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Does being a starter still matter to Isaiah Thomas?

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David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Over the course of his still-young career, Isaiah Thomas has never had a problem expressing his desire to be a starter. But can you blame him?

This is a guy who, during a career-year in 2013-14, averaged 20.3 points and 6.3 assists per game while finishing fifth amongst all point guards in Player Efficiency Rating (20.5), trailing just Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, and Goran Dragic.

In spite of that, the Sacramento Kings didn’t see Thomas as their long-term solution at point guard, opting to sign Darren Collison away from the Los Angeles Clippers instead.

2013-14 per 36 minutes stats
Player Points Assists PER
Isaiah Thomas 23.0 5.9 20.5
Darren Collison 15.9 5.2

16.2

Thomas wound up in Phoenix via a sign-and-trade where he would become the final piece of the three-headed point guard "monster" the Suns thought would take the league by storm. But after just 46 games, Phoenix decided to break the threesome up, shipping Thomas to the Celtics and Dragic to the Miami Heat.

Thomas would start just one game while with Phoenix, though he statistically outperformed both Bledsoe and Dragic per 36 minutes during his short tenure there.

2014-15 Season with Phoenix
Player Games Points Assists PER
Isaiah Thomas 46 21.4 5.2 19.7
Eric Bledsoe 81 17.7 6.3 18.4
Goran Dragic 52 17.5 5.5 16.7

"It’s tough because I value myself as a starter," Thomas told Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee last November. "And in this organization they value me as a starter. But I’ve got to do what’s best for this team and what’s best as of right now is to come off the bench and be the sixth man and play my game when I do get in."

"But at the same time, who wants to be a sixth man? Everyone wants to start. That’s my ultimate goal."

Being sent to the Celtics midseason may have given the Washington product new hope in terms of cracking the starting lineup. But, so far, Boston has remained committed to second-year guard Marcus Smart, whom they selected with the sixth overall pick in 2014.

Thomas didn’t say much about starting as the Celtics fought for a playoff berth last season. Instead, he sparked the team from the bench, averaging 19 points and 5.4 assists in 21 games.

It was bound to come up again, though, and it did as recently as the beginning of September.

"I’m a team player. At the end of the day, I’m going to do whatever it takes to win," Thomas said, via ESPNBoston’s Chris Forsberg.

"But like I keep saying—or as you guys keep asking—I do want to be a full-time starter and be one of the best little guys to ever play the game. That’s a goal of mine, but at the end of the day, I’m a great teammate and that’s not going to mess with anything."

His desire to start obviously didn’t waver after getting his first taste of the postseason. But Thomas backtracked at the team’s media day just a week ago.

"I’m all for the team and whatever it takes to win," the 2014-15 Sixth Man of the Year runner-up replied when asked about possibly starting this season. "And that’s an honest answer. As long as I’m getting the minutes I deserve, then I’m happy."

Thomas made his statement with the usual disclaimer, some variation of "I’m all for the team." But this time, he never said anything about actually wanting to start.

Does that mean he doesn’t have that desire anymore? Who knows, my guess is probably not.

Perhaps Thomas is simply just realizing he doesn’t need to be out on the floor for the opening tip every night in order to be great. Perhaps it really doesn’t matter to him either way as long as he’s getting a substantial amount of playing time.

That’s what makes Isaiah Thomas so great. He’s made it very clear he desperately wants to be a starter in this league and he absolutely deserves to be one. Sometimes you just have to fall in line and play your role. Credit the man for doing so without complaint.

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.