I’m sick of the Isaiah Thomas critics. Time and again Isaiah has proved critics wrong, yet time and again they find another way to nitpick his game. He’s too small. He’s a defensive liability. He doesn’t make the rest of the team better. I’m sick of all this talk.
Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Kyle Lowry, Kemba Walker, and Isaiah Thomas. It is undisputed that these five point guards are the class of the Eastern Conference. Prior to the start of this season, Isaiah was ranked last or second to last among these five by every major publications. Boy has he proved everyone wrong. Through 31 games this year, Isaiah has absolutely dominated. He’s earned the right to be called the best point guard in the Eastern Conference.
Here’s what we know. Isaiah Thomas is averaging 27.8 points per game this season. That’s good for best among point guards in the Eastern Conference and second among all qualified point guards (behind Russell Westbrook). His 27.8 ppg average is fifth among all NBA players. FIFTH. IN. THE. LEAGUE. Ahead of guys like Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard, and Jimmy Butler. He’s shooting efficiently, as his 45.3% FG percentage is tied for the best in his career, even though he’s taking more shots than ever before.
Obviously this guy can score. But he’s become a better passer than he’s ever been, averaging a career best 6.4 apg, good for 11th among qualified NBA point guards. Moreover, of the top 15 point guards in assists, only Ricky Rubio is averaging less turnovers per game. Not only is IT making more impactful passes than ever before, but he’s also limiting mistakes. That’s how you make the rest of your team better. His PER of 27.2 is good for 8th in the NBA among qualified players, ahead of CP3, LeBron, and Steph Curry. Do you get the picture yet?
If not, just look at his recent tear. Since missing 4 games in December (in which the Celtics floundered to a 1-3 record by the way), Isaiah has led the team to an 8-2 record through a brutal 10 game stretch in which the Celtics played 9 of those games in 15 days. 5 of those games were away games too. In the last 8 games of that stretch, Isaiah has been nothing short of spectacular, averaging 33.3 ppg, 7.5 apg, 51.6% FG, 41.9% 3PT, and 95% FT. Make no mistake about it, those are superstar numbers. Sure, 8 games is a small sample size, but IT has been consistently dominant. He hasn’t scored less than 18 points in a game this season. That’s consistent scoring production from your best player, night in and night out.
You might say, ok sure, Isaiah is an offensive monster, but he can’t play defense. I’ll give you that, somewhat. Isaiah isn’t an elite defender by any stretch of the imagination, and his size is an obvious and huge liability. Yet at the same time, the Celtics have managed to play pretty solid defense for the past few years even with Isaiah getting significant minutes. Maybe Isaiah isn’t a great defender, but it’s not for a lack of effort. Watch a Celtics game for 5 minutes and you’ll see that IT hustles hard on both ends of the floor.
Now let’s compare Isaiah to the other elite point guards in the Eastern Conference:
(TS% = True Shooting Percentage, A/TO = Assist-to-Turnover Ratio, WS = Win Shares)
From looking at these numbers, Isaiah is dominating in scoring, while remaining middle of the pack in assists. His True Shooting % and total Win Shares are second to Lowry while his A/TO and PER numbers top the group. Only in his rebounding is Isaiah the worst, but that is to be expected given his height. None of the five are great rebounders anyways. Defensively, Isaiah is bad, but nobody is praising Kyrie or Kemba for their defense either. Speaking of Kemba, he does not lead the group in any category, so we can eliminate him from this argument. An argument could be made for John Wall as the best point guard, as he is the only player in the group averaging a double-double, but his team is underperforming. The Wizards should be better. They’ve got another superstar in Bradley Beal, an emerging Otto Porter, and an experienced frontcourt. You can’t be the best point guard in the conference while your team sucks. Winning counts too.
So it’s down to the point guards of the three best teams in the East – IT, Kyrie, and Kyle Lowry. Kyrie is a great scorer and a flashy player, no question. But he’s proven he needs to play second fiddle to another star in order to win. Similarly, Lowry plays great defense and is an all-around stud, but he disappears in big games and is not the scorer Kyrie or Isaiah are. Statistically, Isaiah is the better player this season, and I think that the numbers still undersell his value. Take Isaiah off the Celtics, and you have a team competing for a lottery pick. Take Lowry off the Raptors and you’ll still have a team that would make the playoffs. A Kyrie-less Cavs team would still probably be the class of the East. Point being, Isaiah is critical to the Celtics; much more so than Kyrie is to the Cavs and Lowry is to the Raptors. He’s proven he can lead a team without another star player, as he did last year, and has elevated his game to another level with the addition of Al Horford. Not only is IT a great point guard, you could make an argument he’s more valuable to his team than any other player in the Eastern Conference.
IT has been undersold and underrated his entire career. Don’t forget that this guy was the last pick in the 2011 draft. He bounced around a few teams before landing with the Celtics, but all he’s done since getting here is play freaking unreal basketball. Dude puts up 52 points in a game, and people still criticize him for getting no assists. So what does he do? Come back out and put up 29 points and 15 assists and only turn the ball over once. No big deal. He’s the reason the Celtics are in third place in the East and he’s the reason why they’re competitive against top teams. Chip on his shoulder, team on his back, Isaiah’s proven the critics wrong over and over again and it’s time to give him the recognition he deserves.