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30Q: How High Can Isaiah Thomas Fly?

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2011-12 Statistics:

65 Games Played, 25.5 MPG, 11.5 PPG, .448 FG%, .379 3P%, 2.6 RPG, 4.1 APG, 0.8 STL, 0.1 BLK

Contract Status:

2 years, $1.6 million remaining

Before we begin, I feel that I must disclose that I'm extremely biased where Isaiah Thomas is involved. I stumped for the Kings to draft him in 2011. He is my favorite player on the team. He jokes around with me on Twitter. Therefore I will try to be as objective as possible.

Isaiah Thomas was probably the best story almost nobody heard about last season. The 60th and final pick in the 2011 draft, he went on to become the Kings' starting Point Guard, won Western Conference Rookie of the Month twice, and made All-Rookie 2nd team. Thomas took over the Kings offense approximately halfway through the season, and while the wins didn't exactly stack up, the team did become immensely more watchable thanks to the fast paced offense.

Still, there seems to still be a thought that while Thomas is good, he's not long-term starter material, but more suitable for a backup role. This is not an uncommon suggestion, but what is uncommon are good reasons for it.

Most objections inevitably revolve Isaiah's height. "He's too short to be a starting Point Guard". This is pretty much the reason that he fell to 60th in the draft in the first place. Height is a premium in the NBA, even at Point Guard. Today's NBA has recently undergone a Point Guard renaissance with Point Guards becoming bigger, stronger and more athletic. So the primary concern with Isaiah in terms of height is whether he can defend these other big Point Guards, which is a valid concern.

However, if last season is any indication, Isaiah's height does not effect his defensive intensity or capability. Isaiah uses his height, strength, and speed to his advantage. He is able to stay in front of opponents and stay low to the ground where it's hard to move him. That's purely visual analysis, so let's bring some statistics into it. Per, Isaiah was a very effective defender in two very crucial areas for a Point Guard: Isolation and Pick & Rolls. 43% of Isaiah's defensive possessions came while guarding the Pick & Roll Ball Handler. In those situations, Isaiah only allowed 0.76 Points Per Possession (PPP), and 38.5% Field Goal Percentage. In Isolation (16.2% of the time), he was even better, with just 0.68 PPP allowed on 35.8% shooting. Furthermore, Isaiah wasn't an easy man to post-up, despite his short stature. While he saw roughly 40 possessions (7.2% of the time) in which he was posted up, he allowed just 0.6 PPP in those situation on 30.4% shooting against.

(This gives me the excuse I need to post this GIF of Isaiah making Javale McGee look like a fool)


Now if you've gone up and looked at Isaiah's stat page on mysynergysports as well, you may have noticed that there is one area of defense where Isaiah didn't exactly excel in: Spot-Up Shooting. In guarding against Spot-Up shots, Isaiah allowed 1.02 PPP. However, Spot-Up shooting is less of an individual statistic and more indicative of team defense. These shots are usually taken by shooters who have gotten open off the ball or due to bad rotations by the defense. The Kings were not a good defensive team by any measure.

Offensively is where Isaiah really shone though. The amazing thing about Isaiah's offensive capabilities last year was the extreme versatility he showed. He was adept at running the offense, looking for his own shot, and also playing off the ball. He could attack the basket, shoot threes, or pull-up for mid-range jumpers. That is versatility a lot of veterans don't have, let alone rookies.

One thing that amazed me throughout the year was how good Isaiah was in the Pick and Roll. The stats back up what I saw as well. Going back to mysynergysports we see that Isaiah spent the majority of his offensive possessions (25.7%) in Pick and Roll situations, and he was stellar in them, with 1.03 PPP (5th in the entire NBA) and shooting 51.5% from the field. He was also very good in Isolation (17.8% of his possessions), with 0.92 PPP (24th in the entire NBA). 23.5% of his possessions also came as a spot-up shooter, the majority of which were three pointers that came from moving without the ball in his hands. Thomas would end up leading the entire team in True Shooting Percentage, which takes Three Pointers and Free Throw Percentage into consideration, and is a mark of efficiency.

Now there are areas where Isaiah can grow as a player. Perhaps most importantly is as a floor leader. He wasn't bad in this area last year, leading the team in Assist Percentage and greatly improving the offense once he took over Point Guard duties full-time. But he also wasn't great. A lot of this will come simply from experience and increased chemistry with his teammates. In fact, we saw Thomas become more comfortable as the season went on, particularly in his assist to turnover rate, which was upwards of 3 to 1 (an awesome ratio) over the last quarter of the year.

So when I see season previews for the Kings and they don't have Isaiah Thomas in at incumbent starting Point Guard, I know that person has not watched Isaiah Thomas or the Kings play. Isaiah Thomas is not simply a feel good story, but the real deal. This guy has the drive, work ethic and actual ability to become a star in this league and help propel this team to the next level, not just on the court, but off of it. He was the one who organized an offseason workout this summer for the whole team. No longer a rookie, Isaiah can bring even more leadership to the table and bring this team closer together. I feel like the added competition of having a veteran PG in Brooks to play with will only be good for Isaiah and the Kings.

If last year was simply the appetizer for what Isaiah Thomas can bring to the table, I can't wait for dinner.