Once he made it to the NBA, Thomas had to prove himself once again. He did so rather quickly, as he thoroughly outplayed fellow rookie and 10th overall pick Jimmer Fredette.
Thomas quickly became a fan favorite and a starter but was never a favorite of Kings management, who never really made him an offer as a restricted free agent and facilitated his departure to the Phoenix Suns in a sign-and-trade deal in exchange for almost nothing (Alex Oriakhi and a trade exception).
He lasted less than a full season in Phoenix, who moved him to Boston in a three-team trade halfway through the 2014-15 season.
Since then, Thomas has made a home for himself in Boston. He made his first All-Star appearance in his first season for the Boston Celtics in 2015-16. This season, he is averaging 26.8 points and 6.3 assists per game.
The Celtics are third in the East right now after tying for third in the East last year. Despite the addition of Al Horford in the offseason, Thomas is still the leader of this Celtics team.
Ball On A String
Any time a list of the best ball-handlers in the league is made, Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry tend to get the top spots. Isaiah Thomas might not have the same dribbling wizardry as those two, but his dribbling skills are probably around the top 10 in the NBA.
His short stature, always seen as a weakness, helps him to keep the ball relatively low to the ground. Being left-handed also helps him to wrong-foot defenders who are used to players who drive right.
Once Thomas can get a defender on his hip, he can use his speed to drive by him and get to the rim.
Isaiah’s best move off the dribble is his hesitation dribble, which is arguably the best hesitation move in the league. He is able to halt his dribbling rhythm for just a second before darting to the basket, leaving defenders frozen and confused in his wake:
Isaiah Thomas is able to translate his great handles into baskets at a prodigious and effective rate. Thomas takes 43.6 percent of his shots after three or more dribbles and cans 47.6 percent of those looks according to NBA.com’s shot tracking data.
Defenders might have a chance at stopping Thomas on a simple close-out, but his ability to create looks for himself off the dribble drives much of his scoring ability.
Celtics fans might have expected Isaiah Thomas to have a lowered scoring load this season with the addition of Al Horford. Instead, Thomas has ramped up his scoring and driven much of the Celtics offense.
Isaiah is averaging almost five points per game more than his previous career high of 22.2 points per game last season.
More impressively, Thomas has managed to up his shooting efficiency by cutting some bad shots out of his game. His True Shooting Percentage of 58.9 percent is also a career high. Last season,
Thomas took 70.3 percent of his shots from either the restricted area or 3-point range per NBA.com. This season, that number is up to 76.9 percent. Players that take on such a large offensive role are rarely able to improve their scoring average and their efficiency, but Thomas has been able to manage the task by taking smarter shots.
Isaiah Thomas is also proving himself as the primary crunch-time option for the Celtics. Thomas is currently seventh in the NBA in scoring. That number jumps to second in the fourth quarter.
Thomas is also somehow more efficient in the fourth; his True Shooting Percentage jumps to 64.3 percent in the final period. Isaiah’s ability to score at the end of the game will gain even more value in the playoffs. For now, he has cemented himself as a late-game killer.
Making Strides As A Playmaker
Isaiah Thomas is just barely ahead of his career high in assists this season. He is currently averaging 6.3 assists per game, a hair better than his 6.2 assists per game last season. On the surface, it might seem as though Thomas has not improved much in his ability to create for others.
A closer look, however, reveals that Thomas has been a far more useful passer this season. His assist percentage is slightly higher per Basketball-Reference: 34.0 percent this year versus 32.7 percent last year. The big difference has been in Isaiah’s ability to hold onto the ball.
His turnover percentage is down to just 8.7 percent after ending last year at 11.9 percent. In terms of turnover ratio, George Hill is the only regular starting point guard who has been more careful with the ball than Isaiah.
The Case For The All-Star Game
Given Boston’s place in the Eastern Conference standings and his own stellar play, Isaiah Thomas has earned a second All-Star spot so far this season. The only player in the East outscoring Thomas is DeMar DeRozan, who edges him by 0.7 points per game.
In a year where Muggsy Bogues was nominated for the Hall of Fame, all signs are positive for small players. However, Isaiah Thomas has earned the right to play in New Orleans despite his stature and not because of it.
The Eastern Conference has plenty of players worthy of an All-Star nod this year. Even if Isaiah does not make the roster this year, his impressive season thus far is another shot at his doubters.