The NBA Draft Blog Scouting reports continue with a look at a player who has made a great transition from a primary scorer to his team’s primary distributor – Washington’s Isaiah Thomas. Thomas will make many people think of former Husky Nate Robinson, but Thomas has taken his game to another level this season and has proven to be much more versatile than originally believed. While he is only a junior, could he be ready for the NBA, even at 5’8? Let’s take a look at Isaiah Thomas:
Isaiah Thomas, Washington – Junior
Guard- 5’8, 185
16.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 5.8 apg, 44.1% FG, 74.8% FT, 34.3% 3FG
Perimeter Shooting- Thomas has, until this season, been known primarily for his perimeter game. He knows his size limits his window to get a clean look and he has learned to adjust with a quick release with good lift and arc on his jumper. He has very good range, and most-telling, he has become much more selective with his shot selection from the outside. That’s not to say he doesn’t have his moments when you wonder what made him think to take that particular shot, but its far cry from the last 2 seasons, when he had a few of those moments each game. He is good at creating space off the dribble for his jumper, but he is not as good when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands – he comes too wide off of screens and has a tough time getting his body set before he shoots. His mid-range game has also improved, though he is still more likely to settle for a three or take it to the rim than pull up for a 15-footer. A key area to his improvement will be for him to do a better job exploiting holes in the defense or mismatches to get good looks.
Ballhandling/Hands/Penetration- Thomas is a very good ballhandler, as strong with his right as he is with his natural left hand. He has good speed with his dribble, and he employs various moves – including a nice crossover and change of pace – to keep the defender off-balance, while also having an explosive first step. He needs to watch a tendency to over-dribble looking to make a play, and he can have a tendency to move to quickly for his own good. If he can improve his ability to stay in control, he could turn into a very good point guard. His ability to get into the lane is very good, and he has showed the ability to make plays once he has gotten past his defender. The biggest improvement has come in his ability to draw the help defense to him and find the open man around the rim. In the past, he was more likely to force a wild shot. He has is much improved with his ability to finish around the rim, not shying away from contact and not always forcing the play to his left. He has a strong body for his size, has good body control once he commits and has a good ability to pull off acrobatic shots. He has a nice touch around the rim, though he needs to improve his ability to stop quickly and hit the short jumper or floater against good interior defenders.
Rebounding/Passing- At 5’8, it may not be fair to expect much rebounding from Thomas, but he has a very good instinct for long rebounds and is very quick to the ball with the ability to get a second shot off quickly. Passing is more touch and go, though he is improving. He has good court vision, but his size makes it tough for him to get clear looks around the rim. He needs to rely on constant movement to get clear passing lanes. He has a tendency to try in force passes into the post area, and needs to temper his desire to make a spectacular pass when the smarter play will be more effective. That being said, his one year improvement as a distributor is one of the best I have seen in a long time and the improvements he needs to make are very manageable if he works at them.
Free Throw Shooting – Thomas is a good free throw shooter, but he needs to get his percentage up to at least the 80-85% range for his position. He has the ability to get to the line often, but that has dropped a bit in his new role as the primary playmaker. He is good in clutch situations, and is an asset to have the ball in his hands at the end of close games.
Perimeter Defense- Thomas is a strong on-ball defender, with great foot speed, lateral movement and very quick hands. He is very active with his arms, which helps alleviate the fact that he is almost always at a size disadvantage. He needs to be more consistent with his defensive intensity, and he needs to be more aware of the abilities of the man he is guarding. This becomes more of a problem when he needs to work through screens. First, because of his size, he can rarely go through screens, so he needs to make a quick decision whether to go over, under or switch. At this point, he is still working on making those decisions correctly, though he has shown improvement in his ability to adjust once he does make the decision.
Rebounding- As on the offensive end, Thomas will not be expected to rebound much, but he does a great job getting to long rebounds and loose balls, and he has become much better at coming back to the rebounder for the outlet pass instead of taking off down court.
Thomas is a blur in the open court, though he still has some improvements to make him more effective. As was noted earlier, he has a tendency to sometimes move too quickly for his own good – in transition, this could lead to his teammates running the wings being left behind the play, or for Thomas to lose control and end up in a bad position. Decision-making when he is leading the break can also improve, knowing when to go to the rim, when to pull up for a jumper and when to pull it back out. He does have the ability to finish on the break, though he could be more effective on his jumper in transition. Defensively, he does a good job getting back against the break and has been effective so far in slowing up the ball.
Summary & Intangibles
Athleticism – High
BB IQ – High
As I have said throughout this report, Thomas has made great strides this year and has shown many more facets to his game than people believed were there. While it has been acknowledged that this draft is severely lacking in top point guard prospects outside of the top 4 or 5, I think it would be a mistake for Thomas to try and take advantage of that scenario. At best, he is right now a mid-to-late second round pick, but if he stays another season and shows another season of improved point skills, he could play his way to high second round, with an outside chance at very late first. He has many attributes that teams will want, but he needs to show it for more than ¾ of a season, plus people will always look at his height and be quick to judge, though he can play his way through that as well.
Make sure to check back later tomorrow for my first look at one of the Kentucky stud freshmen – power forward Terrence Jones, as well as another edition of The Case For… looking at the Pittsburgh seniors. Remember, leave any comments below, follow me on Twitter – @NBADraftBlog, or feel free to email me at the link up top.