Basketball is a team sport that requires all five players on the court to play roles to make the unit tick but the sport is made up of individuals and naturally, there are bound to be a few who standout from the rest. In the world’s best basketball league, standing out carries a lot of weight. For starters, it gets players more money via salaries and endorsements, more respect and most importantly individual honors. Russell Westbrook earned last year’s NBA Most Valuable Player Award mainly based on his one-man show in Oklahoma City.
In the past season, no player scored more points in the final quarter than Boston Celtics Guard Isaiah Thomas. Pouring in 10.1 points during the stretch is the highest mark since data in that category started getting collated 20 years ago. This mark should land him alongside names Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, James Harden and the other elite Guards in the league. However, Thomas falls short of such erudite company despite being a two time All Star and an All NBA Second Team Member. One cannot help but notice that despite hanging out with the big boys, Thomas really isn’t a big boy figuratively.
His situation mirrors the spot San Antonio Spurs Swingman Kawhi Leonard finds himself; a situation former Orlando Magic Guard Penney Hardaway chimed on earlier this week. In the lead up to October 18 when the new season tips off, sports odd tallying website Bovada, ranked Thomas ninth best to be named MVP in 2017-2018. The top eight players ranked ahead of the former Sacramento Kings man are Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Leonard, LeBron James, James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis and Paul George.
On the surface, this prediction looks crazy as the pint sized Guard finished the past season fifth in MVP voting after leading Boston to the Eastern Conference top seed and Finals Series against Cleveland Cavaliers. On the other hand, Anthony Davis missed the playoffs again and Antetokounmpo and George got bundled out of the postseason first round. However, beneath the surface lies credence to Thomas’ MVP outlook.
Gordon Hayward’s addition
Signing up Gordon Hayward represents a major coup for the Celtics as the former Utah Jazz man’s signature gives the team a new “Big 3” with Thomas and Al Horford and realistically a shot at upstaging LeBron and the Cavaliers. His addition however is bad news for Thomas’ ability to seriously contend for a shot at the most coveted individual prize in basketball. As the new member of the clan, Boston fans and the top hierarchy desire to have Hayward play out the value of his expensive four year,$128 million contract. That means Thomas will have to cede possession a lot more times than he did before.
Seeing Hayward shine bucks the trend to let go of long time crowd favorite Avery Bradley. Thomas’ fourth quarter exploits shone bright when Horford and the rest of the Celtics simply thrust the ball into his hands and moved out of the way; that isn’t going to happen with Hayward around. Back in Utah, Hayward run the offense in late game situations so he is used the pressure that goes with taking big shots. Not forgetting, Hayward is Boston Coach Brad Stevens baby after bonding closely at Butler University.
His Team hurts his chances
General Manager Danny Ainge’s resolve to have a 2004 Detroit Pistons-esque team has a lot of positives but it certainly has its downside too. This chase for a homogeneous side prevented the team from discussing a deal with New Orleans Pelicans for volatile big man DeMarcus Cousins who is an upgrade on Horford. This style also hurts Thomas since players ranked ahead of him in the MVP odds list operate isolation plays throughout games and don’t need fourth quarters to be unleashed.
Even Leonard has Gregg Popovich’s blessing to go one on one long before the final quarter begins. That aside, Boston is forever bound to be stuck in the shadow of LeBron James and to a large extent lacks the narrative Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks or Joel Embiid’s Philadelphia Sixers have as the team with the most upside to take over the East.
Isaiah Thomas hurts Isaiah Thomas
Yes Thomas is his own enemy; not by his doing but his body counts him out as an MVP irrespective of the numbers he puts up. Yes 6 foot Guard Allen Iverson won MVP honors in 2001 but Iverson is one of a kind. Do you actually believe Thomas will clash with his coach and go on a practice rant to the media, of course not. Thomas has admitted himself if he was 6 foot 5 inches tall, he would be the best player ever. At 5 foot 9 inches, the former Phoenix Suns man is likely to be forever crowded out by taller peers.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter