If judging by looks alone, one could be hard-pressed to consider Isaiah Thomas a team’s Goliath. But on any given night, the diminutive point guard and his 5-foot-9 frame can be seen lording over the Boston Celtics.
He may only be in his fifth NBA season, and already on his third team in as many seasons, but that doesn’t discourage the Tacoma, Washington native from imposing his will and providing direction for a young and talented Boston squad.
The Celtics have endured a tough stretch recently. But Thomas’s game has been a wondrous mix of aggression and smoothness. He notched a game-high 34 points at MSG against the Knicks on Tuesday.
Those types of efforts will likely go unnoticed by the masses due to losses but that shouldn’t take away from his exploits. He’s also the team’s leading scorer, and that, too, has gone largely unrecognized – which has become the story of his career.
He thinks he knows why, though.
“Because I’m 5-foot-9,” Thomas said with a shrug.
That may actually be the reason, because if voters go by statistics, Thomas is as effective as anyone in the Association.
This is Thomas’s best season yet, averaging 21.1 points, 6.8 assists, and 1.3 steals – all career highs. His scoring average ranks 14th overall in the NBA – fourth-highest among point guards -- and is only sixth-tenths of a point behind Carmelo Anthony. Yet, when names are bandied about for all-star consideration, his gets left out more times than not.
“There’s not much anyone can do. I’m still going to be 5-foot-9,” Thomas said when asked what could be done to get his all-star movement more publicity.
He added he rarely gets the close calls and doesn’t feel totally respected on the level of other high-octane scorers, likely because of his physical stature.
“I don’t get those [borderline calls] … I guess I have to do everything better,” he said.
Perhaps another reason why he gets overlooked is because of his many travels so far in his young career. Thomas’s first stop was in Sacramento where he was an exciting 6th man and game-changer any time he stepped on the floor, averaging 15.5 points per game in just 28 minutes per game. He was then traded to Phoenix in the 2014 offseason, but the triumvirate point guard scheme didn’t fit his style. It wasn’t until he arrived in Boston, after getting traded again in February of 2015, that his game blossomed and he was able to take on more of a leadership role.
His ascension is the reason why the young point guard is able to publicly point out the team’s “lack of maturity” during its recent rough patch, without any resentment from teammates. He noted following the Knicks defeat that it’s “very frustrating” to lose, especially when the Celtics give away “winnable games.”
His tone was that of a steely veteran, who thinks they’re close to getting back on track – they just need to fine tune the minutiae.
“We’re not doing enough of the little things, paying attention to details, and the scouting reports,” Thomas said. “We definitely need guys to step up and do things at a higher level … whatever you do, do it well.”
Head coach Brad Stevens said he believes Thomas belongs among the elite names, but added sometimes perception and labels aren’t what they seem.
“He’s awfully good and is playing awfully hard, even on the defensive end. Isaiah is a high-level player and without him we would struggle to create offense,” said Stevens, adding that getting recognition isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. “The guys who can score 20 points a night, score 20 points a night for a reason. He’s a born scorer. But I think stars are labels that people just give. Some guys have that star label and aren’t, while some aren’t labeled stars and actually are.”
It’s easy to see that Thomas falls in that latter category.
- As is the case with most teams that are jump-shot oriented, the Celtics are near the bottom of the league in free throw attempts (20th), while opponents are attempting almost four more per game.