(J Alexander Diaz/Lakers.com)

Latest Laker: Isaiah Thomas

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

Last year, Isaiah Thomas had one of the most spectacular scoring seasons in NBA history. After a hip injury cost him the first half of this season, Thomas is now finishing out the campaign in Los Angeles.

Just before the NBA trade deadline, the Lakers acquired Thomas, Channing Frye and a 2018 first-round pick from Cleveland in exchange for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.

That hip injury kept Thomas out until January and contributed to a rocky five-week stint with the Cavaliers.

Thomas was electric for the Boston Celtics last season, ranking third in the entire NBA in scoring with 28.9 points per game. He was also second in free throw percentage (90.5), third in made free throws (7.8) and fourth in made 3-pointers (3.2).

His scoring average tied John Havlicek for the second-highest in Celtics history, behind only Larry Bird.

The main key to this success was his explosiveness getting to the rim.

At just 5-foot-9, Thomas was the NBA’s most unlikely elite slasher, ranking second in the league in points per game on drives (9.5).

He shot an absurd 65.9 percent on driving layups, as he routinely dusted his defender with his quick first step and arsenal of hesitation moves. He was also excellent at finishing by exploding into rim protectors before laying it in.

Due to a number of reasons — including recovering from his hip injury, playing off the ball more and adjusting to Cleveland’s offense — Thomas’ percentage on driving layups dropped to 46.4 percent this year (in a small sample size).

According to President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson, the Lakers plan to play Thomas a heavy amount of minutes, though Lonzo Ball will remain the starting point guard when he returns from injury.

Both Johnson and coach Luke Walton expressed a belief that Thomas and Ball will also work well in tandem.

Those two point guards on the floor together is an intriguing prospect. Lonzo is atypical in the sense that he doesn’t dominate the ball, instead preferring to keep it pinging around from player to player.

This should open up more spot-up opportunities for Thomas, who was in the NBA’s 94th percentile on such shots last year.

A two-time all-star, Thomas has also proven himself capable of running offenses himself, both when Ball sits and with him on the floor.

Last year, he was the NBA’s most efficient isolation scorer (1.12 points per possession), and was in the league’s 94th percentile as the pick-and-roll ball handler.

While the hip injury and change of scenery has caused most of Thomas’ numbers to drop, one area where he has remained proficient has been his pull-up jumper — particularly when using ball screens.

Thomas is currently shooting a healthy 46.4 percent on pull-ups, and makes for an intriguing pick-and-roll partner with Julius Randle (who ranks among the NBA’s most efficient rolling big men, and pick-and-pop threat Brook Lopez.

As a team, the Lakers have shot a league-low 32.3 percent on pull-ups, signaling a void that Thomas could help fill.

In fact, the most intriguing aspect of the Thomas addition is how he could potentially alleviate a variety of L.A.’s deficiencies.

Three of the team’s biggest problems have been 3-point shooting, free throw shooting and a consistent second-unit point guard. If all goes well, the 29-year-old could help those three areas.

Thomas does come with a host of questions, from how healthy his hip is to how he fits in the Lakers’ rotation. As the league’s shortest player, he is also a liability on defense (though he does scrap on that end).

With 29 games left in the season, the Lakers’ front office took a flier on a reigning Second Team All-NBA selection with an expiring contract, while also generating cap space and acquiring a first-round pick. We’ll see what kind of impact Thomas has on a team that had been surging before the trade deadline.

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