Coming Up Big
The Kings’ pint-sized PG Isaiah Thomas is making a huge impact in his rookie season.
by Rudy Raya / @rudy_raya
Isaiah Thomas is just like you.
OK, so maybe you weren’t the last player drafted in the second round of the 2011 NBA Draft, and you probably didn’t beat out former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans and the reigning College Player of the Year Jimmer Fredette to become the starting point guard for the Sacramento Kings.
But that’s OK, chances are that you weren’t born with the super human genes of a typical NBA player—then again neither was Thomas.
And in that sense, Isaiah Thomas is just like you.
He’s anything but your average NBA player. Standing all of 5-9, Thomas may more closely resemble the team’s ball boy than its primary ball-handler, but February’s Western Conference Rookie of the Month has made a living out of exceeding expectations.
“When he told me, it was weird. He (head coach Keith Smart) said, ‘I’m thinking of starting you,’ one day before shoot around, and it hit me like, Dang, he really just said that!” Thomas said. “I tried to hold it in and be normal, but inside I was jumping up and down, because nobody expected this. I didn’t even expect to be a starter right now, but I’ve just been given this opportunity and I’m running with it.”
At the beginning of the season, Thomas was way down on the Kings’ rotation, buried beneath a glut of guards and the supposed potential of last year’s core group. He was a high-energy guy, a spark plug off the bench who would give the team some extra life. But it wasn’t long until the team started slumping and began looking for answers.
After exchanging picks to acquire Jimmer Fredette this summer, the Kings thought they drafted their future starting point guard, and they did… only it wouldn’t be Jimmer.
“Being the 60th pick does make it a lot easier because nobody expects anything from you,” Thomas said. “You can go out there with a free mind and just play basketball. But no matter where I got drafted, what position or whatever it may be, I feel like given the opportunity, I can do what I’m doing right now.”
Before Thomas entered the starting lineup, Sacramento’s offense was stagnant and a lack of play-calling resulted in ill-advised isolations and forced jump shots. The Kings’ offense started to resemble a game of H-O-R-S-E rather than anything involving an actual team.
With their little lightning bolt in the starting lineup, Thomas keeps the Kings active and flowing by electrifying the offense, pushing the pace and constantly looking for the open man.
What’s even more surprising is that Thomas may also be the team’s best defender, accepting any and every matchup ranging from point guards and centers—to Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant. With the agility of a cat and the heart of a lion, Thomas brings a tenacity to game that makes him a formidable opponent for any player.
“I just want to make winning plays and do the best I can to help my team win,” Thomas said. “I want to make it known that I belong in this League and that I can compete with the best.”
The Kings are by no means playing winning basketball—they aren’t even playing .500 basketball—but what they are doing is competing. They are keeping games close, challenging their opponents, growing up and slowly learning how to play together. Thomas has been an injection of adrenaline into this team and town, once again giving the fans something to cheer about.
“These fans are one of a kind, they’ve brought me in with open arms—they love me,” said Thomas. “They really embrace me; it’s something I see every night. I can’t say enough about the fan support and the support I’ve had from this organization.”
With season averages of 10 ppg and 3.5 apg, Thomas has carved out an impressive rookie season, but he also knows what he still need to work onto be an even better player: “Decision-making, being an overall point guard, knowing when to score and when to get others involved,” Thomas said.
“The point guard is the most important position on the court and you have to be another coach out there,” he continued. “You’re learning new things every practice, every game. I’m just learning every day.”
In a league where size is everything, Thomas has taken full advantage of his stature. Instead of letting his height be a hindrance, he has used his size to help push him through every step of his career. What he lacks in height, he makes up for in heart and his desire to win. If anything being undersized has helped Thomas become stronger, faster, smarter and more determined.
“I try to use every little thing to my advantage,” he said. “People ask, ‘How do you do it?’ I just say that I go out there and play. When I’m out there I don’t feel like I’m the shortest guy on the court.”