Isaiah Thomas is the Celtics best offensive player. He's a borderline All-Star. Last night, he poured in 34 points on 11-23 shooting, grabbed 3 rebounds, dished out 8 assists, added a steal and a block and was 11-12 from the free throw line. Sounds good, right? Well, he was also 1-8 from three and a team worst -9 on the night. And the Celtics lost 120-114. Seems like a weird aberration, except:

It's not like Thomas was incredibly inefficient last night, but surely there's a little something to this.
Take a look at Thomas' splits from wins and losses courtesy of ESPN.com:

And then there's these advanced stats from NBA.com:

It looks like he shoots a little less in the wins, a little more accurate from the field, significantly more accurate from deep. He gets an additional assist in wins versus the losses, turns the ball over less in wins than losses, and averages a couple more points in losses than he does in wins. But one stat from each of these jump out at me, and I think they're related:

1. In wins, Thomas gets to the line significantly less. He averages 4.6 FTA in wins, and 7.9 FTA in losses.
2. In wins, Thomas' net rating is 14.6, compared to -6.7 in losses. That's a twenty point swing. That's massive.

It's a bit shocking that Thomas getting to the line isn't a precursor to Celtics victories. The idea that Thomas getting to the charity stripe is somehow a bad thing isn't true in and of itself, it more speaks to the idea that when Thomas is driving to the hoop consistently it's not the best thing for this Celtics team. The Celts are all about the defense... and as far as the advanced stats are concerned Thomas' defensive rating is very good in Celts wins and very bad in losses. For the numbers to be that drastically different, it has something to do with Thomas' defense itself. And the most likely explanation I can think of is that Thomas plays way better defense when he's not careening full force to the rim every possession and carrying the load offensively. And as good as Thomas is at getting to the rim and creating offense, it simply doesn't make up for the liability he is on the defensive end when he's doing that.

There are a couple potential solutions to this problem.

One is simply to take the ball out of Isaiah's hands on offense sometimes. This actually could benefit Thomas' three point percentage as he's making 34.7% of catch and shoot threes and only 29% of his pull-up threes (per NBA.com). It would save his energy for defense and probably help the Celtics turn the ball over a little less, since Marcus Smart is less turnover prone. Why not stick him in the corner every once in a while and use him to spread the floor/save his legs?

The other is to play Isaiah Thomas less. And maybe just bring him off the bench like last year? Last season Thomas played 26 minutes a game. This year he's up to nearly 33 minutes a game. That's a big jump up in minutes for a little man, and maybe Thomas is better served as a 6th man who comes off the bench and goes full throttle for 25 minutes a night.

Either way, the status quo doesn't seem to be working. Brad Stevens has to figure out the best way to harness Isaiah Thomas' unique bag of tricks and translate it to victories. It will be interesting to see if Thomas' usage changes as the Celtics try to get back on track tonight vs. Indiana.

Photo Credit Elsa/Getty Images

Paul Colahan 1/13/2016 03:37:00 PM Edit
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