Isaiah Thomas has had an amazing season, finishing the year third in scoring at 28.9 points per game, and posting career highs in shooting percentages from the field, the three-point arc, and the free-throw line. Thomas was the Celtics’ unquestioned best player, upping his overall level of production, and the efficiency with which he produced it, from good to great.
“The Little Guy,” as he has come to be affectionately known by the Boston fan base, was rewarded for his play with a selection to the All-NBA Second Team. It was the first such selection of his career, and a reflection of his ascension to the level of true superstar.
Critics will point to Thomas’ diminutive stature and the defensive deficiencies it produces, and they’re not entirely wrong. He isn’t the type of perfect two-way player that someone like Lebron James or Kawhi Leonard represents, but he is an offensive dynamo- an ecosystem in and of himself.
Boston scored a ludicrous 116.7 points per 100 possessions with Thomas on the floor, a full 14.4 more points than they posted with him off (per Basketball Reference). They also gave up more points, but the Celtics net margin remained positive at a fairly robust +4.7.
Thomas has continued his brilliance into the playoffs, and deserves every bit of credit he’s been given. Grabbing an All-NBA slot is no small feat, particularly given the depth at his position.
Two snubs of note include Gordon Hayward and Paul George. Hayward is a free-agent this summer, while George, a potential trade target, will hit free-agency the following year.
The Utah Jazz and Indiana Pacers were hoping for Hayward and George respectively to make the list, triggering the Designated Player Veteran Exception clause in the new CBA that would entitle them to a significantly larger salary if they re-signed. Each player could have made around an extra $30 million, including an extra year of compensation, if they had qualified, but that advantage is now gone. With that motivator eliminated, the possibility of their departure increase, as does the Celtics leverage should they come knocking at the door.
Hayward and George are different players stylistically, but they both represent the type of elite talent that could push the Celtics closer to true contention. Signing Hayward in free-agency is likely the ideal scenario, given that it will require no sacrifice of the team’s current assets, beyond trimming contracts for cap space. Assembling a trade for George, while less desirable, has appeal as well. Either option would be a major boost, and this All-NBA snub both possibilities more feasible.
Adding major talent this offseason is of particular importance for the Celtics, with long-term decisions on Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Marcus Smart looming the following year. Boston can go over the cap to sign all of those players, but will need to have anyone else they hope to have on board locked up prior to doing so. Keeping everyone in the fold will undoubtedly mean exceeding the cap and incurring a luxury tax bill of some significance, but as far as problems go, having to pony up for young talent is a desirable one.