Sport’s fans marvel at the underdog story, when we see someone who is skinny, short, or “unathletic” like us achieve any amount of success at a professional level we point and say “that could have been me”, because we can relate to not being blessed with superhuman athleticism. This is what makes sports so wonderful and relatable, it is almost completely reliant on hard work, will power, and character. Nearly anybody can be successful if they genuinely put their mind to it.
That brings me to the story of Tom Brady. It is one that most of us may already know, but let me refresh your memory. Tom Brady ran the slowest 40 time of any Quarterback in combine history, he looked like he had never seen a weight room in his life, he was inconsistent as a starter at Michigan, he was not supposed to be the greatest professional football player of all time. However, he is now widely considered just that, not because he sat back and focused on everybody telling him he couldn’t, but because he focused on being the best.
Now, let’s talk about another Boston sports legend in the making, Isaiah Thomas, perhaps the most prominent underdog story of the year in all of sports. Selected 60th overall in the NBA draft, and considered too short to ever be a difference maker in the pros. Then Danny Ainge saw something none of us did, and traded for him, changing the dynamic of the entire league.
In two short years in Boston Isaiah Thomas has worked his tail off, and willed himself into an elite scorer and darkhorse MVP candidate on one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. All thanks to the Phoenix Suns valuing Eric Bledsoe over him. Perhaps this was his motivation, or maybe Thomas was already motivated, one thing is for sure though he cannot be slowed down now, literally. Thomas has scored 20 points in a record 40 straight games, and during this record streak the Celtics have gone 30-10. Oh and he is also putting up a cool 6.4 assists per game, on par with reigning MVP Steph Curry. All of this, you would think, would be enough to silence any critics, but as DJ Khaled put it “They don’t want you to win”.
Real Plus-Minus, this sounds like some sort of advanced math equation or formula, however it is an NBA stat that ESPN implemented a few years ago. This stat, to my understanding, is essentially in place to measure a player’s point value per 100 possessions. There are separate offensive and defensive categories for this stat as well, many critique it saying it is too “predictive” and has no correlation to how much an individual player actually contributes to his team. I tend to agree, and have coined it as the official statistic of every hater, because much like in politics, when we do not like someone or something we will scour the internet and eventually find some sort of statistic or “fact” that fits our agenda and legitimizes our distaste for a certain person or opinion.
Now, where does this all come into play? Among the 448 players in the NBA Isaiah Thomas ranks 448th in Defensive Real Plus-Minus, yes that is last. According to this statistic if you were to be in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers you would be more suited to put Joe Young, backup Point Guard for the Indiana Pacers (yes he’s a real player), in the game in crunch time over Isaiah Thomas, because over the course of the game Young would allow 3-4 less points than Thomas. This doesn’t just sound insane, it is insane, but many sports personalities are using this statistic to say Isaiah Thomas does not belong in the same breath as James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
First off Thomas’ ability to score at will at 5’9" far outweighs his apparent defensive shortcomings. That is to say if the Celtics were in the above scenario in the Eastern Conference Finals Brad Stevens would be fired on the spot for his inability to coach up to the situation, and realize that Isaiah Thomas needs to be in the game in crunch time. Need I remind you this man leads the league in 4th quarter scoring.
Now, let’s step back and consider this Real Plus-Minus statistic for a second though, because every great argument must be unbiased and fact checked. Real Plus-Minus obviously has its relevance, it was implemented for a reason. If you are an NBA GM and you are trying to sign a solid backup Point Guard perhaps you would glance at this statistic to separate two average players. However, if you are arguing that this statistic is the singular reason an elite player is not yet a superstar, you are clearly reaching in order to find faults in a player you simply do not want to like and will never respect for whatever reason.
The Celtic’s did not acquire Thomas for his defense, they already have two guys named Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley, considered two of the best defensive Point Guards in the NBA, as well as Jae Crowder another elite defensive talent. This is not by accident, Danny Ainge and the Celtics have built their team around filling any and all voids, and not putting all their eggs in one basket, that is why they have seen such a great turn around over the past few years.
Isaiah Thomas was not signed to a massive contract, the Celtics didn’t trade half their roster for him because they thought he was the missing piece to the puzzle, he was acquired for very little in hopes that he could add some offensive depth to a mostly defensive minded Point Guard group, and he did just that. Sure he may be at a disadvantage on the defensive end because of his height, but Boston has plenty of guys to make up for that. Point being, Thomas was brought in primarily to help the Celtics on one side of the court, and so far this season he is contributing more than all but one player in the entire league on that one end.
Thomas does not need to be a shutdown defender in order to be a superstar, and that is what the critics fail to understand. The Celtics have signed players specifically for that reason. No, they need Isaiah to score, score, and score some more, and so far he has done just that better than almost every player in the league. However, if there is a part of you that still questions Thomas’ value to Boston due to his defense or apparent lack thereof, I ask you this, with an injured Avery Bradley and an inept scorer in Marcus Smart, how many wins do you think the Celtics would have through these first 56 games without Isaiah Thomas dropping 30 every other night, 20 maybe 25? This is hypothetical of course, but there is no doubt the Celtics would be offensively lacking if it weren’t for Thomas. Just look back at the four games he missed this season, the Celtics went 1-3 in those games, and struggled to put up 100 points. That is a preview of how Boston’s season would have gone this year folks, if it weren’t for an undersized, “offensive minded”, 60th overall pick out of Washington, named Isaiah Jamar Thomas. Yeah, I would say it is definitely time to put some respect on that name.
Photo: (Bleacher Report)