By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Disrespect has been a constant theme during Isaiah Thomas’ NBA career. From being drafted No. 60 overall in 2011 to being traded by two franchises during his first pro seasons, the speedy point guard has rightfully walked around with a chip on his shoulder at the NBA level.
One outlet that has always raised question marks about the 27-year-old’s talent is none other than Sports Illustrated. The magazine ranked Thomas as the 88th best player in the NBA heading into last season, a slight that caused the ire of the 5-foot-9 guard who took to Twitter to voice his dissatisfaction.
Thomas responded by quieting his doubters around the league during the 2015-16 season by making his first All-Star game, averaging an impressive 22.2 points and 6.2 assists per game while leading a 48-win team in Boston.
The output resulted in an impressive jump for Thomas’ ranking in SI’s Top 100 this season, as the panel bumped him up to the No. 45 spot overall. However, that improved placement was still not pleasing to Thomas, who took to Twitter again Thursday night to question the legitimacy of his spot.
Does Thomas have a case for a better rank this year than SI gave him? It’s not hard to say yes when you dig deeper into the numbers. Few players in the NBA showed the ability to score and distribute the ball with the kind of efficiency that Thomas demonstrated last year. He anchored a top-10 NBA offense despite the fact that the Celtics were the third worst 3-point shooting team in the entire NBA and devoid of a second scorer that averaged more than 15 points per game.
SI docked Thomas for his playoff inefficiency, but it’s easy to forget how shorthanded Boston was at that stage of the season, having both Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk sidelined with injuries. Jae Crowder was playing at less than 100 percent as well, allowing the entire defensive gameplan by the Hawks to be honed in on and slowing down Boston’s most explosive weapon.
When you factor in these realities, it’s hard to make the case for players like Dwyane Wade, Khris Middleton, and Kemba Walker ahead of Thomas, as SI did in their rankings. Thomas is understandably docked for his defense, given his size limitations, but given how well the Celtics performed at that end of the floor all year, he can’t be considered too much of a net minus on that front.
With an improved supporting cast in place this year, Thomas will have a chance to take another step forward and prove to SI and company that he belongs in the conversation with the league’s top tier.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.