Did Isaiah Thomas have the best shooting season in Celtics history?
The Celtics franchise has had the pleasure of deploying some of the best shooters of all time. Larry Legend, who could get a bucket virtually anytime and anywhere, has no doubt had multiple elite shooting seasons. Paul Pierce, who scored from all over the parquet floor during his career, has also had numerous impressive seasons from the field. Ray Allen, the all-time three-point leader, put up some incredibly impressive shooting numbers during his tenure with the C's. Between them and others, Boston has had some elite shooters suit up in Celtic green. However, did Isaiah Thomas have a better shooting season than anyone else during his ridiculous 2016-17 campaign?
While I am asking your opinion on the matter, I'm also here to present some evidence for both sides of the argument. Before blasting me in the comments upon reading this title, just know that I believe the answer to this question is no, but it's worthy of a debate nonetheless. Let's dive into the numbers.
Free-throws are sort of the basis for measuring a player's general shooting ability. It provides a constant sample where the shot type, defender distance, and game scenario is irrelevant. It's just straight up pure shooting ability.
Thomas checked out in this department during a 2016-17 season where he averaged 28.9 a night. The little guy drew a lot of fouls, whether off drives to the hoop or his classic three-point chuck when coming off a screen and feeling contact behind, and he delivered. He converted on 590 of his freebies from the charity stripe, a mark that ranks third in Celtics franchise history and only behind Paul Pierce.
What was perhaps even more impressive was his consistency from the free-throw line. Thomas finished second in the league in free-throw percentage this year after shooting a strong 90.9% from the stripe. Weighing both his free-throws made and his percentage, you can see how effective IT was from the free-throw line. I took the top-10 seasons for total free-throws made by a player, and compared that to their free-throw percentages:
While looking at this graph, the closer to the top right you are, the better. Therefore, Thomas' free-throw shooting was awfully efficient.
Three-point shooting has become increasingly important over the years. The shot attempts and makes from behind the arc continue to blow up as teams rely more and more heavily on the three-ball. This trend is the same for the Celtics, who shot and made more threes in 2016-17 than any other season by a long shot (pun intended).
Due to this, Isaiah got a whole lot of three-pointers up this year. In fact, he blew Antoine Walker's 2001-02 record of 222 made threes in a season out of the water by splashing home 245. And still, his 38% conversion rate from deep was steady despite his high volume.
Similarly, weighing both the volume and the efficiency helps underline Isaiah's great three-point shooting this year. I took the top-10 seasons for total three-pointers made by a player, and compared that to their three-point percentages:
The Case Against IT
Although the free-throw and three-point shooting suggest that Isaiah's shooting season was the best ever for Boston, there is an easy case against it: two-point field goals.
This is where Larry Bird, Paul Pierce, and others have a major edge over Thomas. Their sharpshooting - especially Bird's - was prevalent all over the floor. After all, the three-point line was only just implemented when Bird's career was beginning. As good as it seemed IT was this year, he only hit 682 total field goals. This doesn't even come close to sniffing Larry Bird's franchise record of 918 made field goals in 1984-85.
In fact, Isaiah didn't even crack the top-25 in total field goals made in a season. Pierce made more field goals than IT did this year in three different seasons, while Bird did it in a whopping 10 different seasons.
On top of this, Bird was generally more efficient. Isaiah shot 46.3% from the field through this historic season. However, Bird shot better in all ten of his seasons in which he had more field goals than Isaiah. That is absolutely absurd to think about and really shows just how good Larry was.
Knowing this, the answer to the question is no. Isaiah Thomas did not have the best shooting season in Celtics history. That would likely go to Bird's 1984-85 season in which he shot 52.2% from the field and made 918 total shots while shooting 88.2% from the stripe and 42.7% from three. That's not to take away from what Isaiah did this year, though. The fact that I even asked this question is an honor.
Ok, time to hear from you. Do you agree or disagree?
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Photo by Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports