The Rise of the Mighty IT
Before Isaiah Thomas rose to superstardom, he was a 5 foot 9 guard failing to impress scouts at the NBA combine. There was little doubt he could score the ball coming out of the University of Washington, but the lack of size and length had teams passing on him in the 2011 NBA draft. No-name draft-and-stashes like Chukwudiebere Maduabum, Tanguy Ngombo, Ater Majok, and Ádám Hanga were picked before Thomas. IT was ultimately drafted with the 60th and final pick of the draft. Sixty.
When asked on why he thinks he wasn’t drafted higher than the 60th pick overall: “It was one thing. It was my height,” Thomas said. “I promise you that’s the only thing. There were guards in this draft that I felt like I was better than, that I outplayed, that I outworked, but the height scared them away. Hopefully, in the years to come, I can show them that my height isn’t the problem.”
According to Thomas, making the NBA “was the goal and the only goal.” Nobody would take it away from him, and when he got his chance, he’d be ready to take advantage of it.
The Kings found a gem in Thomas, but they didn’t even realize it. IT had a very respectable first 2 years with the Kings, with averages of 12.7 PPG and 4 APG in just under 26 minutes of playing time. In his 3rd season, Thomas elevated his play even more and averaged 20.3 PPG and 6.3 APG. Unfortunately, the Kings never truly believed he could run the show and they decided to go with Daren Collison as their future point guard, trading Isaiah Thomas to the Phoenix Suns for a trade exception and the 57th pick in the 2013 pick, Alex Oriakhi, a player who would never play a game in the NBA. The Kings, well, will be the Kings.
It didn’t get better in Phoenix either, as IT faced a similar dilemma trying to earn playing time with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic on the team. It wasn’t long before the Suns decided to ultimately trade him to the Boston Celtics.
It brings us to this season, where Isaiah Thomas had his coming out party for the world to see. He knew he was capable of being “THE guy” on a championship team. He always believed in himself, and this year, his play did all the talking. IT put up averages of 28.9 PPG 5.9 APG on career-highs of 46% FG shooting and 90% FT shooting on 8.5 attempts. He did his damage on only 19.7 shots per game. Only eight players including Kevin Durant, James Harden (this season), Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone, Tiny Archibald, Charles Barkley and Adrian Dantley have ever averaged 28 points per game on 20 or fewer shots, per Basketball Reference. Not bad company.
Thomas has also emerged this season as one of the best fourth quarter scorers in the league. He was second behind Russell Westbrook in the NBA in fourth quarter scoring (averaging 9.8 points) and was given the nickname the “King of the Fourth.”
Just when you think the Kings and Suns don’t regret it.. “Not to be cocky, but I feel like I’m the best player in the world,” Thomas says. “That’s just the work I put in, and if you don’t feel like that, then you’re cheating yourself.”
Celtics GM Danny Ainge admitted Thomas was brought in because of his abilities of being a tough shot-maker. They didn’t necessarily expect Thomas to turn into the superstar he is today, but they knew they were getting a special player who could accelerate the team’s rebuild.
All was well for Isaiah Thomas and Celtic nation, as they clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference this year, giving them home-court advantage through the first three rounds of the postseason. Unfortunately, on April 15th, Thomas’s sister, Chyna Thomas died in a fatal car accident while falling asleep on the wheel. The timing couldn’t be any worst, as the playoffs were set to begin in Boston when the Boston Celtics play the Chicago Bulls. The Celtics would ultimately beat the Bulls 4-2 behind Isaiah Thomas’s 23 PPG and 5.7 APG.
After leading his Celtics past the Bulls in the opening round, IT saved one of the best and most memorable performances for the sports world to remember. On the eve of what would of been his sister Chyna's birthday, Isaiah Thomas dropped a jaw-dropping 53 points in a comeback win against the Washington Wizards to take a 2-0 lead, including a 20 point fourth-quarter. TD Garden was in awe as they now fully realized they got another special player wearing a Celtic green uniform. The heart and mental toughness showcased by Isaiah was on another level. “The least I could do is go out and play for her,” Thomas said after the game.
There are nights when a player enters the zone, and then there are nights when an entire arena goes on a frenzy. Game 2 was special. The Wizards threw different defenders at him throughout the night. Kelly Oubre Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. became Thomas's victims because they couldn’t contain his drives, and Markieff Morris got crossed up and embarrassed every time he tried to stay in front of IT. It was a moment where the player and the crowd were connected in a moment, feeding off each other every time Isaiah made the basketball rip through the nylon.
Despite his greatness, IT may fall short of becoming a champion this season. His Celtic team just doesn’t have enough to truly contend with the juggernauts in Cleveland and Golden State. Being bounced around earlier in his career by teams that didn’t appreciate him, IT found a home in Boston. Thomas has a lot of talented pieces around him, but the Celtics don’t have that other guy who puts them in the conversation as a real title contender.
However, Isaiah Thomas is to be respected now. He has earned his right to be mentioned in the conversations of his point guard peers. A 5-foot 9 guard who was unwanted in Sacramento and coming off the bench a couple seasons ago in Phoenix, Isaiah Thomas is a story of which motivation and dedication trumps genetics, and his strong character and will to the game of basketball is not a fluke.
The “King of the Fourth” sounds great and fitting, but the “Mighty IT” is who Isaiah Thomas really is.