I Swear I Don’t Hate Isaiah Thomas


Like the title of this article says, I honestly do not dislike Isaiah Thomas playing for the Boston Celtics. He has been a huge asset since joining the team after last year’s trade deadline. He provided the team with a spark of offense that hasn’t been around since the Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen “Big Three” days.

Even though he was coming off the bench, he was playing starter minutes, and electrified the TD Garden with how he could score. He truly is a gifted a scorer, and does the “City of Champions” proud being a 5’9 point guard in a league where the normal height is around 6’4. He’s exactly what any team would want with all the hard work he’s put in. He’s just not a starting caliber point guard, and I think that should be pretty obvious by now.

Before the injury to guard Marcus Smart, Thomas and he were starting with Avery Bradley coming off the bench. It worked well with Smart able to pick up the slack defensively, and Avery Bradley shooting like Thomas did coming off the bench. The dynamic was working and no one had a problem with the current rotation of the guards (except me). I do believe the team had a better chance of winning with Thomas back to his sixth-man role, but with the team won important games (five of six against teams in the playoffs last year). Who am I to question Stevens’ rotation? After the last three games, I think it’s clearer to some that Thomas might be better suited to come off the bench.

Defense has been a problem for the starting point guard. Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

There are a myriad of reason as to why the Celtics have struggled the last few games, besides Smart not being available. I think the biggest weakness however lies with Thomas, when he’s facing athletic guards bigger than him. Jarrett Jack (6’3), and Jeff Teague (6’2) both had solid games against the Celtics. Both of their respective teams were able to win and both were looked at as huge reasons why. Watching those games, I saw many times where Thomas was trying to catch up with Teague or Jack, causing the defense to break down and offer up easier chances at the basket. Just looking at the raw numbers on the box scores really opened my eyes as to how badly Thomas plays defense.

Jarrett Jack 11/22/15:
Points: 22, Assists: 4, Rebounds: 4, Turnovers: 2, Shooting: 7/11, Plus/Minus: +3

Jeff Teague 11/24/15:
Points: 16, Assists: 9, Rebounds: 0, Turnovers: 3, Shooting: 4/10, Plus/Minus: +13

Those numbers are some-what normal, but they were able to score on the Celtics easier than teams were before. So it looks as if the two point guards feasted on Thomas. But Bradley isn’t off the hook either, since he is responsible for helping out Thomas (he should know about his defensive lapses). If the pairing was Smart and Bradley, the two would be helping each other out on defense (which was a big reason as to why the Celtics had a top-3 defensive unit before the injury). Right now it looks as if Bradley is more focused on offense when he’s paired with Thomas, which can spell trouble down the road. The team’s defensive intensity starts with Smart.

You can look at the numbers right now for Thomas’ defensive liabilities. His defensive rating is 103 out of 100 possessions (which isn’t good), and his defensive box plus/minus is at -3 according to Basketball-Reference.com. He needs to step things up if he wants to start for this team on a consistent bases. Brad Stevens harps on his players to play good defense against teams. ESPN Boston’s Chris Forsberg wrote about how Stevens challenge his players to become a great defensive unit, and wreck havoc on the league. The team has now reached that goal, but Thomas has been a liability to that cause. To me, that means Thomas should be coming off the bench since he doesn’t offer much in defense.

(He does help in the transition game after the Celtics steal the ball just to be fair)

So does that mean I’m not a hater of Isaiah Thomas? After all, Eric Laboissonniere and I debated about who should start for Boston (with me believing Thomas would be better coming off the bench). However in that same article, I talk about how the defensive numbers do not drop horribly with Thomas on the floor. As well as the hit the team takes offensively when Thomas isn’t on the floor (compared to when he’s playing). Boston still sports a top-five defense this season in defensive efficiency, but it has dropped in these past few games.

Isaiah Thomas can not allow players to drive by him if he wants to be the starter in Boston. Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The blame for that goes on every player, not just Thomas. But I think he’s getting exploited by opposing starting lineups. When Thomas was subbing into games, he wasn’t necessarily facing a team’s best point guard. Thomas did much better taking on the opponents second-unit, whose offensive and athletic ability weren’t as good as the starters. Not to mention that opposing bench players had more trouble guarding him.

It just made more sense and removing Thomas from the second-unit hurts Boston in the overall picture. Once Smart comes back, maybe they will put Bradley as the sixth-man, since Smart can pick up the defensive slack for Thomas. That way the team doesn’t lose it’s best playmaker, and can stop their opponents from scoring when the time comes. I’d rather have Bradley and Smart start, but it’s splitting hairs since the earlier paring was working fine.

So please do not get confused by the comments I have made in this article. I do believe Thomas is the team’s best player maker and need him to play a lot of minutes to win. I am a firm believer of the saying “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish”. If you are coming off the bench but playing 30 minutes a game, does it really matter? If Thomas returned to that role, he’d be facing weaker talent, scoring efficiently, and won’t hurt the team defensively.

Bradley and Smart can both have decent offensive games, but also bring tenacious defense to the table. Those two are a big reason for the top-five defensive rating (not Thomas). Maybe as time moves on, since Smart might be out for a while, Thomas can impress me with his defensive ability. He just has a lot to do before I consider him higher on the depth chart to Smart and Bradley.

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*All statistics courtesy of NBA.com unless stated otherwise

C.J Maffris is a writer for Hardwoodhoudini.com. He swears he does not have a vendetta against Isaiah Thomas, since he proves that someone his height can ball in the NBA. ALWAYS ROOT FOR THE LITTLE GUY! Feel free to call him a hater on Twitter @SeaJayMaffris