SLAM Top 50: Isaiah Thomas, No. 15

Forget the hip injury. Don’t look at all the stats and the nearly 30 points per game. Get all the trade drama outta here, too. Just watch Isaiah Thomas play ball. His value, his talent and his other-worldly competitiveness is crystal clear.

Isaiah racked up a career-best season with averages of 29 points and 6 helpers a game in 2016-17, and he brought the Celtics back to the top of the East for the first time since the Big 3 left. He played through personal tragedy and through injury. And he did it all with his heart on his sleeve, fully committing to the team and the city.

And yet, after a magical season with a storied franchise, he got traded. How quickly we forget that Thomas, all 5-9 of him, was the best fourth quarter scorer in the NBA last season. Not only was he a dog down the stretch of close games, he was a demon for the first part of each matchup, too.

Because you don’t go from the last damn pick in the 2011 Draft to a two-time All-Star without having a fire inside of you. IT’s fire burns real, real bright. Allen Iverson-type bright. More on that in a second.

The only topic that anyone wants to discuss about the 28-year-old Thomas is the status of his hip injury. It makes sense. He was just a major piece in a swap that landed him in Cleveland. But there’s actually doubt that IT makes it back as the same player. And that concern makes no sense.

Just watch Isaiah Thomas play ball.

In the name of buckets and in honor of his squad, he’s been able to conquer his height, his draft status, two poorly run franchises, every defense in the NBA and the passing of his sister. He’s turned everything into fuel, becoming a truly dangerous offensive weapon.

Thomas can deliver his offensive arsenal in anyway you want it. He can run pick-and-roll, where he can get to the cup, stop short for a floater or drill an off-the-dribble three-ball. Or he can go one-on-one, where the defender’s sure to either get crossed all the way up or be straight up left in the dust. He gets to the line pretty much whenever he wants, converting at 90 percent when the clock’s stopped.

His gameplay style, his swagger, his vulnerability, it all adds up to equal a total package that’s reminiscent of Iverson. IT barrels into the lane with no regard for his body, like Chuck did. He competes with unbridled emotion, like Chuck did. He maneuvers his way around the hardwood, finding gaps and alleyways, like Chuck did. He gives his all, like Chuck did.

Because beyond the numbers and off-court gossip, Isaiah Thomas is a real killa, capable of going off at any time and leading any team to the top of the League. And there’s no doubt that he comes back better, faster, stronger and more hungry from this hip injury. Just watch him play ball.

Previous Rankings:
2016: No. 25
2015: Not Ranked
2014: Not Ranked
2013: Not Ranked

Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2017-18—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.

No. 50 – Dion Waiters
No. 49 – Ben Simmons 
No. 48 – Brook Lopez
No. 47 — Harrison Barnes
No. 46 — Jrue Holiday
No. 45 — Lonzo Ball
No. 44 — Myles Turner
No. 43 — Goran Dragic
No. 42 — Andre Drummond
No. 41 — Al Horford
No. 40 — LaMarcus Aldridge
No. 39 — Kevin Love
No. 38 — Paul Millsap
No. 37 — Hassan Whiteside
No. 36 — Andrew Wiggins
No. 35 — Marc Gasol
No. 34 – DeAndre Jordan
No. 33 — Bradley Beal
No. 32 — Kemba Walker
No. 31 — CJ McCollum
No. 30 — Devin Booker
No. 29 — Nikola Jokic
No. 28 — Joel Embiid
No. 27 — Mike Conley 
No. 26 — Kyle Lowry
No. 25 — Rudy Gobert

No. 24 — Gordon Hayward
No. 23 — Kristaps Porzingis
No. 22 — Carmelo Anthony
No. 21 — DeMar DeRozan
No. 20 — Blake Griffin
No. 19 — Draymond Green
No. 18 — Chris Paul
No. 17 — Klay Thompson
No. 16 — Jimmy Butler