In the 2011 NBA draft, the Sacramento Kings took a little-known point guard out of the University of Washington with the 60th overall pick (the very last pick in the draft). Most people gave this guy no chance to succeed in the league, mostly because he was taken with the last pick, but also because he was only 5 feet 9 inches tall. Isaiah Thomas is now the best player on a top 10 team, and is making his case for the most clutch player in the NBA. However, while everyone knows about his heroics on offense, his lackluster defense usually flies under the radar. My opinion of Isaiah Thomas boils down to this: elite scorer, not elite player. Much like Kyrie Irving, he impresses with his skills on the offensive side, while hurting his team on the defensive side.
This year, Thomas has reached a career worst in defensive real plus minus (DRPM is a stat that tracks how well a team does when a certain player is on the floor). His DRPM of -4.42 is good for dead last in the league (yes, dead last). How elite can a player be if he is literally the worst defender in the league? Once again, similarities appear between Thomas and Kyrie, who DRPM is also well below average at -1.7.
As you may know, I really do dislike the attribute of lackluster defense in guards. Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Isaiah Thomas, and to a lesser extent James Harden all share this trait. While all of these players are high-production and high-usage players on offense, they often give up just as much as they get. One of the reasons the Clippers continue to be dominant, despite talent losses, is that Chris Paul is the best defensive guard in the league. You can count on Paul to contain the guy he’s matched up with, while also running the team and being a leader. CP3 serves as an example that it is possible to be a good offensive and defensive player, even with his limited athleticism.
The goal of every team is winning championships, and the best player on a championship team can never be a bad defender. Kyrie Irving, for example, won a championship because his only responsibility on the Cavs was scoring, so he didn’t have to worry about defense. LeBron, who is a great all around player, led his team to a ship because he could do everything, and thus allowing Irving to play his role. If Isaiah Thomas ever wins a championship, he won’t do it his team’s star.
Throughout this season, Isaiah Thomas will continue to put up big time scoring numbers while doing so on the biggest of stages, but hopefully you can now truly evaluate him as a player, by taking both offense and defense into account.