Height-challenged Thomas never doubted himself
Jul 22, 2014 at 4:44p ET
PHOENIX -- If you recklessly juggle the context, one of the quotes from Isaiah Thomas' introductory press conference would seem to be in lock step with national perception.
"I'm not really supposed to be here," Thomas said during Monday's official hello to the Suns.
You almost can hear NBA watchdogs from around the country nodding in agreement. Joining a team that already employs third-team All-NBA point guard Goran Dragic and is expected to retain rising star Eric Bledsoe has raised eyebrows pointing at both parties in this deal.
To the assumption-makers, snagging Thomas in free agency indicates the Suns must have some deal in the works . . . right? And the 5-foot-9 buzzsaw wouldn't be interested in becoming yet another Suns point guard after validating his big-league status with 20 points and 6 dimes per game for the Sacramento Kings . . . would he?
Well . . . yeah.
"I wanted to feel wanted," Thomas said, sounding very much like the lyricist for a musical ballad, when asked why he would even consider going to a team that's loaded at his conventional position.
The being wanted part certainly makes sense. And the reasons why he was wanted here are legion. But we can distill them into two main explanations: The Suns and Coach Jeff Hornacek prefer playing two off-the-dribble playmakers at all times. Despite their reluctance to fork over max money to Bledsoe, they do plan to keep him, Dragic and Thomas in a backcourt designed to shred opposing defenses.
And they also think lessons accrued along the road that Thomas has traveled (at warp speed) to get here make him the perfect addition. The longshot nature of his short stature is what his not-supposed-to-be-here statement was referring to.
"They brought me in and liked me for being me," Thomas said. "They liked me for being 5-9 and for being a scoring point guard. And that's what I wanted. The situation here is perfect for me -- the talent plus the organization it is."
Three years ago, very few teams were wild about a 5-9 scoring point guard. Despite earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors in his sophomore and junior seasons at the University of Washington, the kid whose first name was the result of his father, a Los Angeles Lakers fan, losing an NBA-related bet was the last player selected in the 2011 draft.
"I'm blessed," Thomas said. "Sixtieth picks don't usually even make the team."
He earned those blessings by never surrendering to skepticism. But it wasn't easy. Even though Thomas has thrived at each stop on his basketball journey, he frequently was expected to work as second fiddle.
Although he played high school ball in the Tacoma (Wash.) area before attending a prep school back East, Thomas did spend some of his club-ball time with the Arizona Magic. He did well in that environment, even though it was difficult to escape the voluminous shadow created by teammate Jerryd Bayless.
Bayless, who was a five-star recruit at St. Mary's High in Phoenix, went on to play in the McDonald's All-American game, had a big freshmen season at the University of Arizona and was a lottery pick.
Thomas, no slouch as a four-star recruit, provided Washington with 15 points a game in his first season under Coach Lorenzo Romar but was joined by five-star point guard signee Abdul Gaddy the next year.
So he's done this multiple-ballhandler thing before.
Anyway, after being selected by Sacramento, all Thomas did was beat out everyone the Kings brought in to play the position ahead of him. Even after his statistical breakout this past season, the Kings reportedly didn't consider him enough of a floor leader to keep around. Instead, they went with free agent Darren Collison.
"I'm a guy who writes stuff down," Thomas said when asked about how he deals with the doubters. "I read a lot of articles. I use them for motivation."
When moving on from Sacramento became necessary, Thomas didn't need to consult any basketball literature when compiling a destination wish list. He'd seen the Suns up close. And he'd given them enough on-court grief to provoke Monday's testimony from general manager Ryan McDonough:
"He's the kind of guy who can beat you all by himself."
The Suns, it should be noted, weren't beaten all that frequently last season. Thomas was impressed.
"It was a lot of excitement," he said. "The guys seemed to play for each other and not with each other. They have fun out there.
"Everybody counted the guys out. Everybody counted the Phoenix Suns out. I wanted to be part of that."
Now Thomas is part of a high-speed attack he was told will include Bledsoe. This means the Suns are smart enough to take advantage of what they're good at and try to become even better -- or at least more consistent -- at it. So, when one of the two stellar incumbents is due for a break or is injured, Thomas is here to ensure the level of attacking remains high. With Suns committed to using two players previously categorized as point guards at the same time, there will be 96 minutes to split three ways.
"Nobody's going to take each other's minutes," Thomas said. "We're going to do this thing together and be successful. When they brought me in they said, 'We think of you as a starter, we feel you can help us in a lot of ways.'
"Goran and Eric are great players, but we do things differently. We're three different players."
At 5-9, Thomas will be the one who stands out in any NBA-sized crowd. But his quickness, strength, fearlessness and skill should make him as popular with fans as he already is with his employers.
"I always took advantage of my opportunities," Thomas said. "This is another opportunity and I'm looking forward to it."