Isaiah Thomas has gone through life under the radar. When Thomas was drafted 60th overall by the Sacramento Kings in 2011, the media crowded to Jimmer Freddette, the much-hyped sharpshooter from BYU whom everyone expected to be one of the best from the entire draft.
Six years later, we can say with confidence that the Sacramento media corps missed out on the fresh takes of a budding star.
Thomas, 27, is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference. There have been too many clutch performances, and too much overall dominance, to say otherwise.
Few things give me more joy than watching Kyrie Irving split a defense on the way to a flashy reverse lay-in, but look at what Thomas has done with the team he’s been given, with the cards he was dealt when he was mercifully traded across the country to the Celtics in the spring of 2015.
Every night, Thomas takes the court surrounded by a roster that, with the exception of Thomas and Al Horford, has collectively never played in an All-Star game. Despite this inherent setback, the Celtics entered Tuesday with a 26-15 record, good for third in the Eastern Conference.
Thomas stands only 5’9″, but that has hardly hindered him in his race to be the best he can be. Thomas is too quick for defenders–switching directions seemingly on a whim, Thomas leaves guards and forwards alike stumbling on the TD Garden’s parquet floor, as he slithers his way to the hoop for either a smooth lay-in or a surefire shooting foul. When he does miss and get fouled, the home crowd usually isn’t too worried, because Thomas shoots 91% from the free-throw line.
There’s more where that stat line came from. Thomas averages 28.4 points a contest, placing him fourth in the league in that category. He racks up 6.1 assists a game, but we’ve seen that number swell before (15 dimes against the Jazz earlier this month).
The biggest selling point to Thomas’s MVP case came on December 30, at home against the Heat. Thomas entered the fourth quarter with 23 points, another solid performance for “the little guy,” as Celtics color commentator Tommy Heinsohn described the plucky point guard.
I was lucky enough to be in the arena that night as Thomas put on his show, and the electricity was palpable. Thomas showed up at a time when the Celtics needed him to. See, Boston had just played the Cavaliers in Cleveland just the night before, and the team’s physical energy was running low by the time the fourth quarter hit against the Heat. That’s when Thomas came through. He conquered the quarter largely by way of the long ball. Thomas hit nine threes in the win, a personal record. With every trey came chants of “M-V-P,” loud expressions that reverberated off the Garden rafters long after the buzzer sounded on a Celtic win.
Isaiah Thomas has taken a mediocre NBA franchise and turned it into not only a perennial playoff participant, but a worthy Cavalier challenger as well. Many critics say the Celtics are still one big piece away from seriously challenging the Cavaliers for the title of the East’s best, and I agree. However, the system in place right now is seriously working, and it’s saving GM Danny Ainge serious money. The Celtics shouldn’t be in third place in the East, but they are because Thomas has proven to be a facilitator that can take a team to a new-and-improved level of play. Thomas is nothing short of a floor general, barking out coach Brad Stevens’ plays, while even taking the initiative and believing in himself, like he did against Atlanta last week.
Thomas elected to run an isolation play as time winded down against the Hawks last Friday, and the results were fruitful. Thomas drew a one-and-one, and one filthy step-back later, Thomas had an open shot that would find its way through the nylon for the game-winner in a 103-101 Celtics triumph.
Isaiah has said that the fourth quarter atmosphere “isn’t for everyone.” He sure seems pretty damn comfortable in it.
With the seconds ticking away, who else would you want to give the ball to? Isaiah Thomas is pushing the Celtics towards the playoffs during a year when most of the team’s other players are underperforming compared to previous standards. For these accomplishments, Thomas deserves to be considered seriously for MVP. I hope the NBA takes notice, because I can guarantee you that the Miami Heat already have.