2011 NBA Draft: Is Isaiah Thomas the Sacramento Kings' Kyrie Irving?
Tell me you see the irony.
In terms of Player Efficiency Rating (PER), there is just one point guard separating the first and last overall draft picks. The Cleveland Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving sits well above the rest of the rookie point guards with a PER of 21.90, while Minnesota's Ricky Rubio (drafted in 2009) comes in second with a rating of 16.15.
Who's in third? The man who has been the second-best point guard of the 2011 NBA Draft; I'll give you a hint, it's not Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker, or Jimmer Fredette.
It's Mr. Irrelevant. The 60th and final pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, 5-foot-9 inch Isaiah Thomas.
The Kings' backup to their backup point guard has averaged slightly over 17 minutes per game, posting an efficient assist to turnover ratio that's greater than 2-1. While his average of 7.0 points per game doesn't look spectacular on the surface, he has scored double-digit points in seven out of the 12 games he has played 20 minutes or more.
He's also averaged 4.3 assists per game when playing more than 20 minutes. That isn't too bad considering the Kings' starting point guard, Tyreke Evans, is playing 36.5 minutes per game and averaging just 5.1. Thomas has played 30 minutes just once in his career, a game in which he scored 16 points and dished out 6 assists.
Now, this is not to say that Thomas is doing what Irving is doing for his franchise, because he's not. Irving has been one of the best point guards in the NBA, thus becoming the unquestioned leader of a surprisingly decent Cavaliers team. With that being said, Thomas could potentially do for the Kings what Irving is already doing out in Cleveland.
The energy Thomas brings to the floor has had an undeniable influence on his teammates. In Wednesday's loss to the Knicks, Thomas posted 14 points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals in 24 minutes of play. His +/- of +4 was tied with fellow rookie Jimmer Fredette for best of any Kings player to play more than four minutes.
Best of all, when Thomas was on the floor, Jeremy Lin committed three turnovers and got off only two shots.
Who is the Kings' point guard of the future?
Thomas' influence was never greater than on February 2, when the Sacramento Kings came from behind to beat the Portland Trail Blazers 95-92. In the game, Thomas played just 17 minutes, shooting 2-5 for four points, three assists and a rebound.
While that doesn't seem like much, it was his monster rejection on Wesley Matthews that propelled the Kings to victory. Immediately following the block, the Kings went on an 8-2 run that put them up 87-83. They never trailed again.
Keep in mind, Thomas was the only player back on defense for a three-on-one fast break. Oh, and just for the record... Wesley Matthews is eight inches taller than Isaiah Thomas.
So what's his ceiling? If Thomas is the Kings' Irving, can we expect the potential 20 and 10 Irving appears to be capable of? Can we expect the All-Star Game votes Irving appears destined to receive?
The answer to those questions is through the use of a question of my own: didn't your mother ever tell you that statistics don't measure contribution?
As a starting point guard, Thomas has all the makings of a 7-10 assist a game type of player. Due to his prowess in the open court, as well as an underrated shooting ability, he can also put up 12 to 18 points a night. The thing is, that's not why he's so good.
Thomas, like Irving, raises his teammates' level of play. When he's on the floor, he's constantly active on both ends, influencing the players around him to do the same. With the ball in his hands, he's a menace; Thomas plays much bigger than his height would suggest as he drives the lane and takes it to the hole with finesse.
On the perimeter, Thomas' work-in-progress shooting is good enough to give you one or two three-pointers a night. While he won't lead the league in scoring, consider him Nate Robinson as a better passer.
Unfortunately, Isaiah Thomas is third on the depth chart. His minutes remain sporadic and despite Jimmer's early struggles, Thomas has yet to overtake him as the team's point guard of the future. Maybe one day the Kings will move Evans back to the 2 and give Thomas his shot, but until then, enjoy every minute you can. This kid is special.
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