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Isaiah Thomas: NBA's unluckiest superstar?

(Photo credit: Keith Allison)

In 2011, Isaiah Thomas was the NBA’s Mr Irrelevant after being taken with the final pick in the draft by the Sacramento Kings. The main knock against him was his height. Standing at just 5'9" there were valid questions over whether he could be effective against bigger, stronger NBA talent. However, his game soon proved the doubters wrong.

A stellar start cut short by injury

In his rookie season, Thomas was named to the All-Rookie 2nd team and won rookie of the month twice – something no other last pick had ever achieved. Very quickly, Thomas proved that he was relevant after all.

In the 2013/14 season, Thomas became only the fifth player under 6'0" to average 20 points and six assists in NBA history. The next year, he moved to the Phoenix Suns and was plagued by injury, requiring surgery on his left wrist and then later injuring his ankle. 

Again, questions were raised over his frame holding up at the highest level and he was traded to Boston for the rest of the season. True to form, Thomas bounced back immediately and finished second in voting for Sixth Man of the Year.

Finding stardom in Boston 

The 2014/15 season saw Thomas make his mark on the league, playing the full 82 games and averaging 20 points and six assists per night for the Celtics. His stellar play saw him receive All-Star status for the first time, making him the shortest NBA All-Star in history and the lowest draft pick to play in the showpiece since the draft was reduced to two rounds. 

It was even better in 2016/17. Thomas proved that he was entering his prime years and put the league on notice, averaging 29 points and six assists to lead Boston into the playoffs. Fans and analysts alike were left in awe at his countless fourth-quarter heroics, and he was once again an NBA All-Star. Thomas also made the All NBA 2nd team and finished fifth in MVP voting. The young Boston team looked to have a bright future with him at the helm, yet that all changed in the blink of an eye.

The Celtics brutally traded Thomas to the Cavs in exchange for a younger and bigger Kyrie Irving. Irving had put up worse stats than Thomas in more minutes during that season, yet the Celtics thought he was the better man for the job.

It was a move seemingly vindicated when Thomas' injury woes returned this year as he suffered a hip issue that saw him miss the first three months of the season. He struggled when he finally made his Cleveland debut, and those struggles coincided with the woeful form of the Cavs, who were losing their grip as the elite team in the Eastern Conference. 

The Cleveland hierarchy was ruthless, ushering Thomas to the Lakers last week as the trade deadline neared.

Where's the respect?

There is no doubt that, when on form, Thomas is one of the league’s most devastating offensive weapons. While he leaves a lot to be desired on the defensive end, Thomas gets buckets and gets them easily. 

In a game where every team is looking for someone to score 20 points a night and relieve the scoring burden, why has Thomas bounced around so much? The Cavaliers didn’t even wait for him to return to form after a serious injury before they used him as trade bait and sent him packing to Los Angeles. He has now played for five teams in seven seasons and seems destined to back up Lonzo Ball from the bench. Surely, he has proved that he deserves more?

Thomas has been incredibly unlucky, and picking up a few injuries has caused him to have lacklustre performances at bad times and be traded away. However, when the light shone the brightest last season in Boston, he stepped up to impress the world. 

Can he bounce back once more?

Personally, I think Thomas is one the game’s most compelling players. He plays the game with a chip on his shoulder and wears his heart on his sleeve. He commands respect for his on-court achievements, but has received anything but from his last two employers. Thomas has been unlucky again to end up with the Lakers, who seem loyal to Ball remaining as their starter. 

But there is hope. Thomas could use this season as he did previously in Phoenix and Boston, quickly rebuilding his reputation as a sixth man scorer and going into unrestricted free agency in the offseason. While the unlucky star is likely to get paid a lot less this summer than he would have if he had remained in Boston, he might finally be able to find a team that will treat him with the respect his game demands. 

Will we see Thomas back to his best? Comment below!

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