While it’s unclear whether Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas will be a starter this season, he’s looking to make a big impact for Boston no matter what.
The 2015 season was a bit of a journey for Thomas, who started the year with the Phoenix Suns as part of a three-guard attack that also featured Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. The team struggled to keep all the players happy, and that eventually led them to deal Dragic to the Miami Heat and Thomas to the Celtics.
Thomas seized upon that opportunity and helped lead the Celtics on a second-half run into the playoffs. He fit perfectly into Brad Stevens’s small ball attack, averaging 19 points and 5.4 assists over the final 21 games of the season. He was the focal point of the team’s offense down the stretch despite coming off the bench in each of those games.
Thomas has made no secret that he’d love the opportunity to start. He mentioned it several times last season and most recently when discussing the upcoming season with MassLive’s Jay King. Thomas also told King that no matter what the decision turned out to be, he’d be a good teammate and support the decision.
That’s certainly good news, because with the makeup of the 2015-16 Celtics roster, it appears the best fit for Thomas will yet again be as an offensive difference-maker off the bench. Stevens did an excellent job utilizing the strengths of an undersized roster last year, and the addition of Thomas seemed to make everything click. Due to the changes in that roster this season, he’s likely going to have to adjust the game plan a bit.
The team reshaped its frontcourt with the additions of Amir Johnson and David Lee this offseason. They join Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller and Jared Sullinger in what could form a solid rotation. That’ll have a ripple effect down the rest of the lineup, however. Stevens got a lot of mileage out of playing Jae Crowder as a small ball power forward last season, but he may not have as many opportunities to do so this time around. That means the 2016 Celtics could have a more traditional look to their lineup.
Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley give Stevens a good defensive backcourt. It also gives Thomas a defined role as a playmaker off the bench when he does hit the court. Bradley and Smart are versatile enough as defenders that they could play alongside Thomas in a three-guard attack for the occasions that Stevens wants to go small. The added depth along with rookies R.J. Hunter and Terry Rozier should give Stevens plenty of options.
Thomas’s drive is one of his best attributes as a player. He’s fearless despite his small size and is adept at finishing in traffic among much bigger defenders. He’ll no doubt play a big part again for the Celtics this season, even if it might not be quite the role that he’s hoping for. But Stevens seems like the perfect head coach to manage the situation, so it should work out nicely.