When you talk about great players in Celtics history, Isaiah Thomas is unlikely to enter the conversation. Classic ballplayers like Bird, Russell, Havlicek, Cousy, and most recently, Paul Pierce, come to mind. When the Big Three era came to an end in Boston, the three leaders of the team disappeared with it. Following the trade there was a season where the Celtics lacked real leadership, both in the locker room and on the court. On January 19th, 2015, the Celtics made a trade for a player who they hoped could fill that void. Enter Isaiah Thomas. A player who has been underestimated his whole career. A player who was picked last in the 2011 NBA Draft. A player who is the shortest in the league. Although Isaiah has to crane his neck to look most players in the eye, when you watch him ball it is obvious that he backs down from nobody.
Since being drafted by the Sacramento Kings, Thomas has always been asked to do the most for his team. He over performed in three losing seasons for the team, and was traded to the Phoenix Suns to speed up Sacramento’s rebuilding phase. The next season, the Celtics scooped up Thomas in exchange for an aging player and a draft pick. Ironically, the Celtics received this draft pick from part of a deal that sent two-thirds of the Big Three, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, to the Brooklyn Nets. Out with the old and in with the new, I guess? When the Celtics traded for Thomas, they were doing pretty awful and hanging around the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. I was skeptical at first when I heard Thomas was joining the team, but he instantly proved me wrong with his play. He was able to assert himself as a leader on the court, and helped turn the Celtics season around. They ended up making the playoffs and losing to the Cleveland
LeBron Jameses Cavaliers in four hard-fought games, games which were much closer than their final score. I didn’t think the Celtics could get any better any faster. Boy was I was wrong.
This season, Isaiah has come into his full potential and rounded into true All-Star form. Up to this point in the season he is averaging: 21.7 Points per game (12th in NBA), 6.7 Assists per game (9th in NBA) 89.3% Free Throw (5th in NBA). Thomas has played 27 games where he’s scored 20+ points and 5+ assists. The only other players to do that this season are Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Those numbers alone should be enough to get your vote for IT. Isaiah’s facilitating skills now match his scoring skills, and he has become the leader the Celtics will need in the Playoff stretch. Isaiah has lead the Green to a 25-21 record, which leaves them in 2nd place in the Atlantic division, 5th overall in the East. This is right where the Celtics want to be to make a second half push to claim a top seed in the playoffs.
Although Isaiah had issues with attitude and leadership with losing teams in the past, the talent and effort were there. Brad Stevens was trusted to do his best Bill Bellichick impersonation and fix the broken pieces. Not so the Celtics could get the most out of Isaiah Thomas. So Isaiah Thomas could get the most out of Isaiah Thomas. IT has become more confident in himself as a leader, and in turn he’s made his teammates around him better. Stevens has already proven himself to be one of the best basketball minds in the league, and Thomas is yet another example of his brilliance. Isaiah has made the Celtics exciting to watch again. More importantly, he’s helped them become a squad that other teams won’t look forward to playing.