Before last Thursday's trade deadline, only the Magic and Knicks had attempted fewer free throws this season than the Celtics. Boston's inability to get to the line limited it offensively and contributed to the Celtics having the ninth-worst offense in the league (100.9 points per 100 possessions).
Enter Isaiah Thomas, a foul-drawing menace averaging 6.6 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes, good for 15th in the NBA and tied with Heat star Dwayne Wade. Thomas, whom the Celtics were able to snag from Phoenix for the Cavaliers' 2016 first-round pick, went 6-for-7 from the charity stripe in each of his first two games in green, leading to this stat:
Isaiah's made 12 free throws through two games in Boston. Same number Rondo made in 22 games before the trade.— Rich Levine (@rich_levine) February 24, 2015
It's obviously a small sample size, but Thomas is averaging 21 points and five assists in his first two games as a Celtic. He's played 26 minutes per game (which figures to greatly increase once he's firmly acclimated with the team), about on par with his playing time in Phoenix, where he averaged 15.2 points and 3.7 assists.
There is no denying that Thomas is a talented and productive basketball player, but the Suns are the second team in less than a year to move on from him. Sacramento, the team that originally selected Thomas with the final pick in the 2011 Draft, let him walk for nothing last summer, deciding that Clippers' backup Darren Collison was a better fit. Kings' center DeMarcus Cousins made it quite clear which point guard he preferred playing with:
DMC on PG changes: "it’s been incredible. It’s been a smooth transition. The ball is moving a lot better. It’s not stuck in one place ...— Jason Jones (@mr_jasonjones) October 1, 2014
Phoenix was able to snag Thomas on what seemed like a dirt-cheap deal for a starting-caliber point guard. Yet just half a season into that four-year, $28 million contract, the Suns too cut ties with Thomas, trading a strong scorer on a friendly contract for a pick that figures to come late in the first round.
Thomas' propensity to dribble the ball into the ground has irked teammates and he had a higher usage rate than fellow point guards Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe despite the latter two being starters.
Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek talked about the trade before the Celtics' win over the Suns Monday night. From Jay King of Mass Live:
"For whatever reason, the chemistry was just not good. There was a lot of players thinking for themselves and it ends up trickling to other guys. So when you make a trade, it's kind of a fresh start. And we emphasized (after the trades), let's get it back to where it was with the good team chemistry wherever everybody is happy for each other and playing for each other."
Thomas got his revenge on his former team, scoring eight points in the final 1:37 to help the Celtics prevail. He stared down the Suns' bench after one critical bucket and had a curious quote before the game.
"Oh, I did (want to start). "Who doesn't? It's like the bad thing if somebody says they want to start and they don't. I don't get that. I was a team player. I didn't complain to anybody. I went out there and did my job. The guy who complained (Dragic), you seen it in the media. I didn't say anything."
Thomas said he wanted to start, yet he clearly knew that wouldn't be the case when he signed with Phoenix over the summer. Dragic was a third-team All-NBA selection last year and Bledsoe, viewed as a franchise cornerstone, would sign a five-year, $75-million extension a few months later. Though the Suns routinely used all three point guards together in crunch time, a starting position was never on the table for Thomas in Phoenix.
It's not easy to say why the Kings and Suns turned so quickly on Thomas, but his complications at previous stops don't mean he can't be a key cog for the Celtics as long as he's accepted for what he is - a ball-dominant point guard (he has a usage rate of 34.8 in his two games in Boston) who will make 3-pointers, get to the line and score in the clutch. Through two games, he's done all of that for the Celtics. It's still unknown if his over-dribbling will hinder the development of Marcus Smart or if he will steal minutes from the scalding-hot Avery Bradley.
But for now, Boston doesn't have to worry about those things. Thomas is a fun player to watch who makes the team better. Whether the Celtics eventually sour on him remains to be seen, but now it's time to ride the wave.
"(The Suns) had other plans," Thomas told reporters. "I wish them the best. And I'm a Boston Celtic so that's all I'm worried about."
Photo credit: Matt York, Associated Press ImagesDan Hoppen 2/25/2015 12:14:00 PM Tweet Edit