SLAM Top 50: Isaiah Thomas, No. 25

by Tessa Yesselman and Sam Rubenstein

Isaiah Thomas was very publicly displeased with his ranking on Sports Illustrated Top 100 NBA players list.

SI listed Thomas at No. 45, up 43 spots from his previous year’s ranking of No. 88. I guess he was supposed to be pacified by this jump up the list, but he wasn’t. And who could blame him? Little guys are always um, short, on respect, from Napoleon Bonaparte to Bushwick Bill to Tyrion Lannister.

It’s hard to quantify statistically exactly how many wins are owed to a specific player, but that is what “win shares” attempts to encapsulate. Thomas finished his first full season with the Celtics at 9.7 win shares, good for 16th in the NBA. The 2015-16 season also saw IT4 earn his first All-Star nod.

Thomas played in all 82 games and averaged 22.2 points, 6.2 assists, and 1.1 steals in 32.2 minutes per game. Only four other players in the NBA averaged more than 22 points, 6 assists and a steal per game, and I guess you could say Thomas was keeping elite company: LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Stephen Curry were the other members of the club.

Over the course of a season and a half, Thomas has become the face of the most decorated franchise in NBA history. Many people said that the Celtics started the 2015-16 season “star challenged,” and IT made it impossible to qualify them as such as the season went on. With Thomas at the helm, the narrative shifted from “star challenged,” to “overachieving.”

Last season’s Celtics team was the only one to beat the Cavaliers and the Warriors on their respective home floors. The win in Golden State snapped the Warriors’ 54-game home win streak, and the Celtics won 109-106 thanks to a layup by Isaiah Thomas with 3 seconds remaining.

The “little guy,” as famed Celtics color announcer Tommy Heinsohn has affectionately coined him, has shown a propensity for making plays with the game on the line. With the Celtics in danger of going down 3-0 in the first round of the Playoffs against the Hawks, IT4 looked Jeff Teague in the eye, calmly stepped back, and sunk a three-pointer to put the Celtics up 7, pushing the game out of Atlanta’s reach.

Isaiah Thomas hears your criticisms. He’s only 5-9. His productivity dipped in the postseason. The Celtics are doomed for more early post-season exits.

Luckily for Celtics fans, he’s too busy in the gym with his new friend Al Horford who he helped lure to Boston, sharpening up his shooting from 25 feet and out to listen to the naysayers. And of course, he’s just working on his shooting from downtown because at the basket he’s pretty solid—62.3 percent shooting from three feet and in ain’t too shabby. (As a point of reference, Kyrie Irving finishes at 59.3 percent and Westbrook at 57.7 percent from this same distance.)

His spot on the SLAM Top 50—clearly superior to the SI list debacle—is hard earned and this season IT will go out and back it up.

Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2016-17—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.

Follow the entire #SLAMTop50 countdown.