 26.2 PPG, 5.9 APG – 23.80 PER
Player 4: 24.5 PPG, 5.6 APG – 21.60 PER
If I were to tell you that this list of above players included Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, and Isaiah Thomas, which player do you think IT would be? He is Player 1, leading the group in scoring by almost three points and tied for the lead in assists. And that has been the story of Thomas’ career. He may not have the shooting ability of Curry or the ball handling of Kyrie, but his numbers speak for themselves. Two years ago nobody would have expected Thomas to be in the conversation for a starting spot in the All-Star Game. Nobody would have expected there to be a debate about who was having the better season, Kyrie or IT. And nobody would have expected Thomas to be putting up a better statistical season than Curry. But here he is, second in the league in scoring, improving his efficiency day-by-day, and on the fringe of MVP consideration.
And yet that is not even his most impressive feat so far this year.
Thomas’ fourth quarter production has been nothing short or remarkable. IT is averaging an even 10 points in the fourth quarter alone, leading the league in that category. The fourth quarter has become Thomas’ playground, and you can see the confidence in his game on the final frame rolls around. He has single-handedly won the Celtics a number of games because of his ability to flourish in the fourth, most recently against the Charlotte Hornets on Jan. 16, when he dropped 17 in the fourth quarter to secure a home win. The 20-point quarters, game-winning shots, and newly coined “It’s my time” gesture are jaw-dropping on their own, but are made even more spectacular when you see how he is getting it done. In the fourth quarter, Thomas ups his shooting percentages, both from the field and from three-point territory. Thomas moves up four percentage points to 42.2 percent from three-point range in the fourth, normally a time in which opposing defenses key in on IT. And although a small sample size, in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter with the game within five points, Thomas is shooting an ungodly 56 percent from beyond the arc. IT is throwing daggers in the fourth, and has certainly earned his new nickname:
So knock Thomas is you want to. Harp on his defense, his height, or the fact that you can’t win a title if he is your best player. It’s nothing he hasn’t heard before. But let it sink in that we are watching one of the greatest seasons in the history of the NBA for somebody his size. For the IT doubters that will inevitably try to poke holes in the season he is having, keep it up. He will be out there working on his game every night, putting up superstar numbers, and always staying paranoid.