Isaiah Thomas deserves more respect

Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) raises his arms as he celebrates after hitting a 3-pointer against the Charlotte Hornets during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Boston, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017. Thomas had 35 points as the Celtics defeated the Hornets 108-98. (Charles Krupa/AP)

As a New England sports fan who actively reads the local media and pays attention, I’ve noticed Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas has been getting love and accolades for an incredible season up to this point.

But on a national scene, I don’t think the average NBA fan realizes how special Thomas has been this year, or what a tremendous success his story is. So let me educate you.

The five-foot-nine, 185-pound Thomas, who the Celtics acquired from the Phoenix Suns in February 2015 for Marcus Thornton and a first round pick, has exceeded expectations his whole career. The final pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, he developed into a solid scorer for the Sacramento Kings and started making a name for himself, being selected as a member of the All-Rookie Second Team.  

The Kings let him go in a sign-and-trade deal with the Suns in July 2014 for the rights to former UConn big man Alex Oriahki. In a crowded backcourt with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, Thomas’ role was diminished until he found his way to Boston.

Since he has been in Celtic green, Thomas has been nothing short of sensational. Last season, he averaged 22.2 points-per-game and was named a NBA All-Star. It was a weak Eastern Conference and heading into 2016-2017, expectations for Thomas were still low.

Which is perhaps why his brilliance this year is all the more impressive. Thomas, who was rated the No. 40 overall player in the NBA by the Washington Post in the pre-season, one spot ahead of teammate Jae Crowder, has taken critics’ assessments and thrown them out the window.

Right now, he is fourth in the league in scoring, averaging 28.4 points per game from his combo guard slot. His physical stature makes him a natural target defensively, but it hasn’t stopped him from being ninth in ESPN’s player efficiency ratings.

However, his consistent success in the fourth quarter this year is where he and the Celtics really deserve recognition. At 10.1 points per game in the fourth quarter, Thomas not only leads the league this season, but is putting up an all-time performance, the fourth-best in NBA history over the last 20 years. He’s shooting 49 percent from the field and a remarkable 45 percent from three. If the clichéd clutch gene exists, he has it.

The Celtics, who were in total rebuilding mode when they acquired him in 2015, are now one of the East’s top contenders and are 7-1 in the New Year, led by his performance.

Thomas is bound to repeat as an All-Star and is legitimately in the MVP discussion at this point in the season.

Yet the Kings let him go because they never thought he would be a true starter. The Hawks chose Bledsoe and Dragic, two zero-time All-Stars, over him so they could create financial room to accommodate reserve wing P.J. Tucker. The average height in the NBA is six-foot-seven, yet Thomas is five-foot-nine. Thomas is the only No. 60 overall pick in the last decade even on a NBA roster. Coming into this season, Thomas’ reputation was still that of an outlier, an enigma who could get buckets but wouldn’t last.

But it’s not just the fact that he puts up numbers or has overcome obstacles, it’s how he does it which makes him deserving of recognition. He can be a sniper from three, but he’s at his best when he’s taking his diminutive frame towards the basket to hit crafty pull-up jump shots or floaters. He plays with spunk and swagger, confident but not cocky. He is a leader and he is personable. He takes pride in his team and his city, serving as a revered ambassador for the Celtics and the city of Boston.

It’s time for IT to start being mentioned in the same breath as the NBA’s elite this season, because by all measures, he is one.


Matt Barresi is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.barresi@uconn.edu.