Isaiah Thomas: The Superstar We Nearly Overlooked
Isaiah Jamar Thomas. The 60th pick in the 2011 NBA draft is having a season that no NBA fan would call irrelevant. The 5’9” guard is showing the world why executives who drafted players such as Kyle Singler, Jon Leur and Shelvin Mack before him were erroneous picks.
The Boston Celtic hasn’t had the easiest road to where he is now – among the league’s elite. Traded twice in his now five-year career, it seemed as though Thomas would never be valued as an elite talent.
The Sacramento Kings reportedly wanted Darren Collison to possess the starting role over Thomas, and Thomas was averaging 20.3 points and 6.3 assists at the time of the trade. Isaiah was traded to the Phoenix Suns for Alex Oriakhi and a 7.3 million dollar trade exception in a sign-and-trade deal. For context, Oriakhi has never played a game in the Association, and now has a career in the Euro League.
Why would any team trade a player like Thomas? Clearly he had the potential to be something special. That is a question many would ask again at the 2014-2015 trade deadline.
Shortly after signing a four-year, 27 million dollar contract in the desert, the diminutive guard was on the move again, this time to the Boston Celtics. Amidst reports of derision among the crowded backcourt in Phoenix, the Suns front office sent Goran Dragic to the Miami Heat in a separate deadline deal.
Finally, Thomas landed on a team that appreciated his services and reaped the benefits of that trust. This relationship has propelled the Celtics to be a force, not only in the Eastern Conference, but the entire league.
During that 14-15 season, Boston won 40 games and squeaked into the postseason as the seventh seed. Isaiah finished second in Sixth Man voting that year. In his first playoff series, Thomas led the team in scoring with 17.5 points and assists with seven per game. He didn’t start a game that series. The team however, lost in four to the eventual conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
In his first full season with the team, Thomas had 24.8 points almost seven assists per 36 minutes, while shooting 46% from the field and 35% percent from three. He went on to start a career-high 79 games. The team won 48 games, and secured a fifth seed in a log-jammed conference. Thomas, deservedly so, played in his first All-star Game.
This season has seen the point guard take his game to even higher heights. He’s fourth in scoring at 28 points per game, and one of only seven players to score 50+ points this season. Elite players such as LeBron James and Stephen Curry have yet to record a 50-point game this season. He is also in the top ten in free throw attempts at nearly nine a game. Additionally, he’s hitting them at a career high 90% rate.
It’s not all about individual success either. With the addition of Al Horford in the offseason and the emergence of Avery Bradley, this Celtics team currently sits third in the East and is on pace for a 50-win season.
Isaiah saw 59 other players taken before him that talent loaded 2011 draft. Of players drafted in 2011, Thomas ranks fourth in minutes played this season and leads that draft in scoring. He’s well on his way to his second All-Star appearance as he is leading his team to a great season.
For Isaiah, he relishes the opportunity he has and thoroughly enjoys it per Chris Forsberg of ESPN:
…I’m like, man, I play for the Boston Celtics. I’m the franchise player for the Boston Celtics. Like, it doesn’t make sense.”
Isaiah may not have been appreciated for what he was early on, but now we see him for what he is — the superstar we don’t deserve, but are as grateful as anyone to have.