Twenty months ago, the Boston Celtics took a flier on Isaiah Thomas at the trade deadline, a gamble that has paid huge dividends, as he has become an All-Star point guard and a building block for the franchise.
The Boston Celtics are hoping Isaiah Thomas will continue to prove everyone wrong.
Thomas accomplished nearly every feat he wasn’t expected to during his first full season in Boston, as he appeared in all 82 games, earned his first career All-Star selection and led the team back into the postseason.
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Along the way, Thomas became just the third player, joining Michael Adams and Calvin Murphy, to average more than 22 points per game for an entire season while standing less than 6-foot tall.
Much of the success of Thomas stems from his refusal to back down from any challenge.
Oct 6, 2016; Greensboro, NC, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) sits on the bench during the second half against the Charlotte Hornets at Greensboro Coliseum. The Celtics defeated the Hornets 107-92. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Despite surrendering a height advantage to literally everyone else in the league, the 5-foot-9 guard is the shortest active player in the league, Thomas relentlessly attacks the rim.
Thomas shared the league-lead in drives to the basket per game, as he attacked the basket 11.7 times per game, matching Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan.
The continual drives to the rim generated 7.6 points a night, the third most in the league last year.
The results were career-highs in scoring (22.2 points per game), rebounds (3.0), 3-point field goals (167) and his 544 free throw attempts ranked as the eighth most in the NBA.
Thomas was one of just five players to average at least 22 points, 6.0 assists and over one steal per game last season.
The 1,823 points he scored were the ninth most in the league, a particularly impressive feat considering he wasn’t expected to make any type of impact when he submitted his name for the NBA Draft following his junior season at Washington.
Every team had a pair of opportunities to select Thomas in the 2011 NBA Draft, but only the Kings chose him, waiting until the final pick of the night to take the point guard.
Even after proving to be a viable player for the Kings, he was still essentially given away twice in the past 27 months.
First Sacramento wanted little in return for Thomas, even though he averaged 15.3 points and 4.8 assists per game in three seasons with the team.
Thomas was sent to Phoenix in exchange for a trade exception and the rights to Alex Oriakhi, a power forward that has yet to make an appearance in the NBA.
As the Suns loaded up their backcourt, eight months after acquiring him, team deemed Thomas expendable, dealing him for Marcus Thornton and a future first round pick.
Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough later admitted that he regretted making the deal to send Thomas to Boston.
The rest of the league has remorse as well, especially after became the first player in 34 years selected after the 58th overall pick to be selected as an All-Star.
The success of Thomas wasn’t limited to individual production, as the Celtics experienced drastic improvements on both ends of the floor during his first full season with the team.
Boston jumped up eight spots in both offensive and defensive efficiency a year ago. The team went from 18th to 10th in offensive efficiency and from 12th to 4th in defensive efficiency, joining the Spurs, Clippers, Hornets, Warriors and Cavaliers to be ranked in the top-10 in both categories last season.
Thomas even joined an exclusive club last season, becoming the ninth player in franchise history to tally a 40 point performance in the post season.
A 42 point explosion, another career-high set last year, against Atlanta in Game 3 of the opening round of the 2016 playoffs paved the way for Thomas’ first career postseason victory.
The Hawks managed to eliminate Boston in six games, even though Thomas posted 24.2 points and 5.0 assists per game in the series.
The team is facing elevated expectations this season, especially after adding Al Horford in free agency, providing Thomas a consistent scorer to find for assists.
Thomas’ most frequent assist partner last season was Jared Sullinger, as 1.3 of his assists per game went to the forward even though he shot just 43.5 percent from the field and 28.2 percent from 3-point range.
Horford has converted 50 percent of his field goal attempts in each of his past eight seasons and added a viable long range shot to his offensive repertoire, connecting a career-high 88 times from beyond the arc last year.
All Thomas needed to ready himself for the regular season was a 15 minute stint against Brooklyn Monday night in the sixth preseason contest of the year for the Celtics.
After posting 10.8 points in his first four preseason appearances, Thomas torched the Nets for 15 points, connecting on each of his six attempts from the field, including his lone shot from 3-point range and sank 6-of-7 free throw attempts.
The shooting touch is already back and he expects the team to become a true contender in the Eastern Conference this season.