This piece was prophetic, eh?
From two years ago, when the Celtics traded for Isaiah Thomas:
ESPN Boston’s Celtics beat writer Chris Forsberg does a solid job covering the Celtics (with mostly rose-colored glasses, which is kind of necessary based on the last two seasons). In a recent post-trade deadline piece for the site, Forsberg quoted Celtics coach Brad Stevens at length on how he envisions newly arrived Isaiah Thomas (Jr.).
Editorial malfunctions sometimes lead to divine inspiration. Ready to be inspired by the divine? Hands inside the vehicle. Buckle up. Off we go, sort of.
From the ESPN Boston piece:
“Isaiah is a guy that can create offense in a number of different ways,” said Stevens. “He’s a guy that can score off the ball on catch-and-shoot situations, or off of screens away from the ball. But he’s really god with the ball. And really good using high pick-and-rolls and side pick-and-rolls to get downhill and score. He’s got good speed, he’s very crafty, he gets to the foul line. From an efficiency standpoint, he has really done a lot of good things.
Did you see it?
“But he’s really god with the ball.”
(warning: tongue-in-cheek thoughts below, read with irony in mind)
Stevens and Ainge rarely open up about their beliefs. After all, there are non-believers, and all kinds of other-believers who are diehard Celtics fans. Why alienate any of the fan-base? Those atheists who wear their Celtic pride on their sleeves? Those orthodox Jews who worship the Celtics even on the Sabbath? Those Buddhist Celtics fans who meditate on the future of Marcus Smart and James Young?
Isaiah Thomas (Jr.) is God-with-the-ball. Which is why Ainge made the deal. And why Stevens believes in him. This makes the Celtics better, no?
Boston had a divinely inspirational point guard (the mystical Rajon Rondo) during those wondrous playoff runs of 2008-2012. Marcus Smart is a spiritually overwhelming defensive presence with an ethereal knack for footwork and instincts, but he is not God-with-the-ball.
God-with-the-ball is only 5’9″ but connects on a miraculous 58.9% (83 of 141) of his shots within 5 feet of the rim. For some perspective, Thomas is 16th among all NBA Guards, who have taken at least 3 FGA / game within 5 feet of the rim. That 58.9% mark is all the more remarkable because Thomas is the only player other than Ty Lawson under 6 feet tall in the top 20 among NBA guards.
God-with-the-ball has been critical to the success of the Phoenix Suns this year. In 26 wins, Thomas is shooting 47% from the field and 44% from deep. In 20 losses, little Isaiah is shooting 36.8% from the field, and only 34% from deep. As Celtics fans, it will be intriguing to watch the rest of the season in order to see what kind of chemistry God-with-the-ball develops with Smart, and at other times, with Bradley. It seems likely that Brad Stevens uses Thomas as a 6th man, who comes in for Bradley early in games. With such a streaky offensive-minded player, Thomas won’t be ideal against the better defensive teams, as his own defensive liabilities will outweigh his scoring help in those match-ups.
In addition, the first half-dozen games Thomas plays in Boston green will come without Jared Sullinger, leaving a gaping hole at PF in the lineup, and more pressure on everyone. On the other hand, the Celtics have an incredibly weak schedule over the first week post-ASB. The Lakers and Knicks play D-League level defense at this point.
2/20 @ SAC
2/22 @ LAL
2/23 @ PHX
2/25 @ NYK
Concluding things, what do we know?
We know God-with-the-ball is a streaky shooter, who is excellent finishing at the rim, and who loves getting to the free-throw line (87% on 4.6 FTA / game). The Celtics roster badly needed that kind of an injection. Now let’s wait 31 games to decide how the dust settles on this new direction of Celtics basketball. And let’s hope Sullinger’s foot heals quickly.