With the announcement of the NBA All-Star Game reserves, the head coaches of each conference rounded out the field for basketball’s mid-season classic. There were the expected options like Jimmy Butler and Chris Paul, as well as some unexpected snubs, such as Damian Lillard and Kemba Walker. The most interesting selection may be the Boston Celtics’ 5’9” point guard Isaiah Thomas, the All-Star game’s shortest player in decades.
Thomas is the Celtics spark plug, usually coming off the bench to inject the team with a kick of offense. The 5th year guard is leading the Eastern Conference’s current #3 seed in points and assists at 21.5 & 6.7 per game, respectively. Not since San Diego Rockets’ 5’ 8” point guard Calvin Murphy in the 1970s has a guard under 5’ 10” been selected as an NBA All-Star.
The 60th pick of the 2011 NBA Draft was a star at the University of Washington, where he won the Pac-12 tournament and tournament MVP twice, while averaging 16.4 points and 4 assists per game for 3 years. These achievements were not enough when he entered the NBA Draft, as teams questioned everything about him. Will his scoring translate to the pros? Can he defend? Is he tall enough for this league?
The Kings gave him a chance with the 60th pick and Thomas ran with it. He worked his way into the line-up and started a majority of the Kings’ games, earning himself two West Coast Rookie of the Month awards & a 2nd All-NBA Rookie team selection that season.
Nonetheless, in the 2013–2014 season, the guard caught fire. Thomas averaged 20.3 points and 6.4 assists that season for Sacramento, proving himself one of the more successful 2nd round draft picks in recent memory and worthy of a contract that reflected this success. However, it did not come from Sacramento, as the Phoenix Suns signed him to a four year, $28 million deal in 2014 to become a back-up guard for a team on the upswing.
The Suns started the season well with a record hovering above the .500 win percentage range, but had an overstocked backcourt, with 6 guards not receiving enough minutes. Phoenix decided to send out 3 of the guards, including Thomas, who landed in Boston at the February trade deadline.
Since the Suns slumped to a 39–43 record post trade, the Celtics were the clear winner of the trade because the guard has continued to improve. Thomas has become a better leader and player for a team that looks like it is a couple steps away from contending in the East, behind the likes of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Toronto Raptors. Thomas is one of a few players to be averaging under 3 turnovers a game and has a 3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio.
The All-Star selection is a medal of honor for those who earn it and Thomas is a worthy recipient. It is validation of the hard work for the man who is the lowest selected player in the NBA draft to make the All-Star game since 1989. Thomas has made it a point to become one of the league’s greatest players ever under 6 feet tall and having an all-star selection under the belt is a surefire way to get started.