Celtics' Isaiah Thomas points to Steve Nash for inspiration

Isaiah Thomas is coming off a season highlighted by firsts. It was Boston’s 2014-15 leading scorer’s 1st season in a Celtics jersey. While wearing it, Thomas was the 1st NBA player ever to average at least 16 points and 4 assists, playing an average of 26 minutes or fewer. Some could argue that his most important "1st" was his inaugural postseason appearance where he added both minutes and assists (29.8/game and 5.4 to 7) to his stat sheet, all while playing with a team he’d met just a few months prior.

One might achieve those accolades – plus others like Eastern Conference Player of the Week and highest on-court offensive rating (109.2) amongst Celtics players – and get comfortable. Thomas did the polar opposite. In fact, if you follow him on social media, you’ll know he spent his off-season more like an on-season. Pick-up games (including against friend, Floyd Mayweather) at local YMCA’s and gyms around his summer residence, participating in Seattle’s Pro Am and of course hosting camps for local kids – his off-season was undeniably consumed by basketball activities.

What you might not know by following Isaiah on social media is that his personal workouts this summer included tweaking parts of his game to emulate a guy who spent much of his 18-season NBA career showcasing his shooting finesse. What was the catalyst that motivated Thomas to make some changes? As reported by Jay King of MassLive.com, he saw a dip in his percentages around the rim last season. Simple as that. Stats weren't where he wanted them to be, so he worked to improve them. With that said, what exactly can we expect to see from Isaiah? We might see a little Steve Nash influence.

From Alex Kennedy with Basketball Insiders, Thomas revealed what he’s focused on developing:

Mainly, I’ve been working on extending my range – being able to pull-up from anywhere – so that I’m a more consistent long-range shooter. I’ve also been working on a lot of one-foot shots, a la Steve Nash. I liked some of those shots he used to do. Those were my main [priorities] this summer, extending my range and working on different types of finishing moves around the basket.

Isaiah doesn’t underestimate the initial reaction some of the additions to his game will produce. Via King, Thomas shared:

I got a lot of one-foot shots that I've been working on, which extends to the 3-point line. And I know the first time I do it, you guys are going to be like, 'What the hell is he is doing?' But I definitely worked on it. I've been working on that all summer. I've just been trying to figure out ways to continue to get better and continue to be the best player I can possibly be.

I lived in Arizona for almost 5 years and during that time my love for the game -- and air conditioning -- took me to (a lot of) Phoenix Suns games. The latter part of my tenure as a misplaced-Bostonian included games highlighted by Steve Nash. Without question, Nash always looked like he was giving all he had and made whoever he shared the court with, better. In my opinion, when Thomas chose Nash as a model for shooting proficiency, he chose wisely both in skill set and in work ethic. Even in his retirement announcement Steve related his basketball career to a best friend.

The greatest gift has been to be completely immersed in my passion and striving for something I loved so much — visualizing a ladder, climbing up to my heroes. The obsession became my best friend. I talked to her, cherished her, fought with her and got knocked on my ass by her.

I don’t think many would be shocked to see a similar tone from Isaiah someday when his playing days are past. His commitment to contributing to the Celtics goes beyond statistics and personal goals. A voiced interest in bringing leadership to the team demonstrates a desire to take responsibility and reflects a selfless attitude not unlike that of Nash who served as a leader for both the Mavericks and Suns organizations.

As told to Kennedy:

I’ve always been a leader ever since I was a little boy, so that comes second nature to me and I want to be a leader for this team. I’d love to be a team captain and one of those guys who everyone on the team can turn to when times are hard. I want to be looked at as a leader and someone who people can turn to at all times. Hopefully the coaching staff and organization chooses me to be one of those guys because I’d embrace being in that position.

Though Thomas delivers Nash one of the greatest forms of flattery through study of his technique – there’s also something to be said for Thomas and the players that will want to mimic his game.

More from Kennedy:

I want to be that guy. I’m going to do whatever it takes to [be a star] and work tremendously hard until I’m that guy. I like having that kind of pressure on me and having everything on my shoulders. That’s what I work for: to be one of the best players in the NBA, one of the best players in the world. I want to be a guy who can carry a team. That’s what everyone wants growing up – you want to be that guy. I’ll do whatever it takes to be that. If that’s my role and what the [coaches] want me to do and what this organization sees out of me, then so be it and I’ll take full advantage of that.

Eager to put his new tricks to the test, Thomas tried out one of his Nash-inspired shots at the Celtics open practice for season ticket holders. Did he make it?

Steph sidebar: Besides being dedicated to his craft, Thomas has a sense of humor. He recently acknowledged a well-known basketball player impersonator via tweet:

You have to appreciate someone who can laugh at themselves and find compliment in the art of copycat. The jokes are even being dished out (publicly) by his teammates. This one from Jared Sullinger:

Guess we’ll see who has the last laugh. Probably the 6’9 Isaiah Thomas. Where’s he at? Nevermind – the Celtics have all they need in #4 regardless of height (or paycheck).

Follow Steph on Twitter.
Read more at Celtics Life.

Photo credit: Celtics.com and Kelley L. Cox/US Presswire