Isaiah Thomas is the Little Engine That Could, except instead of saying "I think I can, I think I can..." he says "I know I can, I know I can..."
He's a mere 5'9" but plays with the swagger of a giant. Like most sub-6-foot players in the NBA, he uses his speed and quickness to offset his lack of length. In fact, he uses his diminutive stature to his advantage by splitting traps that larger players would struggle to find their way through.
Thomas is a master of the pick-and-roll, one of the league's bread-and-butter plays and something that was missing from Boston's attack before he arrived. Not only does he have the quicks and vision to function like a distributor, he has the shooting stroke and infinite confidence to be effective as a shooter. He can also finish at the rim and draw fouls, all of which makes an effective offense hum.
It is difficult to evaluate Thomas in green without contrasting him with Rajon Rondo. While Thomas will not approach the passing wizardry that Rondo possessed at his peak, Rondo was a reluctant shooter which limited the offense.
So looking forward, what should we expect of Isaiah Thomas? How about we take a cue from the man himself?
My goal for the team is to make the playoffs and just build from there. Hopefully win some games and win a series and go from there. Just getting there and having that experience was amazing last year.
"Then, individual goals, I don't have too many. When you achieve your team goals, then your individual success comes. But I definitely feel like I can be an All-Star. I'm not just saying that. I honestly feel that way.
I do like the way he starts out with team goals first. That could just be boiler plate, media-ready answers prepped by his agent or PR person or whatever. But assuming he believes it, that will set a good tone for the team building upon what they did down the stretch last year.
As long as he's putting the team goals ahead of his own goals, he may be more understanding if Brad Stevens asks him to continue to come off the bench as the 6th man. The flipside of that is that his confidence makes him believe that he's capable of helping the team more by being the starter. That's a good kind of confidence to have but at some point you have to trust the judgement of the coach to make that call (again, something Rondo never could come to grips with - as he would admit himself).
Thomas' defensive short-comings (pun intended, sorry) were put on display in the playoffs against the Cavs. He certainly wasn't the only reason why the team lost those games, but it was obvious that Cleveland was intent on targeting him when they had the ball. The idea was to minimize his offensive impact by forcing Stevens to take him off the court.
Hopefully with a full training camp, Thomas and Stevens will find ways to minimize his disadvantages and play to his strengths (quickness) on defense. Obviously Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley can cover up for some mistakes, but they can't cover the whole backcourt. I think Thomas will benefit greatly from having Amir Johnson clogging up the paint and slowing down drivers as well.
Isaiah Thomas enters the year as (arguably) the best player on the team, regardless of when he enters the game. The team really found an identity in the weeks after the trade deadline and Thomas was a huge part of that. He's on a very team friendly deal for the next few years and could be a great building block piece for the team's future. Here's hoping that he and the team pick up where they left off and build upon that late season success this next season.