Thomas 'Ready to Put on a Show' for Lakers
Isaiah Thomas had one day to get to know his teammates and one night to study the playbook.
But the newest Laker still found his rhythm in his team debut on Saturday, scoring 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting with six assists and four 3-pointers in a loss to Dallas.
“Coach (Luke Walton) put me in a position to be successful and play to my strengths last game,” Thomas said at Monday’s practice. “I think as I get more familiar with the guys and more familiar with the system, it’s just gonna be that much easier.”
This meant a lot of pick-and-rolls for Thomas, who provided a mixed bag of points, assists and turnovers out of ball screens.
He was also put in a position to be a shooter, including on his first attempt when Walton drew him up a bucket off a screen from Lopez.
In 15 games with Cleveland this year, Thomas had only attempted seven shots off screens.
Cavs rarely had Isaiah Thomas shoot off screens (only 7 attempts this season).— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) February 11, 2018
IT was excellent at that last year and buried his first shot as a Laker off a screen from Lopez. pic.twitter.com/xrJ5XAK7O4
Thomas said he “felt like myself” in that first game with the Lakers, though he still doesn’t feel 100 percent recovered from a hip injury that kept him off the court until January.
“I don’t have all my power and explosiveness that I had last season and the years before,” Thomas said.
But Thomas — who was the NBA’s third-leading scorer last season — did flash some of the skill that made him the league’s most efficient isolation option a year ago.
In particular, he lost Yogi Ferrell with a nifty behind-the-back dribble before using his trademark ability to shift speeds with hesitation dribbles before finishing at the cup.
While Isaiah Thomas said his hip isn't at 100% health and that he doesn't have "all the power and explosiveness" he did last year, he flashed a bit of his trademark gear-shifting style in Dallas.— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) February 12, 2018
: https://t.co/baRR8QOkAX pic.twitter.com/lN9Fyuw3Mv
Thomas may not fully recover from his hip injury this year, but it will help that he’s on a young team that practices a ton, as opposed to the Cavaliers, who saved their veteran roster’s legs for games.
“When I was in Cleveland we didn’t practice,” Thomas said. “I was getting my rhythm back in real live games. Like nobody does that.”
When healthy, Thomas is an offensive dynamo and one of the most exciting players in the league. He showed some samples of that on Saturday by striking four times from deep and twice at the rim, while setting his teammates up as well.
“I’m here and happy and I’ve got my joy back and I’m ready to put on a show for the Lakers,” he said.
Integrating Thomas does present some challenges, though the Lakers are confident he will be a net positive on the team.
Walton envisions Thomas and Lonzo Ball fitting well alongside one another once Ball returns from his own injury. He also is optimistic about Thomas playing in the second-unit’s switch-heavy defense.
At 5-foot-9, opponents will try to exploit Thomas, who is the shortest player in franchise history. The Mavericks tried to do just that, but Thomas held his own against Dallas’ bigs.
“In watching the film, every time he switched — I think except for one possession — we got stops,” Walton said. “We’ve done a lot of different defenses throughout the year. We’re gonna keep trying different ones and and see what ones work best for certain groups.”
Walton will continue to try to put Thomas in the best positions for him to succeed. Sometimes that will require letting him run the offense; other times it will mean having him play off the ball or trying to hide him on defense.
But, as Thomas continues his recovery from that hip injury, the Lakers’ culture could be as important as the X’s and O’s.
Thomas appreciated how his teammates on the bench would stand up and cheer every time that he shot. He likes how the young guys are constantly joking around with one another.
And he’s proud to rock the purple and gold like his favorite player, Kobe Bryant.
“I’m a lifelong Laker fan,” Thomas said. “My family’s from Inglewood, California, so I was brainwashed into being a Lakers fan as a young boy.”