NEW ORLEANS – Isaiah Thomas isn’t even average.
The Boston Celtics list their two-time All-Star point guard at 5-foot-9 – even that is believed to be a bit generous – and 185 pounds. That means Thomas actually is slightly shorter and even a bit lighter than the typical male in the United States, at least based on the latest federal data that tracks such things.
So in society, he’s obviously not a big guy.
But in the NBA, he’s the little big man right now.
Averaging 29.9 points per game and leading Boston to the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference so far, Thomas is being mentioned by reigning two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors as someone worthy of consideration for the league’s top individual honor this year.
“Nobody in their right mind would have thought that,” Thomas said of his MVP hopes. “At one point I might not have even thought I was going to be the MVP. But now I do. I’m going to keep going. I’m not trying to play for MVP – if it happens it happens, if it doesn’t it doesn’t. But that’s definitely a goal of mine in my career at some point.”
It might come sooner than he thinks.
All-Star Media Day was Friday in New Orleans, and LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony both missed the Eastern Conference session for personal reasons. Their absences likely drove a few more people over toward the riser where Thomas took questions for a half-hour or so, though he seemed genuinely surprised when he arrived and saw plenty of reporters awaiting his arrival.
Curry wasn’t. He’s a Thomas fan.
“He’s doing amazing things,” Curry said. “I don’t think that confidence (was any) different now than when he was a rookie or whatever. You go through each year, gain experience, get the right guys around you, good things happen. He’s having an amazing year. It’s been fun to watch.”
Thomas’ path is well-chronicled.
He was the 60th and last pick in the 2011 NBA draft, taken behind seven guys who have not – and probably never will – score their first NBA point. Of those selected that year, only Klay Thompson has more career points, only Kemba Walker has more career assists, and no one from the 2011 group who remains in the NBA has a better free-throw percentage than Thomas.
Put simply, a lot of teams whiffed on him coming out of Washington, some multiple times. And those snubs are a big part of what makes Thomas tick.
The Celtics could have drafted Thomas twice that night and passed, but atoned for that when they swung a three-team deal to land him. The second anniversary of that trade is Sunday, when Thomas appears in his second All-Star Game – one in which he’ll be playing on a team led by his Celtics coach, Brad Stevens.
“Everything fuels him,” Stevens said. “I think that’s the thing we’ve all learned about Isaiah. Everybody knew he had a chip on his shoulder. Now you realize he’s hungry for more. Success fuels him, too, just the same. He’s an incredible guy because he just wants to get better, because he just wants to keep getting better whether he’s getting accolades or getting criticism.”
These days, the criticism is in short supply.
He has a chance to become the first player in Celtics history to average 30 points a game. Larry Bird averaged 29.93 in 1987-88; Thomas, right now, is at 29.87.
Such comparisons make even Thomas shake his head.
“It means everything,” Thomas said. “To be mentioned with such great players like Larry Bird, like all the legends that played before me in a Celtics uniform, means a lot.”
No one who stands 5-foot-anything has won an NBA MVP award; Allen Iverson was the shortest to win it, doing so while listed at exactly 6 feet. Short people just don’t usually thrive at the highest levels of basketball. There hasn’t been a WNBA MVP under 6 feet since 5-10 Cynthia Cooper won the first two such in that league in 1997 and 1998.
Yet here Thomas is, back on the game’s in-season showcase stage, and feeling like he belongs now more than ever. “No doubt,” Thomas said. “Last year I didn’t know what to expect. Everything was coming at me so fast. This year I kind of know what to expect, and hopefully it’s for many more years to come.”
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