This season may not have gone as well as some fans had hoped for the Sacramento Kings. But while the team has struggled, there are a few players that deserve credit for the year they've put together, most notably, point guard Isaiah Thomas.
Part of Thomas' lack of credit comes from his unspectacular play. He doesn't have an above-the-rim game. He's not a magician with the ball like a Jason Williams or a Pete Maravich. He doesn't light up the scoreboard on a regular basis.
But IT is consistent. Night in, night out, he shows up to play. His effort is unwavering whether the team's up by 10 or trailing by 20. Whether he's coming off the bench, like he did for a stretch earlier in the year, or starting the game, like he's been doing of late, Thomas is the same: ready to go.
At a glance, his averages of 13.3 points and 3.7 assists doesn't look worthy of too much credit. Not that they're bad, but they're nowhere close to star-caliber. But take a deeper look at Isaiah's season and you'll see how valuable he really is.
For one, he's been playing excellent basketball of late. Since Feb. 1, he's averaging 17.5 points and 4.9 assists per game. He's also been incredibly efficient during that stretch, shooting 46.1 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from three-point range.
Perhaps what is most amazing is his deadly accurate free-throw shooting. Check out what Kings PR man and stats guru Darryl Arata put on his Twitter account during a recent Kings win over the Chicago Bulls:
Isaiah Thomas has made 87 of his last 90 free throw attempts (.967 ft%). So far tonight, he's 4-of-4.— Darryl Arata (@kingsnotesguru) March 14, 2013
His abilities as a distributor have also improved as time's progressed. In fact, he's seen his assists increase every single month, from October through March. He went from 1.0 assists per game in October (in one game played), to 2.0 in November, 2.9 in December, 4.2 in January, 4.8 in February and 5.0 in March.
Isaiah's elevated play is starting to have a positive effect on the whole team, and it's reflecting in his plus-minus numbers. For the season, Thomas is minus-96. However, he's only minus-six since Feb. 1 (this despite the Kings posting an 8-14 record during that span) and plus-22 since the calendar turned to March.
He always seems to elevate his game in crunch time as well. He's plus-35 during the fourth quarter throughout the season. And he boasts a positive plus-minus rating in every conceivable crunch time stat, including plus-29 in games within five points in the last three minutes. He even hit a game-winning shot against the Washington Wizards back in February.
Thomas also leads the Kings in total win shares with 4.1. And it's not just a matter of Thomas' total win shares being higher than other players because he simply plays more minutes. His win shares per 48 minutes of .114 is tied for second on the team. And the two players tied or ahead of him, Patrick Patterson and Toney Douglas, haven't been with the Kings all season and are going off a much smaller sample size.
Again, none of this is to say Isaiah is the best player on the Kings. But he is one of the better players on the team, and he's not often recognized as such by people outside of Sacramento.
But not getting the respect he deserves is nothing new to Thomas. After averaging 16.8 points and 6.1 assists during his final year at the University of Washington, the point guard wasn't selected until the very last pick in the 2011 draft. Granted, a huge part of him falling is his small stature (5'9"), but a player of his skill set should have garnered more attention, even with Thomas' slight height.
Because of where he was drafted, he obviously entered the NBA without much expectations being put on him. The Kings also had another rookie point guard, Jimmer Fredette, last season, and Fredette was the one garnering all of the attention. As usual, Isaiah just played his steady brand of basketball and was inserted into the starting lineup midway through that rookie campaign.
Which Kings player deserves more credit?
Since Thomas didn't get much respect entering the draft or entering his rookie season, it shouldn't come as much of a shock that he didn't get a ton of credit after that rookie year. Granted, Thomas was named All-NBA Rookie second team, showing he did turn some heads.
But he finished seventh in Rookie of the Year voting, this despite being named Western Conference Rookie of the Month twice (February and March). Only Kyrie Irving, with three, managed to accomplish the feat more frequently.
None of this is likely to change. Isaiah will likely always be overlooked. He'll never be viewed as having the same upside as his peers. But the Kings are lucky to have him, even if nobody outside of Sacramento knows it.
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