Handling with Care: IT's Perfect Start to March
WALTHAM, Mass. – From a ball-handling standpoint, Isaiah Thomas has been utterly perfect during the month of March.
So perfect, in fact, that his coach was superstitiously hesitant to speak on his behalf following Boston’s practice Tuesday afternoon.
“I don’t even want to talk about it,” Brad Stevens said with a slight smile, regarding Thomas’ current three-game stretch without a turnover. “I don’t want to jinx it.”
It didn’t take long, however, for Boston's coach to give in and remark on his point guard’s ongoing 101-minute, turnover-free stretch.
“It’s incredible when you consider how much he values the ball and how much we ask him to do,” said Stevens. “I think that’s a heck of a challenge to have zero turnovers with as much attention as he gets.”
The attention that Stevens is referring to is that Thomas is both the team’s primary ball handler and premier scorer. Combining both of those responsibilities makes it difficult to fathom that Thomas has been able to go on so long without coughing the ball up.
From a facilitation standpoint, Thomas, who was not available for comment after practice, has dished out a team-high 143 passes over the last three games. It’s worth noting that a significant number of his passes are extraordinary, whether it's a flashy drive-and-kick, or a behind-the-back, highlight-reel dish. Yet none of those passes have been errant, and none of them have been picked off.
“Being able to make plays and having all that attention, with the fact that you’re not turning the ball over, is big,” said Stevens. “He’s always been a playmaker, that’s who he is, but I think he’s just continuing to get better in a lot of ways.”
Fellow ball handler Marcus Smart attributes Thomas’ stretch of perfection to the tireless effort he puts forth in the gym.
“He works on it every day,” said Smart. “I see him in here working on his ball-handling in practice and making those moves that he does in the game, so it doesn’t surprise me that he hasn’t turned it over yet.”
That makes one of us.
Now, let’s take a look at IT’s streak from a scoring standpoint. Thomas is capable of sending the ball through the hoop from all over the floor, but where he thrives is in the paint. That’s a turnover danger zone, as rim-drivers are bound to lose their handle or get stripped eventually.
Thomas has driven to the rim 40 times during the last three games, which is the third-highest total in the league behind Demar DeRozan (47) and James Harden (41). DeRozan and Harden, however, have turned the ball over nine times and 19 times, respectively, during that span. Thomas – zero.
Here’s one final piece of food for thought regarding this streak: Since the 1983-84 season, only two players have scored at least 27 points without committing a turnover in three consecutive games – Isaiah Thomas and Michael Jordan (Jordan did so during the 1990-91 season).
There is not a player on record that has accomplished that feat four games in a row, and it won’t be easy for Thomas to do so against a ball-hawking Memphis squad on Wednesday. The Grizzlies have six players averaging at least one steal per game and have forced the third-most turnovers in the league.
“I’m not going to lose sleep the next time [he turns it over],” Stevens said, acknowledging the streak will eventually come to an end.
The coach instead stressed the bigger picture behind Thomas’ perfection.
“It’s really great growth because valuing the ball is important to our team,” he said. “And if he does it with as much as he has it, that’s a really good thing.”
For now, the perfection continues – 101 minutes, and counting. As long as Thomas keeps valuing the rock like a diamond, we could see several more minutes of perfect ball-handling added to that streak when he and the C’s take on Memphis Wednesday night.