Isaiah Thomas: From Mr. Irrelevant to MVP?
Over the last the month and a half, you can argue that the best player in the NBA has been a 5-9 a guard that was drafted as the last pick in the NBA draft. Isaiah Thomas has been cooking everybody since the New Year began, and the Celtics’ rise in the standings has coincided with the rise in IT4’s level of play. Boston currently sits just two games out of first place in the East. Behind Isaiah’s explosive scoring (29.9 PPG) and fourth quarter heroics, Boston has emerged as a team that could push the Cavs to a seven-game series in the conference finals. Not bad for a player that was passed over twice in the draft by nearly every NBA team.
Before emerging as an All-Star, Thomas spent his college days at the University of Washington. During his time there, Isaiah shared the floor with future NBA players Jon Brockman, Justin Holiday, Quincy Pondexter, Terrance Ross and C.J. Wilcox, but Thomas was clearly the key to their success during that span. Washington won three Pac-10 titles and Thomas earned All-Pac 10 honors each year he was there. During the 2011 Pac-10 Championship game, he showed flashes of his fearlessness in the clutch. Thomas sealed Washington’s upset over Arizona with a game-winning, step back jumper as time expired, giving the Huskies their second straight Pac-10 Tournament Title. After a strong three years at Washington, Thomas left for the NBA, despite others feeling he should’ve returned for his senior season.
That summer, Sacramento selected Thomas with the 60th pick in the draft. After a solid three years with the Kings and career highs of 20 points and 6 assists per game in his last year, Isaiah Thomas was a free agent. Thomas surprisingly chose the Phoenix Suns who already had a crowded backcourt featuring point guards Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. The Suns sold him on the idea that the point guard rotation could work and Thomas would be Phoenix’s sixth man. Through half the season, the experiment wasn’t working as well as expected, as all three guards began to question whether they could coexist. Dragic was dealt to Miami and despite being the team’s leading scoring, Thomas was sent to Boston.
When Thomas arrived, Boston was a game out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Soon after, IT4 was born and, as the sixth man, he led the Celtics on a late season surge into the playoffs. They would lose to the Cavs in the first round in four games, but Boston made each game in the series more competitive than expected. The following year, Thomas pushed to be a starter, and he rewarded the Celtics with their first All-Star since Rondo & KG in 2013. Boston made the playoffs again but fell to the Hawks in the first round in six games. In the offseason, Boston courted both Kevin Durant and Al Horford in hopes of giving the Celtics true star power. KD went on to sign with the Warriors, but Boston still was able to sign Horford.
The beginning of this season didn’t begin as planned, as the Celtics battled injuries and inconsistent performances on the defensive end. Since IT4’s return from a groin injury on December 16th, the Celtics have a record of 20-6 despite their second leading scorer and defensive ace, Avery Bradley, missing fifteen of those games. During that span, Thomas has electrified the league, going for over thirty points in over half those games, along with nightly fourth quarter takeovers that are starting to become routine. Thomas was recently selected to his second consecutive All-Star game, and he’s made the chase for MVP a legit three-man race with Russell Westbrook and James Harden (John Wall is coming as well). Like his idol, Allen Iverson, Isaiah Thomas embraces the role of the undersized underdog and plays with a chip on his shoulder every night. If Thomas keeps it up, his name may ring in the Boston, New England area like another forgotten, late-round draft pick that went on to win his share of MVP awards and Super Bowls.