The Sacramento Kings got an absolute steal when they drafted Isaiah Thomas with the last selection of the 2011 NBA draft. But after coming into the campaign with heightened expectations, Thomas started the 2012-13 season in a major slump—one in which he is finally starting to come out of.
Thomas was elevated to the starting lineup midway through his rookie year (2011-12). Over those final 37 games, he averaged 14.8 points, 5.4 assists and 3.1 rebounds in 31.6 minutes of action. He was also incredibly efficient for a rookie, posting a field-goal percentage of .477, a three-point percentage of .406 and a 5.2-to-2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio.
It was only natural to think that since Thomas was a rookie and was without the benefit of a normal offseason due to the lockout in 2011, he would take another step forward this season. After all, he had a full season of experience under his belt, he didn't have to make the emotional transition from college to the NBA, and he had a full offseason to tinker with his game.
Instead, Thomas came out of the gates extremely slow. He started the first nine games of the season and averaged 10.8 points on 44.4 percent shooting from the field and 39.4 percent shooting from three-point range in 23.4 minutes of action. Scoring-wise, those numbers were in line with his rookie year, especially considering the reduction in minutes.
Where Thomas was really lacking was as a distributor, which is generally a problem for a point guard. Over those nine games, he only averaged 1.9 assists per game. That's unacceptable, considering IT was able to average 5.2 assists as a starter last year. In fact, it was so lackluster that it cost him his starting role.
Over the next stretch of games, Thomas was in NBA limbo. His minutes fluctuated with regularity, as Thomas was vying for time with fellow backup point guard Jimmer Fredette. Some games, coach Keith Smart would give ample minutes to IT. Other contests, Jimmer would get the nod, costing IT three DNP-coach's decisions and another game against Indiana in which he only played 0:02.
Ever since a Dec. 14 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Thomas' play has finally started to pick up like we knew it could. Against the Thunder, Thomas scored 26 points (23 in the fourth quarter) on 10-of-13 shooting in only 15:41 of game action.
Including the game against the Thunder, Thomas has averaged 15.1 points, 3.4 assists and only 1.3 turnovers per game over his last nine contests. He's also shooting 47.4 percent from the field and 41.9 percent from three-point range.
What's most encouraging from his recent play is his improved ability as a facilitator. Over his last four games, he has increased his assists to 5.0 per game while keeping his turnovers down to a stellar 1.3 per game.
One thing that you can contribute Thomas' recent success to is his personality and work ethic. Being 5'9" and the last pick in the NBA draft comes a lot of skepticism from outsiders. That has kept Thomas motivated.
When asked about the chip on his shoulder in respects to his doubters, Thomas said, according to Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee:
Yeah, that's never going to go away because there's always going to be doubt. I'm only 5-9, and they're always going to say something, so I've got to use that to my advantage.
He's also respected as one of the leaders on the team, which is quite remarkable when you consider that this is only his second NBA season.
"(Thomas is) a guy that's very vocal," fellow point guard Jimmer Fredette said. "He's a guy that will tell you what he thinks, what's on his mind. He tries to get everybody to play to the best of their ability, and he expects a lot out of people."
That leadership ability is needed on a team like the Kings. It's even better that his play has started to pick up lately. In fact, Thomas has been elevated back into the starting lineup over the last two games.
It's a promotion well earned for Thomas. Once again, it looks like he's back on track to becoming the player that we all envisioned coming into the season.
(All stats used in this article are current through games played on Dec. 31)
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