For all the analytical data supporting the case that the Boston Celtics are an elite team, from defensive efficiency to point differential, the one thing holding this team back from a seat at the contenders table is their lack of a star.
It's time to change that. Isaiah Thomas needs to be an All-Star.
Thomas has often gone overlooked when it comes to discussing the league's best guards and it's not just because of his 5'9'' stature. The fifth year guard is producing at career-high levels, but what he's doing this year isn't substantially different from what he did after arriving to Boston in a mid-season trade last winter. The difference is that he's been in the starting lineup for most of this season. Instead of being a spark plug off the bench shooting for a sixth-man award, Thomas has transcended into the clear cut No. 1 option for this Celtics team.
When evaluating the top guards in the East, Thomas clearly finds himself in the mix. His career-high 20.5 points per game ranks 7th in the Conference and trails only Chicago's Jimmy Butler and the Toronto Raptors backcourt duo of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry among Eastern Conference guards. Thomas is no one-dimensional gunner, as he's 3rd in the East with 6.6 assists per game. He is also 6th in the East with a usage rate of 28.9, highlighting his importance to running this offense. His ability to drive through the paint to create for his teammates is just as vital as the threat he poses as a scorer.
Want to go deeper with more advanced stats? Thomas is 12th in the Conference with a 21.43 PER, which ranks third among guards in the East. His 4.1 Estimated Wins Added puts him in the top-5 at his position in this Conference.
Since the All-Star starters are still based on fan voting, name recognition is likely to put Washington's John Wall and Miami's Dwyane Wade in the starting lineup. That's just fine for Thomas though, who is well accustomed to thriving off the bench. He doesn't need to start, but he has to be on the team.
In addition to Wall and Wade, the competition that Thomas will face at the guard position includes Lowry, DeRozan, Butler and Detroit's Reggie Jackson. Charlotte's Kemba Walker will also be in the conversation as long as the Hornets continue to hang around near the top of the standings. It's doubtful that the East will find room for all eight of these deserving options, so at least one of them is bound to be snubbed.
Don't let it be Thomas that is left out in the cold. Go to NBA.com to cast your vote for IT!
.@Isaiah_Thomas is averaging career highs w/ 21 PPG, 6.3 APG & 1.6 SPG. RT to get him to All-Star 2016 #NBAVote pic.twitter.com/Wo2ledBAHT— Boston Celtics (@celtics) December 11, 2015
While you're there you can vote for other Celtics players if you want. You can even put on your Tommy Heinsohn approved emerald tinted glasses and vote for a Celtics player to fill all five starting spots if you were so inclined. That's the beauty (or downside) of fan voting! If we were to make unbiased selections, would any other Celtics make the cut?
Avery Bradley is having a career year on the offensive end, but is still only a complementary piece. He's capable of catching fire to carry the team for stretches, but can just as quickly disappear. His career-high 42.1 percent three-point shooting is promising, but he can't create the way Thomas can. Advanced stats such as PER consider him a league average player because they don't give enough credit to his tenacious defense, so he's certainly more valuable than those numbers suggest. That still doesn't make him a star.
Likewise for Jae Crowder, who has won fans over with his hustle on both ends of the court. Crowder may get some consideration for being just behind Kawhi Leonard for first in the league among forwards with 1.96 steals per game, but that probably won't be enough. Crowder fits a similar mold as a defensive-minded player that does a lot of things well, but keep in mind that Leonard is still looking for his first All-Star nod. He'll almost certainly get it this year now that he's boosted his scoring into the 20+ points per game range, but Crowder's not there yet. The 25-year old is like a poor man's Leonard, which speaks volumes about his potential, but does't put in him the All-Star game.
If you are looking for a real long shot candidate, keep an eye on Jared Sullinger. The East isn't exactly overflowing with quality big men and that depth could be further depleted if coaches favor players from winning teams to fill the reserve spots. Sullinger's scoring has dipped along with his usage, but he's still nearly averaging a double-double. He's been a beast on the boards lately, ranking fifth in the East with a 20.3 rebound rate.
Thomas poses the best chance for the Celtics to be represented at the All-Star game, but he could have some familiar company if Boston moves up in the standings before the reserves are announced. The C's currently rank 7th in the East, but have played better than their record suggests and are only a game and a half out of the No. 2 seed. Last year we saw four Hawks make the All-Star team due to Atlanta sitting at the top of the Conference, so if Boston manages to push their way towards the top then coaches may be compelled to select multiple players from the Celtics roster.