IT4 for MVP? Believe the Hype!
Standing at a slight 5’9’’, Isaiah Thomas has been slept on his entire career. After slipping to the final pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, he went on to have three very respectable seasons in Sacramento, even averaging 20.3 ppg in 2013–14. However, the Kings never viewed Thomas as a long-term answer at point guard, and that offseason they let him walk for peanuts in a sign-and-trade to the Phoenix Suns. He would last only 46 games in Phoenix, as in the final minutes of the 2015 trade deadline the Celtics acquired Thomas for, wait for it, Marcus Thornton and the Cavaliers’ 2016 first round pick (Skal Labissiere). After basically being given away and joining his third team in under a year, it was clear that Thomas was not revered around the league as a potential franchise point guard, or even a starting point guard for that matter.
Fast forward to the present and those days are now a distant memory as Thomas, or IT4, has revitalized Celtics basketball as they sit at 36–19 and just 2.5 games behind the Cavs for tops in the Eastern Conference. In recent weeks, Thomas has thrust his name into MVP conversations alongside Russell Westbrook and James Harden thanks to his clutch fourth quarter play and ridiculous scoring numbers. After never getting due credit throughout the early years of his career, everything is finally coming full circle for The Pizza Guy as he’s blowing up on the national stage.
Get this: since December 16, the Boston Celtics have been the second best team in the NBA behind guess who, the Golden State Warriors. At 20–6 during this span, they have managed to climb the standings in the Eastern Conference while also being without two-way stud Avery Bradley for most of those games. Thomas, currently averaging 29.8 ppg (second in the league behind Westbrook) and leading the NBA in fourth quarter scoring, has undoubtedly been the catalyst behind one of the hottest teams in the NBA.
The most impressive part of Thomas’ season is that even on arguably the most accomplished team in NBA history, he is still doing things few other Celtics great ever managed to do- not Larry Bird, Bill Russell, or Bob Cousy, just to name a few Celtics legends. Although the storied Celtics franchise owns 17 championships and 10 MVP awards, no Celtic has ever led the NBA in scoring. Sitting just 1.1 ppg behind the current leader Russell Westbrook, Thomas has a legit shot to become the first Celtic to win a scoring title. Additionally, the Celtics franchise record for consecutive 20+ point games belongs to Hall of Famer John Havlicek, with 40. As of February 15, IT4’s current streak is sitting at 38 games, and he does not appear to be slowing down any time soon.
It’s also been 9 years since the Celtics finished the regular season as the top seed in the Eastern Conference, and while unseating the Cavs at the top spot will be a big challenge, at this point it would be silly to write off IT4 and the Celtics any longer. The Cavs just lost Kevin Love, who has regained All-Star form and is one of only a handful of NBA players averaging 20–10, for six weeks to knee surgery. Though Channing Frye will be an able stretch-four in his absence, he doesn’t bring nearly the same overall impact to the game as Love. The six-week timeframe means Love could return right before the end of the regular season, but with the playoffs around the corner the Cavs will likely choose not to rush him back. With Love’s absence and Avery Bradley set to return to the Celtics lineup any game now, the two teams could begin to trend in different directions. Should the Celtics find a way to unseat the Cavs as the top seed, it would be very difficult to overlook Thomas in the MVP discussion.
Undoubtedly, Thomas does not bring the same physical intimidation to the game as bonafide superstars like Russell Westbrook or LeBron James, but what he lacks in size and strength he makes up for in heart and grit. It’s been a really long time since the NBA had a sub-six-foot superstar (looking at you, Allen Iverson, because we all know you aren’t really six feet), and this season Thomas is proving himself as not only one of the game’s best, but also toughest players. Though perhaps the average male might take pride in being a little taller than IT4, Thomas is currently doing things that even few NBA players have ever accomplished, and for that he absolutely warrants serious MVP consideration.