It seems like with any of these spark plug sixth men, there's always a little good and a little bad. You love it when they come in a light up a scoreboard, but when they're cold, every missed shot is deflating. Isaiah Thomas came to the Celtics with some of that baggage from Sacramento and Phoenix, but so far, he's been a model citizen in Boston and so far in training camp.
Before Thursday's practice, Brad Stevens talked about Isaiah Thomas the "unbelievable" playmaker, not Isaiah Thomas the scorer:
"He's playing very unselfish. He's making the right read, regardless of situation, and he's not forcing anything. He really played great point guard on offense the whole time."
"The thing that I've asked out of him is the same that you'd ask about anybody -- if there's a basketball play that's happening, the game is going to tell you what to do and you've got to make the reads," said Stevens. "We spent a lot more time, even in our first four practices, on reading and reacting off of each other -- more of in a constant-movement, somewhat-random-yet-organized manner, so you know where people are going to be, but it's not going to be exact time and again. And you just have to make basketball reads. Sometimes they are going to be backed up off of [Thomas], and he's going to be able to score; sometimes he's going to be able to blow by them and get to the rim and make shots; sometimes he's going to have to make the right read for the other guy."
For Thomas, it's been a revelation born out of Boston's sweep by the Cavaliers last season. Thomas has made remarks about wanting to start, needing to find another consistent scorer on the team, and working on an array of new Steve Nash-esque shots, but Jae Crowder believes that losing to Cleveland has motivated Thomas to no longer define himself as a "point guard" or a "scorer," but to play within the system. After taking away IT's scoring opportunities in pick-and-rolls, Crowder says it wasn't Thomas' sole responsibility to directly find shots for his teammates. "I've talked to him about it and our way of adjusting is him trying to find other guys and trying to make a play for him -- not necessarily [Thomas] making a play for us each and every time," Crowder said.
I hate going down this memory lane, but here are a couple of clips from last April and the first round of the playoffs.
It's not always going to be that easy in the pick and roll, even with a great finisher like Amir Johnson or AB splashing corner threes. Thomas may be the closest thing the Celtics have in a star right now, but as Crowder suggests, he'll have to get it out of his head that he's the little engine that could.
Neither Zeller or Sullinger roll here, so Thomas takes the contested mid-range jump shot. There was plenty of time on the clock for Isaiah to kick out the ball to Sully who could have driven it on the weak side of the defense at J.R. Smith and potentially found Smart in the corner for an open three.
After the Zeller slip screen creates little separation between IT and Kyrie Irving, Thomas pulls up for a contested three very early in the shot clock. He could have easily reset the offense to Avery Bradley on his left or Evan Turner to his right.
Thomas is credited an assist here, but this is exactly what Crowder is talking about. Thomas finds Jonas Jerebko with James Jones sucked into the paint because of his penetration. JJ finishes with a sweet reverse, but he could have dumped it off to Tyler Zeller for a layup or kicked it back out to Thomas for a 3.
Isaiah Thomas said he wants to hit singles but knows he can still be a home run hitter: "Ken Griffey Jr. in his prime."— Jay King (@ByJayKing) October 2, 2015
Whether Thomas starts, comes off the bench, is surrounded by shooters, or plays PnR with the bigs, IT will make the most of his PT if he can continue to play in the system and be more versatile rather than hope that the system molds around him. Offensively, Thomas is a very talented player and should command a lot of defensive attention, but as Crowder hints to and Stevens commends him for, the all around team effect goes up a notch if Thomas is just another cog in the wheel.