Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas has been flat-out balling in his first three years in the NBA. However, Thomas’ reputation and value are still held in low regard with the Kings.
With career averages of 20.3 points, three rebounds, six assists and a player impact percentage of 13.6, Thomas himself and fans alike are dumbfounded as to why he seems to be the odd man out.
Why don’t the Kings like Thomas, and what does he have to do to gain their respect? The only players shorter than 6-feet in NBA history to average 20 points and six assists in a season while achieving a PER of at least 20 by the age of 25 are Calvin Murphy and Thomas.
More than the stats, it’s important to mention the height factor, because thus far it’s all the Kings front office have complained about. They’ve searched for something else, but it’s not there.
In his three years in the NBA (all with the Kings), Thomas has had to transition from starter to sixth man. He’s flourished in both roles, even after the Kings acquired Greivis Vasquez, who started over Thomas upon his arrival.
Thomas would soon beat Vasquez out of his position, scoring 17.8 points in 18 games off the bench, limiting Vasquez’s minutes in the fourth quarter.
After three productive seasons and playing out his rookie contract, it’s unfortunate that Thomas may have to suit up for a different team next season and most don’t understand why.
Certainly the Kings are currently swamped with money issues, and in California financial turmoil is the biggest reason for divorce.
Their No. one priority is to convince Rudy Gay to opt in to a deal that’ll pay him a little more than $19 million next season while pushing the Kings salary to $66.5 million. They’re drafting at pick No. 8 in the upcoming NBA draft, which will add $2.2 million to the Kings list of expenses.
The Kings would like to make the argument that it’s not making dollars, so it’s not making sense, but watching Isaiah Thomas light up the opposition in anything but a King jersey is ridiculous.
So if there’s going to be a breakup in Sacramento, maybe the conversation between general manager Pete D’Alessandro and Thomas needs to sound something like: “it’s not you – it’s me”.
Thomas hit 45.3 percent of his field goals, 34.9 percent from 3, and now he’s an restricted free agent this summer. Usually the restricted tag placed on a rookie is an expression of the organization’s interest in retaining his services in the long run.
An organization eventually wants to have the upper hand on opposing teams when the player finishes his rookie contract. However the Kings have expressed nothing but reluctance in paying Thomas to lead their franchise into its next stage.
Perhaps the Kings don’t think he’s good enough to lead a core of Rudy Gay (if he opts in) and DeMarcus Cousins. They’re so uninterested in him that they’ve entertained the idea of a sign-and-trade primarily in the interest of clearing space for Gay.
The Kings seem to be interested in a true distributor. They’d prefer someone that will defer to Cousins and Gay, instead of leading an offensive free-for-all. Even if the Kings scored 5.5 points per 100 possessions more with Isaiah on the floor than riding the pine.
Nate Robinson can testify that the league is brutal on guys less than 6 feet tall. They’re a “small” fraternity of players who are victimized throughout their career from consistent pessimism. Most would argue they’re given less of an opportunity to showcase their talent.
Or maybe, just like Robinson, at times Thomas shoots too much. In 34 minutes played a game he’s put up an average of 15 shots. That’s one attempt less than Cousins, and equal in shots taken to Gay.
Cousins and Gay are both players who can put up 20 plus shots per game, so the idea of adding a playmaking point guard makes sense. However with the amount of Kings cap space available to pay a new point guard versus who’s available on the free agent market, it’s truly cheaper (and better) to keep him.
In fact there aren’t many free agent point guards on the market this summer that can offer better production than Thomas.
To name a few, Jerryd Bayless, Steve Blake, Darren Collison, Beno Udrih, Mario Chalmers, Mo Williams, PattyMills and Kyle Lowry are names that have been mentioned as possible upgrades. Isaiah Thomas eats all of their lunches, it’s comical to think that any of the aforementioned compare.
There aren’t many pass first point guards in the NBA anymore regardless. The ones left are typically second unit role players. Even Los Angeles Clippers and often regarded NBA’s best point-god Chris Paul is depended on to hit clutch shots while being known as the league’s best distributor.
So why do the Kings criticize Thomas for doing what he does best? Score?
Perhaps it’s the Kings’ dead-last ranking in assists per game. On the other hand it’s hard to rank high in the assists column when you shoot 33 percent from 3 and 45 percent in field goals as a team.
Or possibly it’s Gay’s 27.4 percent usage rate, which pales in comparison to Cousins 32.6 percent.
While the head coach Michael Malone, the Kings front office and their two superstars plead with Thomas to pass the ball. Last season Gay averaged a -0.9 plus/minus and Cousins put up -0.3, while Thomas’ stood in the positive at 0.4. All three averaged close to 33 minutes a game. That spells high use and meager result.
There’s tons of dead weight the Kings can remove to retain Thomas. At the age of 30, veteran forward Carl Landry is currently rehabilitating a torn meniscus and although D’Alessandro has said that “adding Carl provides depth and veteran leadership in our frontcourt,” $6.75 million is too much money paid for veteran leadership and 18 games played in the 2013-14 season.
Travis Outlaw is another expendable player who’s struggled to regain his 3-point range, one painful shot attempt almost every time he touches the ball. Outlaw is in the last year of a $3 million deal, and expiring contracts (no matter how much they’re worth) are gold in the NBA.
Moving Landry and Outlaw for future second-round picks clears close to $9 million in cap space. Thomas’ worth on the free agent market is about $8 million. There’s no reason why the Kings can’t retain their streaky shooting point guard.
If you want to win, you don’t get rid of a guy with Thomas’ potential. He deserves to be paid, and he’s earned the luxury of not having to call a moving company this offseason. Hopefully he’s dropping buckets next season in Cowbell Kingdom.