It’s unclear how many minutes Isaiah Thomas might play tonight in Atlanta, or what kind of statistics he could generate for New Orleans, but if someone tabulated a smiles-per-minute ratio following Tuesday’s shootaround, the point guard might be leading the NBA. Having signed a 10-day contract and officially joining his Pelicans teammates on Monday, Thomas grinned from ear to ear while discussing what it’s like to be back on an NBA roster, after last playing in a regular season game in February 2020.
“I’m 102 percent,” Thomas said, when asked about he feels physically after battling injuries in recent years. “I’m more than good. This is the best I’ve felt since before I got injured. That’s not even a question anymore. Every day I wake up with a smile on my face, because honestly, I never thought I would feel this good again and feel back to normal. Physically, I’m ready; mentally, I’m ready. So I’m happy to really be here.”
Other notes from Thomas’ media session at State Farm Arena:
With New Orleans dealing with the uncertain status of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Kira Lewis Jr. – as well as Josh Hart and Nickeil Alexander-Walker being ruled out for Tuesday’s game – the Pelicans are depleted roster-wise. That raises the possibility that Thomas could have the chance to do what forward James Johnson has already done over the past week – capitalize on a major opportunity to contribute.
Thomas indicated that he’s confident he will be able to help the Pelicans in whatever fashion he’s needed by the coaching staff.
“I’m ready, so whatever the opportunity is, whether I play or not, I’m mentally and physically ready to impact the game,” he said. “Whether it’s on the bench helping the young guys, or putting the ball in the basket. Whatever the opportunity is, I’m more than ready, and I’m excited about the opportunity.” …
Thomas on why he chose uniform No. 24 to honor Kobe Bryant: “It’s only right. The number was available, and Kobe was one of my very close mentors. It was an opportunity to pay homage to one of the best players to ever play the game. Hopefully it works out and I can play like Kobe a little bit if I get in there.” …
Lonzo Ball was a teammate of Thomas with the Lakers during Ball’s rookie season. Thomas – who tweeted in excitement after Sunday’s eight-trey performance by Ball – said of the now fourth-year pro, “You can just tell the confidence is on another level. He’s not thinking twice about his jump shot. Obviously his jumper is looking a lot better than it did when he first came into the league. My job is to pour more confidence into him, to continue to be aggressive. Last game was amazing, seeing the pep in his step. He felt like he was going to take good shots and make good shots.”
ATLANTA SCOUTING REPORT
Offensive efficiency rank: 10 (113.8)
Defensive efficiency rank: 22 (112.1)
Net rating: 10 (+1.7)
Streak: Won 3
Go-to guy: Point guard Trae Young is 15th in the NBA in scoring average (25.2) and third in assist average (9.4), spearheading Atlanta to a top-10 offense despite the Hawks dealing with numerous key injuries, a significant offseason roster overhaul and a midseason change at head coach to Nate McMillan. Known for deep shooting range that’s comparable to that of Steph Curry and Damian Lillard, the University of Oklahoma product is also an underrated passer, as evidenced by his high assist totals. Atlanta is 11-0 this season when Young scores 32-plus points.
On the rise: After an injury caused him to miss 25 games, wing Bogdan Bogdanovic has been heating up lately, scoring 20-plus points in three of the last four games, including 26 points in the Smoothie King Center on Friday. By now the sharpshooter should be a very familiar name to New Orleans fans, having also dropped a career-high 35 points vs. the Pelicans in the Orlando bubble last summer, in what was a very damaging loss for New Orleans’ 2020 play-in hopes.
PREVIOUS GAME STARTING LINEUPS
NEW ORLEANS (22-27, 11TH IN WEST)
Sunday win at Houston
Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe, James Johnson, Jaxson Hayes, Steven Adams
Notes: This supersized group is 1-0, the first time in Hayes’ two-year career he started at power forward. It was the 10th different starting lineup the Pelicans have used this season. … New Orleans has cleared Sacramento and Oklahoma City in the West standings by a game and 2.5 games, respectively. Golden State (23-27) is just half of a game ahead of New Orleans for 10th place.
ATLANTA (26-24, 4TH IN EAST)
Sunday win vs. Golden State
Trae Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kevin Huerter, Solomon Hill, Clint Capela
Notes: This group is 1-0. It was the 15th different starting lineup the Hawks have used this season. Their most common group is 6-5 and consists of the same quintet but with Tony Snell instead of Hill at a forward spot. … Atlanta is tied with Miami for fourth place in the East but currently has a tiebreaking advantage on the Heat. The East standings are so tight that the Hawks are just 1.5 games ahead of eighth-place New York (25-26).
PELICANS KEYS TO VICTORY PRESENTED BY FANDUEL
How does Ball follow up Sunday’s career-best shooting night? He was the biggest key to New Orleans picking up a critical road victory at Houston, despite full-game injury absences by Williamson, Ingram, Hart and Lewis.
Stan Van Gundy said prior to Sunday’s game that he essentially only had three guards available, but that was before Alexander-Walker’s leg injury caused him to exit the Toyota Center hardwood. It will be interesting to see how Van Gundy divvies up minutes between Ball, Bledsoe and newcomer Thomas, who could gain an excellent opportunity to show what he can do during his 10-day contract.
DEFENDING THE ARC
Regardless of who’s available, Atlanta is a dangerous three-point shooting team. Even though Young and Danilo Gallinari were sidelined Friday at New Orleans, the Hawks still piled up 126 points and went 13/29 from three-point range. Bogdanovic knocked down six three-pointers.