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SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens covet skilled players. Ainge added one to Boston’s roster this afternoon with his acquisition of point guard Isaiah Thomas.
Thomas joins the Celtics by way of the Phoenix Suns, where he signed as a free agent this past offseason. Ainge snagged the 5-foot-9 sparkplug from the Suns just ahead of Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline by agreeing to part ways with guard Marcus Thornton and a future first-round pick that Cleveland had previously conveyed to Boston.
Thomas may be short in stature, but he is large in impact. He has been an elite scorer since the moment he entered the league out of Washington in 2011.
All four of Thomas’ professional seasons have featured double-digit scoring averages. He was one of only 19 players in the entire NBA to average at least 20.0 points per game last season. He averaged 20.3 PPG for the Kings, ranking 17th in the league.
Thomas moved on from Sacramento and landed in Phoenix during the offseason as the Suns attempted to create a three-headed monster in their backcourt. Thomas joined Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, both of whom are considered to be upper-echelon guards as well.
While many would consider Phoenix’s experiment to be a failure now that Thomas and Dragic have both been dealt, Thomas and his backcourt partners continued to produce at their accustomed levels. Thomas accepted a move to the bench with grace and quickly became one of the league’s most feared reserves.
Thomas averaged 15.2 PPG during 46 games with the Suns. All but one of those appearances came in a reserve role.
His stellar play off the bench proved that he could maintain his efficient scoring punch regardless of his minutes or role. In the slightest of ways, he has actually become even better.
Thomas’ offensive numbers are nearly identical this season as they were last season when computed to a per-36 minute basis. Last season with Sacramento, Thomas averaged 21.1 points per 36 minutes with a true shooting percentage of 57.4 percent. As a reserve this season with the Suns, he averaged 21.4 points per 36 minutes with a true shooting percentage of 57.9 percent.
Celtics fans will be in for a wide-ranging offensive display when they begin to watch Thomas on a nightly basis. He has proven to be an efficient 3-point shooter, nailing 36.5 percent of his career attempts and 39.1 percent of his attempts this season. He is also a downhill point guard who can get to the basket. Thomas attempted 379 shots in the restricted area last season. To put that into perspective, James Harden, one of the league’s top downhill players, attempted 449 such shots last season.
Thomas is also a very capable passer. Despite being a score-first point guard, he has averaged 4.6 assists per game during his young career. He also boasts a respectable assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.2-to-1 during his career. As a starter last season in Sacramento, he ranked 15th in the league in assist percentage (31.3 percent), all while ranking third in scoring among those top 15 passers.
To sum it all up, Thomas is an electric scorer who can put the ball through the basket in a variety of ways while also distributing at a quality level. There aren’t many players in the league who can do what he does, regardless of height.
Ainge’s Celtics have added a highly skilled player who is on a very reasonable long-term contract and they didn’t need to sacrifice much on their end to make it happen.
Thornton played well for the C’s this season, and he was a great teammate behind closed doors, but he was set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The odds were that he would not have been back in a Celtics uniform next season had he not been traded.
The 2016 first-round pick that Boston surrendered in this deal is likely to fall in the late 20s due to the impressive roster that Cleveland has amassed. The probability of landing a player of Thomas’ stature with a pick in the late 20s is very low, to say the least.
This deal was a no-brainer for Ainge to sign off on, and now Stevens has a lot more skill to mix into his rotation.