Isaiah Thomas: The NBA’s Smallest Superstar



Many NBA fans are beginning to find out that the Boston Celtics aren’t playing around. The obvious rebuild that Boston fans had been dreading since the Pierce-Garnett-Allen era ended initially looked as if it was going to take years to regain control of the Eastern Conference. However, the rebuild has been fast forwarded after Danny Ainge was able to create some great trades last season for Boston and throw together a roster that formed the tenacious, relentless team that Celtics fans are beginning to fall in love with each game that they play.

I’ve been a Celtics fan as long as I can remember. Granted, I’m only 19-years-old, but I haven’t had this much fun watching the Celtics on a night-to-night basis since 2007-2010 when they played in two NBA Finals and would have been to three straight had Kevin Garnett not gotten injured. This team oozes with competitiveness as they’re a group of junkyard dogs that are undervalued across the board. Every player on this roster fits perfectly with one another and I’m (almost) completely sure that there isn’t a team in the NBA that could benefit any of the members of this roster more than the Boston Celtics.

Many believed the catalyst of restoring a winning team in Boston would be from the future lottery beauties acquired from the Brooklyn Nets. However, I believe it’ll be from something else — Isaiah Thomas.

The 5’9″ starting point guard is the epitome of the 2015-16 Boston Celtics. Isaiah plays with a chip on his shoulder and has had to his entire basketball career as he’s always been pushed aside and counted out for being “the little guy” on the court, regardless the level of basketball he was playing. Thomas was the 60th pick (yes…last) of the 2011 NBA Draft after he spent three seasons at the University of Washington.

After Isaiah’s third season in Sacramento where he was promoted to starter, reduced to sixth man, buried on the end of the bench, won games for Sacramento on his own, and was labeled by many as a player who was only out to get his, Isaiah decided it would be best for him to leave that situation and he signed with Phoenix in the summer of 2014. The Phoenix organization brought Isaiah in to be their sixth man as they didn’t believe he was a good enough player to start ahead of Eric Bledsoe or Goran Dragic. As the most obvious question ever was answered (can those three guards play together?), Thomas was traded to Boston.

Boston had been raving for years of how special of talent a Isaiah was and how they’d love to have him. Nobody wanted to give Isaiah the proper minutes he deserved and he was never in a situation that benefited his play as the focal point.

After acquiring Isaiah from Phoenix Danny Ainge said, “Isaiah was my first call last summer in free agency. Isaiah was a guy I liked in the draft. Isaiah was a guy that was part of discussions when he was at Sacramento.”

It was clear that the Celtics were a fan of Isaiah and were going to give him the legitimate opportunity that he had deserved since he stepped into the NBA. Even though Isaiah proved to be Boston’s best player during their push for the playoffs in 2015, he didn’t get his first start until the fourth game of this season after Marcus Smart had injured his knee against the Brooklyn Nets.

The argument to start Isaiah was always a topic of conversation, but he was so effective off of the bench that even basketball mastermind Brad Stevens wasn’t completely sure if starting — in my best Tommy Heinsohn voice — the little guy (!!!!) was the best decision for the Boston Celtics.

After a combination of Isaiah’s first All-Star nod and the Celtics sitting at the three seed in the Eastern Conference, it’s looking like promoting Isaiah has been the spark plug to relighting the winning ways inside of the Celtics’ charm.

Some would argue that Jae Crowder has taken over the role as the Celtics best player this season. While Crowder has been fantastic and obviously deserving of some votes for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, I believe he’s been more of the emotional leader — along with Marcus Smart. Crowder and Smart are the heartbeat of Boston, but it’s Thomas who is their go-to, most skilled, most talented player. Isaiah Thomas is the straw that stirs the Boston Celtics as he’s easily been the best offensive player they’ve had since Paul Pierce.

Isaiah Thomas has been their best, most consistent offensive option throughout the entire season and was rewarded an All-Star nod for his breakout abilities to score and distribute the basketball. A career year and then some for Thomas has been the story of his 2015-16 season.

The great thing about Thomas is that he’s never satisfied. Regardless of earning an All-Star spot, or positioning his team to where they’re at so far this season doesn’t mean anything to Thomas. He still plays each game with a chip on his shoulder. He doesn’t believe that he, or the rest of the Celtics are earning the respect amongst the league for what they’ve shown dating back to this time last season.

“Teams, players, the NBA — they still don’t respect us. And we know that. We go into every game with a chip on our shoulder knowing that we have to earn the respect, and we have to earn what we get, and take what’s ours. We feel like every game we’ve got a chance to win if we play the right brand of basketball.” — Isaiah Thomas after snapping Portland’s winning streak earlier in the week.

When asked why the Celtics don’t hold any respect across the league, Isaiah smiled and said, “I guess we’ve got no superstar. No foundation player, right?”

Isaiah reads the columns and listens to the media repeatedly say that the Celtics don’t have a player that is good enough to win the big games. He knows people don’t think he’s a superstar. Isaiah knows people view his All-Star appearance as a “fluke” or as a “lucky season”. This is nothing new to Isaiah Thomas because he’s been counted out since the day he came out of the womb — something that has helped shape his crazy competitiveness and Floyd Mayweather level work ethic.

A lot of credit for this team winning goes to Brad Stevens, as it should. Stevens has been so good in his short time in the NBA that he earned a running joke with Bill Simmons of how Brad Stevens is running for President. A lot of people look at this roster and wonder how Stevens is so damn good with that roster. The joke has rolled into Stevens’ identity becoming a geeky, young coach that sits in a dimly lit basement crunching numbers and drawing up genius after-timeout-plays. While Stevens is definitely sailing the ship, I believe the success is also from the transformation of Isaiah Thomas the sixth man to Isaiah Thomas the superstar that nobody believes in.

Isaiah has been on a sensational run as of lately. Something you can’t say often is that your point guard literally doesn’t turn the ball over. Well, in his last three games Isaiah has scored 89 points while shooting 58% from the field and dished out 14 assists with ZERO turnovers in the last 100 minutes of game action.

A streak of 3 games with 0 turnovers and at least 25 points hasn’t happened since LaMarcus Aldridge did so in 2013. That might sound like a statistic that ESPN finds after a Curry or LeBron game, but it shows you how special the streak is that Isaiah is on.

Fans and NBA media continue to ignore Isaiah and say that he isn’t a “superstar” or somebody that superstars wouldn’t want to play with. Why, because he’s the little guy? Players are getting praised for putting up virtually the same or worse numbers than Thomas does. Readers will continue to find excuses for Thomas. Well, readers who clearly don’t watch Thomas play basketball.

To understand how great of season Isaiah is having here is how he stacks up against some of the best players at his position among the league. To create a mystery, I won’t put the player’s name next to their statistics — simply click the link to view who Thomas is competing with.

*ALL STATISTICS PER 36 MINUTES*

Isaiah Thomas — 24.2 PPG, 7.4 APG, 3.2 RPG, 1.3 SPG, .427 FG%, .886 FT%

23.0 PPG, 5.4 APG, 3.5 RPG, 1.1 SPG, .458 FG%, .885 FT%
21.1 PPG, 6.2 APG, 4.8 RPG, 2.1 SPG, .443 FG%, .846 FT%
17.4 PPG, 7.0 APG, 3.4 RPG, 1.4 SPG, .420 FG%, .834 FT%
18.7 PPG, 5.5 APG, 4.1 RPG, 0.1 SPG, .425 FG%, .800 FT%
25.8 PPG, 6.9 APG, 4.2 RPG, 1.0 SPG, .431 FG%, .875 FT%

Obviously readers are going to debate if Thomas deserves to be on that list with some of those players, but the point is that he is in the conversation as he is putting up similar numbers as those players and has his team’s record ahead of all except two of them.

It is true that the Celtics are a piece away from contention, but Isaiah and the rest of the Celtics have put the rest of the league on notice. Don’t be surprised if Isaiah Thomas, Brad Stevens, and the rest of the Celtics make enough noise in the playoffs that will find them fight LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals. Is that what it’ll take for the country to believe in Isaiah Thomas?

They told the Warriors that “they couldn’t win a championship because they were a jump shooting team.” Well, now the word is that the Celtics can’t make the Eastern Conference Finals because they don’t have a “superstar” on their roster. Will it take a deep Boston playoff run to create the respect that the Celtics and Isaiah Thomas deserve? In my opinion, only then will Thomas be viewed as a superstar.



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