NBA, NBA Draft / Jun 24, 2011 / 5:00 pm

Isaiah Thomas Is Not Irrelevant

Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas (photo. University of Washington)

Mr. Irrelevant is more of a story than a player. He’s a novelty item, a person to be celebrated but ultimately forgotten. It’s an accepted reality of being the last pick, because that’s what history has taught us. In truth, nothing separates these men from the hoards of undrafted prospects that try to scrap and claw their way onto NBA rosters. It’s a battle royale, and being drafted last provides little to no guarantee that you won’t be kicked to the curb.

Dwayne Collins, Robert Dozier, Semih Erden, Milovan Rakovic, Will Blalock, Alex Acker, Rashad Wright, Andreas Glyniadakis, Corsley Edwards, and Bryan Bracey. Those are the past 10 players to earn the title Mr. Irrelevant. As you can probably tell, their NBA success was limited to non-existent. The past 20 years paints an even bleaker picture. Only 40% of Mr. Irrelevants even made an NBA roster, and only 20% played multiple seasons. The rest fell into basketball limbo, jumping back and forth from Europe to the D-League, clinging to the understandable hope that their dream will one day materialize. For most, it doesn’t. They retire from basketball at a young age, most likely unarmed with the tools to succeed in some other profession.

Well I’m here to tell you that we finally have the next Don Reid, the last significantly contributing Mr. Irrelevant (he played 8 NBA seasons) on our hands. And that man would be none other than recent Dime contributor Isaiah Thomas. Of course it may sound like we’re just pimping our own, but let me tell you why the Sacramento Kings may have just hit it big.

As the 5-9 focal point of his team’s otherwise lifeless offense, he was battered and beaten by everything and everyone, heading to the line six times per game. Instead of slithering in and out of defenders, he went through them with force and reckless abandon. But he came out the other side, averaging 16.8 points and 6.1 assists on his way to an All-Pac-10 first team selection and a Pac-10 Tournament title.

What the Kings saw was a chance for him to relax. Instead of slamming the gas pedal on every possession, Thomas will have the chance to pick his spots. If given the chance as the backup point guard, he won’t need to worry about consistently finishing near the rim due to the offensive firepower that will surround him. With Marcus Thornton, Omri Casspi, Tyreke Evans, and Jimmer Fredette ready and able to light it up from the outside, he’ll have options and openings that didn’t exist at Washington. He’s already proven in college that he can pass to lackluster teammates. Imagine the possibilities with quality sidekicks. Instead of throwing up ill-advised shots in the lane, he’ll be able to dish the ball with confidence. And when defenses choose not to sag off of Sacramento’s shooters, Isaiah will finish at the rim.

And then there’s his 35% clip from beyond the arc, a number that improved each year despite the growing accumulation of defenders swarming him. Given the time and space, expect that number to keep rising. Worried about defense? Don’t be. No one on Sacramento has true two-way capability, so Thomas’ deficiencies will be well hidden.

Isaiah represents the part of basketball I’ll never understand. Excel in your field, receive a promotion. That’s how the rest of the world works. But every year we see All-Americans consistently passed over in the NBA Draft, never given an adequate opportunity to prove their worth. So here’s to Isaiah Thomas receiving that chance. More importantly, here’s to him seizing the moment and leaving his mark on the NBA.

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  • the cynic

    Isaiah Thomas = Patty Mills

  • LakeShow84

    Honestly i was surprised he didnt go higher in the draft..

    This draft seemed ass backwards to me..

    Irving is not a true #1 pick..

  • GS

    @cynic: Dude, as someone who watched a lot of both, I can tell you you’re just completely off-base, because you probably haven’t ever seen Thomas play for more than a 30-second highlight. They’re completely different players. The only thing they have in common is being small and decent ball handlers.

    Mills is a shooter (who doesn’t shoot that well, BTW – 35% from 3P and 41% total), a dribbler, and not much else. He can’t run a team, he’s a mediocre penetrator and poor finisher, and a mediocre defender who relies on steals. He never gets to the line, his A/TO ratio – 1.7 – is bad for a PG, and he doesn’t contribute anywhere else. Moreover, being the only backup to Andre Miller last year gave him plenty of chances, and he showed almost no improvement over the year.

    IT is an excellent penetrator, and a very good finisher – surprisingly strong at the rim, and able to absorb contact and get his shot off. In his first year – really half a year – as a full-time PG he dished ~7APG to less than 3TO. He is a tenacious one-on-one defender, though admittedly short, and a decent stealer. And he rebounds a lot bigger than his size, including in traffic.

    Here’s a comparison between their stats during their last year in college (from http://www.kenpom.com), with Mills on the left:

    eFG%: 48.5 – 51.7
    TS%: 52.9 – 56.3
    3P%: 33.8 – 34.9
    Reb%: 7.8 – 12.0
    AstRate: 25.7 – 32.7
    TORate: 18.7 – 19.7
    FTRate: 24.4 – 49.8 ***
    Stl%: 3.9 – 2.3

    But beyond the stats, IT is a warrior. He’s a leader. He’s a killer. He gives 100% all the time. All those stupid cliches that I tend to despise are true for him.

    Everybody has probably seen his winning shot against Arizona at the PAC-10 tournament, but how many people know that he had played *all but 2 minutes* of the tournament? 3 games – 3 tight, competitive games – in 3 days? And the whole time he was his teams only ball-handler. Not just the PG. Not just the main ball handler. The ONLY guy who could bounce the ball more than 5 times without coughing it up. And after all that, he still had the resolve, the energy, the determination, to take that shot and make it. That’s just crazy.

    I have nothing against Patty Mills. He’s a nice guy, I’m sure. But if I had to pick a PG for my team, and my only options were IT and Patty, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second.

  • Brett

    I question if the writer ever watched Washington play last year. The rest of their roster was far from “lifeless” and “lackluster.”

  • the cynic

    WOW!!! those numbers are incredible!!! I agree Thomas is better than Mills mostly because I think he is a way better ball handler (I watch games, I don’t even bother watching highlight shows or any sports shows because they’re awful and full of douchebags). I was over simplifying because I hate writing these long winded posts full of hot air. Dime has been blowing Thomas for a while and I just thought I’d add a little perspective.

  • IDOT

    I’m not a Jimmer Fan and I was mad that the Kings didn’t take Kemba. Isaiah reminds me of Damon Stoudermire minus the weed and arrest and plus he has a 38inch vertical so you might not want to get in his way if he’s going to the rim. I actually hope that Isaiah can get the starting PG spot. Jimmer is overrated and he’s going to be like JJ Reddick coming off the bench.

  • jake

    Dylan clearly knows nothing about UW basketball.
    “lifeless offense” – UW has a top ten offense in all of college basketball
    “lackluster teammates”??? – Three of UW’s four seniors were included in many mock drafts and worked out for several NBA teams. Ross (fr) is considered a possible lottery pick next year. Its hard to take anything else writtten seriously after reading those moronic comments about IT’s teammates.

  • iCARNACKi

    Knight>Irving>Thomas>Kemba>Morris>Jimmer

  • derik

    @iCARNACKi
    um… no

  • Tony

    Jimmer was not afraid of a challege during workouts. glad he is our pick and honeycutt , and I.Thomas he will be a fan favorite. very hapy with our picks.

  • Hoopsfan

    @LakeShow84 I agree Irving is a good player but he is NOT a # 1 pick… couldn’t agree more.