Since the All-Star break, Isaiah Thomas is averaging 27.1 points per 36 minutes, which ranks behind only two MVP candidates: Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry. Thomas has been one of the NBA's best scorers since joining the Boston Celtics and should be in strong consideration as the Sixth Man of the Year.
"I think Isaiah should be it," Celtics head coach Brad Stevens asserted, per MassLive. "I don't know who else is even up for it. I don't really pay attention. But I can't imagine somebody impacting their team, whether he's in Phoenix or here, more. I mean, there's no question about that."
Stevens might not be paying close attention to the sixth man race, but he has a valid point about Thomas' impact on the Celtics. They score an unbelievable 109.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, compared to an anemic 99.4 when he's on the bench.
Thomas is making a monstrous impact as a scorer, but he's also doing it as a passer, with jaw dropping dimes like the one above. Of the qualifying players averaging over 20 points per 36 minutes, only five average more assists per 36 than Thomas does (Westbrook, Curry, LeBron James, James Harden, and Damian Lillard).
On a per-minute basis, Thomas has been an elite offensive player this season, especially since he came to the Celtics and recharged the roster.
But is he the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year? Here are the top 10 candidates and their advanced stats in five major categories:
Thomas leads in three of the five stat types, with the best average rank of all 10 players. Toronto's Lou Williams is close behind Thomas in multiple categories, though he far exceeds him in Real Plus/Minus. Jamal Crawford will probably receive votes for the same reason Derek Jeter won so many Gold Glove awards, but his average stats suggest he shouldn't receive any.
The top five players should be: Thomas, Williams, Nikola Mirotic, Manu Ginobili, and Andre Iguodala. But none of them are as impressive as Thomas is compared to the entire pool of NBA players.
|Isaiah Thomas NBA Ranks||USG%||PER||OBPM||BPM||WS/48|
|With Boston (20 Games)||3||7||5||9||14|
|Full Season (66 Games)||10||25||7||36||23|
Of all qualifying players, Thomas ranks 25th in the league in Player Efficiency Rating, but his PER in 20 games with the Celtics is 23, which would be sixth. Thomas' Box Plus/Minus is dragged down by his defense, but his Offensive BPM ranks seventh in the league.
All six nominees are deserving, especially when only using the eye-test to review their accomplishments: Williams has hit a number of huge shots for the Raptors; Mirotic has filled a number of different roles and performed well in all of them; Manu, even at age 37 is still a spark for the Spurs; and Iguodala has been one of the key pieces on the best team in the league. Even someone like Tristan Thompson has made a number of huge plays for the Cavaliers, especially on the defensive end and on the boards.
But none of them are tallying star numbers per-minute like Thomas is, nor do they have advanced stats that rank among the elites of the NBA. That is what should set Thomas apart in what will be a closely contested field of players. Isaiah Thomas has been the hero of the Boston Celtics and deserves to be recognized for his accomplishments with the Sixth Man of the Year award.