Not Revenge But Isaiah Is Alright

The script is pretty basic. Old team comes to town, team that made you the scapegoat, that blamed you for everything. They are struggling to win without you so perhaps a lot of the blame was premature. Nevertheless, here they are. And here you are. One thing is supposed to happen. You are supposed to kick ass.

Isaiah only played 15 games for the Cavs but it turned hostile at the end. He was motivated to put together the best game possible considering he still is hobbled. His shot isn’t right. He often looks as if he is dragging. Whether he will be the same player he was in Boston is one of those wait and see things.

Isaiah has brought leadership to the young Lakers who have a nice record since January, 19-12. Isaiah joined the team and they are 7-5 with him. The Cavs, without him, are 7-5. It’s a draw, who won the trade. Which made the Sunday game even more necessary. Isaiah had to make a point.

He had 20 points and 9 assists. He had the most assists on both teams. Only LeBron  James (24 points) and Brook Lopez (22 points) scored more than Isaiah. Isaiah being Isaiah even talked some trash in the 4th to the Cavs bench.

Isaiah has been a suprise fit for the Lakers. He is the only pick and roll point guard on the roster and feeds Julius Randle and Brook Lopez consistently. He’s an old school point guard. The Lakers play him with Lonzo who is great at pace but struggles in pick and roll. Isaiah fit a need, plus his leadership is very valuabe.

Even though this has been a tough Isaiah year, probably the worst year of his career, the up and down roller coaster ride doesn’t refract from his amazing story.

Isaiah Thomas was the last pick in the 2011 draft. On an August evening in 2017, he was traded for the first pick in that same draft. But, and this is where the Isaiah dreariness comes in, his Cleveland time was an abysmal failure.

With the Cavs, Isaiah forgot how to shoot, or he was still hurt.  He made 36% of his shots and 25% of his threes. With the Lakers, he is making 39% of his shots and 32% of his threes, a slight improvement but nothing like his Boston resurrection.

In Boston, he played 179 games. 32.2 minutes. 36.8% from three. 6.0 assists. 24.7 points. His offensive rating was 117.  23.7 points the last two playoff runs established Isaiah as a NBA star.

The question Isaiah has to answer is can he play with another dominant star? He couldn’t find a middle ground with James. Whereas Kyrie was willing to compromise and swallow his frustrations about the LeBron shadow, Isaiah isn’t built that way. He pushed back. And that is why he is gone.

The chemistry on the Cavs was atrocious. They were old and yet tried to play the modern way of three point shots or bust. But their lack of footspeed kept them from grabbing up their misses, getting easy baskets, defending elite athletes. They had zero interest in playing defense. Isaiah has said the Cavs were the quietest team he ever played on, meaning no talking on the court, no leadership.

Isaiah is a star but just not the right kind of star for who he wants to be. As nice a player as Isaiah Thomas is, he can’t be the player. When he is the best you have to offer, you are going to stumble. As for the Lakers, they want Isaiah to play in their system of multiple touches, moving the ball, getting a good shot. Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle are their drivers to the rim. The Lakers lead the NBA in points in the paint. And layups.

The secret about Isaiah is that of all the All-Stars in 2017, he was the one who made the least money. His contract is so friendly at $6 million that the Lakers, I am sure, wish it was grandfathered in to some lifetime deal but lo and behold it ends in a few months. The Lakers are set on luring a superstar. Isaiah doesn’t qualify, even if the Lakers fail the Paul George, LeBron James test. His style of play isn’t how the Lakers want to be in the league.

For sure, Isaiah saved the Celtics. A year ago, Thomas led the C’s in 4th quarter points. Sometimes, it seemed he had the biggest heart and cojones, a big game in such a small body but this is the NBA. Big always dwarfs small. His size is always an issue. It is what his size allows him to do is where Isaiah has been able to craft a career. Against the Cavs on Sunday night, he showed it all, three point shot making, creating off the dribble, finishing, trash talking.

The Lakers with their fastest pace in the league and young players and offensive versatility are a nice placeholder for Thomas to get his bearings and his body together, to get happy once more, before the summer of money.

Isaiah made his point. He is a lethal scorer. He matters in the NBA. The Cavs didn’t change him. The Cavs problems didn’t begin and end with him.

photo via llananba