Isaiah Thomas has had one of the most unlikely rises into an MVP candidate in the NBA.
The 5-foot-9 point guard was the last pick in the 2011 draft, was not re-signed by the Sacramento Kings after three years, signed with the Phoenix Suns and then was traded to the Boston Celtics after less than one season.
Now, in his second full season with the Celtics, Thomas has become the leader of the second-place Celtics, transforming into one of the most unstoppable offensive forces in the league.
For the Celtics, the 2015 trade where they landed Thomas looks better and better by the day.
The 2015 trade deadline was one of the most famously chaotic days in the NBA. Ten multiplayer trades unfolded, with the Celtics, 76ers, Suns, and Lakers all completing a massive trade that included six players and two draft picks that sent the NBA world spinning trying to figure out who went where.
For the Celtics, their part was simple: they traded shooting guard Marcus Thornton and a top-1o protected draft pick (from 2016-2018, unprotected in 2019) to the Suns in exchange for Thomas.
The Celtics were 20-31 at the time and took off with the arrival of a scoring point guard, going 20-11 to finish the season at 40-42.
After a solid season in 2015-16, helping the Celtics finish 48-34, Thomas has taken his game to new heights this season. Thomas is averaging 29.9 points per game, second in the NBA, with 6.4 assists on 47% shooting, 38% from three. Even more impressively, Thomas has become king of the fourth quarter in the NBA — he’s averaging 10 points per game in the fourth quarter, most in the league, while raising his shooting percentages to 49% from the field, 41% from three.
Thomas’ ability to slither into the lane, evade taller defenders, and play angles has made him a menace to opposing defences. And his penchant for going off in the fourth quarter has produced some memorable high-scoring games, such as a 29-point fourth-quarter as part of a career-high, 52-point night in a win over the Heat.
Or his 20-point fourth quarter in a 38-point night in a win over the Wizards.
As Thomas recently told Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden, “The fourth quarter isn’t for everybody.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said to Layden of Thomas’ success this season:
“It’s truly amazing what he’s able to accomplish in that regard, getting to the rim at his height. Here’s a guy that’s always had to figure out how to do it. And boy, has he figured it out. He’s got that ultimate chip on his shoulder where there is no success that can make him take his foot off the pedal and no slight that he misses.”
Compare Thomas’ success with the haul the Suns got. Thornton was not re-signed and has since bounced around the NBA, playing for the Rockets and now the Wizards. He’s averaging just 17 minutes per game for the Wizards this year. Meanwhile, that protected draft pick was the 28th pick in last year’s draft. The Suns took Skal Labissiere, who on draft night, was traded to the Kings. He’s played just 42 total minutes in six games this year.
The Celtics are loaded with talented role players and future draft picks, and though they’re a playoff team, the consensus has been that they will need to make a trade for a superstar to truly compete in the playoffs. Given the way Thomas has played this season, they may have developed a superstar that can carry them into and through the postseason.
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