Should Isaiah Thomas Start for the Boston Celtics?


Isaiah Thomas presented a truly unique situation with the Boston Celtics this season as he managed to cement himself as the best player on the team while coming off the bench.

Thomas was snubbed of the 6th man of the year war but that in no way diminishes what he meant to the team.

It is not just that Thomas led the team in scoring, it’s that he blew away the rest of the team when it came to scoring. Thomas averaged 19 points per game while with the Celtics this season and the next closest was Avery Bradley at 12.3.

Feb 23, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) and guard Avery Bradley (0) against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center. The Celtics defeats the Suns 115-110. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

His great volume of scoring still does not quite capture what Thomas meant to the Celtics offensively. Even though the Celtics managed to score over 100 points per game, most of that scoring is a product of Brad Stevens’ system.

The Celtics could frequently get 40+ points from their bench players and that is because Stevens would often go 10 players deep and ensure that everyone on the court had fresh legs.

Another reason Stevens would feel comfortable spreading the minutes around so much is the staring unit lacked a dominant offensive player and he would have no problem limiting anyone’s minutes. The Celtics would get their scoring trough tremendous ball movement opening up a lot of open shots.

There was one exception on the Celtics and that was Thomas. As great as Thomas was playing within Stevens’ system, he was the only player who could create his own shot and impose his will offensively. Thomas had an uncanny ability to defy the odds created by his height and still mange to get inside the paint and manufacture points at the free throw line.

Apr 21, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots against Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) in the third quarter in game two of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas shot the ball well and is the one and only player on the team that would be comfortable taking contested shots.

If there was such an offensive difference between Thomas and everyone else on the starting unit it begs the question: Why was Thomas coming off the bench?

Looking at the roster in its current state and it must be a combination of Stevens wanting to create greater mis matches with the second unit and well as defensive impact. Thomas was not a liability on the defensive end but he was certainly overshadowed by the great defensive play of Bradley and Smart.

Even with the drop off defensively and the issue with match ups it would be difficult to argue that Thomas deserves to come off the bench on the current Celtics roster.

Thomas earned the right to have all the playing time he could handle and the Celtics would benefit offensively by having their best players play alongside Thomas.

That being said, Thomas should only be starting if the Celtics roster stays in its current state. The Celtics cannot afford to have their best scorer coming off the bench, limiting his minutes.

As great as Thomas was this season, he cannot continue to be the Celtics’ most impactful player if they want to be contenders in the eastern conference. The Celtics will look to free agency and even the draft to find more go to scorers that can push Stevens’ offense to the next level.

Mar 8, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens writes on a clip board during the second half against the Orlando Magic at Amway Center. Orlando Magic defeated Boston Celtics 103-98. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

If Thomas is no longer the top scorer on the team then he should stay right where he is, doing exactly what he did this season.

Even if Thomas deserved to start this season a lot of his success was due to the fact that he came off the bench. Thomas did a great job of exploiting matchup issues and provided an immeasurable spark off the bench for the Celtics.

If the Celtics acquire a top scorer for their starting unit then Thomas’ impact on the team will inevitably diminish and he will be much less useful on the starting unit.

If the Celtics can add a player to the starting unit that becomes the top option then there is no doubt that Thomas will be most impactful coming off the bench.

It is hard to imagine Thomas playing a better role for the Celtics than he did this season and inserting him into the starting lineup could threaten the success he had this season. The increased responsibility combined with the harder match ups could negatively impact how Thomas plays for the Celtics.

Having Thomas come off the bench  gives the Celtics a weapon that very few teams can counter. Depth is one of the most crucial aspects of top teams, and even more so for a Brad Stevens team.

The Celtics cannot afford to continue to have their number one offensive weapon coming off the bench but if the Celtics can find a way to keep Thomas coming off the bench he will cause the opposing defense to have fits as they will not be able to account for or counter what he brings to the table against a team’s second unit.

Apr 8, 2015; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) looks on during the third quarter against the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Celtics beat the Pistons 113-103. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas’ weaknesses will be exploited if he is inserted into the starting lineup but at the same time the Celtics cannot have their best offensive weapon coming off the bench.

The Celtics will be in the best possible situation if they find a better scoring option for the starting unit while allowing Thomas to continue to wreck havoc coming off the bench.

More from Hardwood Houdini