Piling on Isiah Thomas is something of a national pastime, but we may have judged him too hastily. A new study from ESPN used John Hollinger's Estimated Wins Added measure to determine which general managers have drafted most (and least) effectively since 1989.
You can find the complete results here, but an ESPN Insider subscription is required.
The wildest takeaway is that Thomas actually came out of the study as the best drafting GM. You read that right. ESPN's Tom Haberstroh outlines the results:
Thomas put up an outstanding hit rate in the draft, no matter where he picked. His run of lottery picks in Toronto should be the stuff of lore. He started off by getting Damon Stoudamire with the No. 7 pick in 1995. Then with the No. 2 pick in 1996, he grabbed Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Camby. The following year in 1997, he nabbed some high schooler named Tracy McGrady at No. 9.
With later picks, Thomas also selected the likes of David Lee, Trevor Ariza and Wilson Chandler. That's not a bad haul.
Of course none of this means that Thomas was a great general manager in any absolute sense. He made some questionable trades and signings in his day, typified by names like Eddy Curry and Jerome James.
Perhaps some of the draft credit should go to Thomas' scouts, but that's a more difficult question to resolve with empirical data. The most we can really conclude about his time with the Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks is that his overall record was mixed, complicated by impressive draft acquisitions and questionable decisions on other fronts.
Thomas also deserves some credit for the Knicks landing new president of basketball operations Phil Jackson, according to ESPN New York's Ian Begley:
Former Knicks president and GM Isiah Thomas -- the same guy who presided over some of the team's worst seasons -- helped bring Phil Jackson to New York. Of course, Jackson's five-year, $60 million contract certainly didn't hurt. But Thomas did play a small part in Phil's decision.
It turns out Jackson and Thomas discussed the Knicks back in 2004, and Jackson recently credited Thomas' enthusiasm for his open-mindedness about this year's negotiations.
Since his stint with the Knicks, Thomas went on to serve as head coach at Florida International University in Miami for two seasons. Neither of which was very successful.
Now you can see Thomas make regular appearances on NBA TV as an analyst. Perhaps we should listen a little more closely to his assessments of talent. He certainly didn't have it all wrong.