Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Significance of Thomas as an All-Star

Isaiah Thomas has been selected as a reserve to the 2016 Eastern Conference All-Stars, making him the first Celtic to play in an All-Star game since Kevin Garnett in 2013.  Rajon Rondo was also voted in as a starter that year, but was sidelined with a torn ACL. 

This is the first All-Star selection for the 26-year-old Thomas, who was the 60th and final overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft.  Standing just 5-foot-9 on a good day, the undersized underdog is both the smallest (tied with Hall of Famer Calvin Murphy) and lowest-drafted player in All-Star game history. 

Thomas’ playmaking ability has been the driving force behind Boston’s high-scoring offense this season.  His 21.5 points and 6.7 assists per game are career highs, while his 21.54 PER ranks second amongst Eastern Conference point guards.  Furthermore Thomas and the Celtics lead the East in scoring with 104.6 points per game.

Thomas has found his offensive rhythm, expertly playing to his teammates’ tendencies and utilizing their individual strengths to maximize his own effectiveness. 

Every team has an offensive facilitator or two, but very few players can make smart decisions while attacking the lane at the speed that Thomas does.  When he penetrates inside and collapses the defense, Thomas can determine in the blink of an eye whether an elusive finish at the rim or a quick pass to an open teammate is more appropriate.

The Celtics trounced the Magic on Tuesday to improve to 27-21, good for fifth best in the Eastern Conference.  They are just one game behind the Bulls for sole possession of third place.  But Thomas will need additional help for his Celtics to legitimately challenge the Cavaliers or Raptors for conference dominance.

This is where his All-Star selection could be a game-changer.  Thomas has earned league-wide recognition from players and coaches who admire his relentlessly spirited style of play.  As one of the smallest players in recent league history, Thomas plays with a massive chip on his shoulder and strives to improve every day.

His All-Star selection increases the likelihood that Danny Ainge can bring another star player to Boston.  Thomas being officially named as one of the best guards in the NBA increases league-wide desire to play alongside him.  Other All-Star caliber players will want to join Thomas in leading the young and passionate Celtics, who play selflessly and continuously shatter expectations while charging towards the top of an inconsistent East.

When asked about his plans for All-Star weekend, Thomas responded that he is eager to support fellow Celtics Marcus Smart in the Rising Stars Challenge and Jordan Mickey in the D-League All-Star game.  

Who wouldn’t want to play alongside an All-Star with that sort of team-first mentality?

Last year’s postseason struggles against the Cavs proved that Thomas' offense alone probably cannot sustain adequate scoring numbers against an elite defense in a playoff series.  But Danny Ainge has successfully established an extremely solid foundation of talented young players.  The addition of one more dynamic scorer to shift the focus of opposing defenses away from Thomas could make this team truly elite.

Even if Ainge opts to wait until the offseason to acquire another All-Star caliber player, expect the Celtics to make some sort of deal by the trade deadline.  David Lee has not been shy in voicing displeasure with his recent lack of playing time and Ainge has reportedly been “quietly aggressive” in trade talks.  With talented players like DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Love, and Danilo Gallinari on the market, Ainge could very well pull off a deadline deal that makes the Celtics immediate contenders and a top-3 team in the conference.