The Little Guy's Big Season

The Little Guy's Big Season
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I don't know about you, but I am thoroughly convinced that Tommy Heinsohn does not actually know Isaiah Thomas' real name. In watching multiple broadcasts for the Boston Celtics' home games this year, I have yet to hear Heinsohn actually refer to Thomas as, well, Isaiah Thomas. Instead, he affectionately refers to the 5'9" All-Star point guard as "The Little Guy" consistently. Thomas' height has been well documented throughout his career, and so has his status as the last selection of the 2011 NBA Draft. What hasn't been given nearly as much attention until this point has been his emergence as a legitimate superstar for the Boston Celtics.

Just so we're clear, Thomas will not win the Most Valuable Player award at the end of this season. Russell Westbrook is literally averaging a triple-double, James Harden is leading the Houston Rockets to a very strong start this season with his "NBA 2K" MyCareer-like stat-lines (53-16-17!!), LeBron James is LeBron James, and that's without mentioning the giant in the Bay (isn't it crazy that you have to stop and think, "which one?" when I say that?) and a host of others. With that being said, Isaiah Thomas is, on a nightly basis, turning into the superstar that everyone has been saying that Boston needs.

After dropping 52 points against the Miami Heat, a bunch of keyboard warriors threw out some tweets criticizing his lack of assists (he had zero that night). Yes, of course, you want your point guard to record a few assists here and there in a game. Is this really a problem when the man dropped 52 big ones? I think not, but Isaiah Thomas is a man of the people. In the team's first game since Thomas' explosion against the Heat, he led the Celtics to a win against the Utah Jazz with 29 points (which is still really, really good) and a career-high 15 assists. What was that about not passing enough?

Isaiah Thomas had an incredible December. He probably missed out on Player of the Month honors because of the fact that he was injured at the beginning of the month, but in the games that he did play, he truly was phenomenal. In addition to The Little Guy's big month, the Celtics as a team have finally started clicking. Boston is cemented firmly in the 3rd spot in the East, and they are only 2.5 games back of the second-place Toronto Raptors. Much of that has to do with Isaiah Thomas' nightly dominance.

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Without Thomas on the court, the Celtics have a really tough time scoring. Marcus Smart has done an extremely solid job ever since Brad Stevens defined his role as the clear backup point guard. The ball moves really well, but at times the shots just aren't falling, even though the team is getting good looks. When Thomas is in the game, that changes. IT4 simply makes shots, and that's extremely valuable on a team that does pretty much everything else except, you know, make shots. Boston is a strong defensive team for the most part, and though Thomas detracts from that (112.7 defensive rating on the season so far), his offense is sorely needed.

The great news is that Thomas is a ridiculously good offensive player. He's posting an absurd offensive rating of 123 this season, and he's leading the Eastern Conference in scoring and is 5th in the league overall. Thomas has a +/- rating of +51, but that's a little deceiving. He owns the fourth-best rating on the team, but that's behind the always net-positive Marcus Smart (+70) and two guys who missed significant time (which was also when Boston was losing a lot of games due to their absence) in Jae Crowder (+134) and Al Horford (+90). Thomas' value to the team can't be stressed enough, and that's evidenced by the team's record in games that he missed due to injury last month (1-4).

Should Isaiah Thomas be awarded the MVP award at the end of the season? Again, no. He's really good; a few players are more valuable to their teams. Those two statements are both true. Is Isaiah Thomas one of the best guards players in the Eastern Conference? Absolutely, and one could easily make the case that he should start in the All-Star game despite strong seasons from Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. His East-leading 27.7 points and 6.1 assists per game make a very compelling argument without any context. With context, serious consideration is mandatory before casting fan votes.

As a parting thought, another player at age 27 put up similar [but worse] numbers in comparison to Thomas. This player averaged 27.6 points points per game, 5.5 assists, shot 77% from the free-throw line (compared to Thomas' 90.4%), and had an effective field-goal percentage of 43.6% (compared to Thomas' 51.8%). Allen Iverson was a polarizing player, though undeniably entertaining. He also is a Hall of Famer and was considered a superstar in his days in the NBA. I think it's about time that The Little Guy gets the same recognition.


All stats via Basketball-Reference.com and StatMuse.com.