By: Nick Galle
Denver Nuggets point guard Isaiah Thomas has been sidelined by a lingering hip injury for the better half of the past two seasons.
Reports are starting to surface that the 5’9″ guard from Tacoma, Washington could soon be making his return to the court as early as February.
While many NBA fans are still in Thomas’ corner, there is still a large community that is doubting the former all-star’s abilities and his potential to make a comeback. Thomas has not played since March 22, 2018, a game against the New Orleans Pelicans, where he logged 15 points off of 6-12 shooting through 26 minutes of play.
So can Isaiah Thomas actually make a comeback? Yes. Why? Because Isaiah Thomas has dealt with adversity for his entire life.
Pre-NBA and NBA Draft
Isaiah Thomas has been doubted his entire life, primarily due to his height. He has always been the shortest player on the court. NBA, college, AAU basketball, recreational leagues as a kid, you name it. No matter where he was playing, he was always the smallest player in the game.
“Put me out against anybody, and I’ll show you I’m not too small. It’s been all my life with people saying I was too small, and I have overcome that to this point” (Hoops Hype).
Thomas has never let his height put him at a disadvantage. As a matter of fact, he has used it as an advantage. Thomas has always had an outstanding ability to finish at the rim, even with multiple defenders standing at least a foot taller than him protecting the basket. While everybody looked the other way because of his 5’9″ stature, Thomas silently put up impressive numbers at Washington, averaging 16.4 points per game, 4.0 assists per game. He managed to shoot 42.6% from the field, while shooting 32.5% from three.
Thomas would then be drafted in 2011 by the Sacramento Kings with the 60th overall pick. The very last pick in the draft.
Isaiah Thomas took immense pride in being the last pick of the draft and aimed to prove everybody wrong. While Thomas could have just let the thought of being picked last overcome him and negatively impact his career, he instead thrived off of it. A Nike ad campaign in Boston’s South Station even embraced Thomas’ passion for being the last pick by hanging banners and murals of Thomas with text that said, “Pick Me Last Again.”
Movement Around the NBA
Most of the adversity faced by Thomas stems from the fact that he has not been able to call any NBA franchise “home” for an extended period of time during the course of his career. Thomas spent the longest amount of time with the team that drafted him, but was only there from 2011-2014. Take a look at the breakdown of teams that Thomas has spent time with:
Sacramento Kings (2011-2014)
Phoenix Suns (2014-2015)
Boston Celtics (2015-2017)
Cleveland Cavaliers (2017-2018)
Los Angeles Lakers (2018)
Denver Nuggets (2018-present)
Thomas has been moved around four times in the past five years. The most devastating of these moves came when the all-star point guard was traded from the Boston Celtics to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a deal that would bring Kyrie Irving to Boston, and send Ante Zizic, Jae Crowder, and a first-round pick along with Thomas to Cleveland.
Thomas had continuously talked about how he felt as if Boston was finally his home. The most shocking part of the trade was that Boston made the decision to trade Thomas after a season where he averaged 28.9 points per game, along with 5.9 assists. Thomas was an all-star that season and led the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals. The most memorable moment of that season came during the playoff series with the Chicago Bulls when Thomas played the day after the death of his sister Chyna, and still managed to drop 33 points.
Thomas was somehow able to play in an NBA game just one day after losing his sister in a car accident. This was bigger than basketball. The adversity that Thomas faced on the court was nothing compared to the tragedy that Thomas had to experience during the death of sister. Endless support poured in from the Boston fan-base, as well as NBA fans in general.
Thomas seemed to have secured his spot in Boston for the long-run, but apparently that was not the case. Isaiah was traded to Cleveland the following off-season.
“I’m tired of being traded. That’s not a good thing, but, I just want to be where I’m wanted. I like it here. It hasn’t been as planned, but I definitely want to be here. We definitely have a real chance to win an NBA championship and I want to be a part of that” (NBA.com).
Thomas would then be traded by Cleveland to the Los Angeles Lakers for Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson. Thomas had a season-high 29 points on March 1st for the Lakers, but on March 29th, he was ruled out for the remainder of the season after getting hip surgery.
The Lakers did not re-sign Thomas, leading him to sign a one-year deal with the Denver Nuggets.
While Thomas hasn’t really been able to settle anywhere, no matter where he has been, he has always shown flashes of talent. He was an excellent role player with Sacramento and Phoenix. He was a star in Boston. He could still score the ball in Cleveland. He looked like he was starting to get back to his old ways in LA, but then injury cut those hopes short. In every instance where Thomas has been betrayed by an organization, he has tried to maintain a positive attitude and focus on the next step of his career.
Despite the injuries, despite moving around, despite the doubters, Thomas has always maintained faith in his talent. They say home is where the heart is. Unfortunately for Isaiah Thomas, he just hasn’t been able to put that heart in a home just yet.
What’s Next For IT?
The next chapter of Isaiah Thomas’ career is going to be a tough one. The comeback that he strives to make might just be one of the toughest examples of adversity that he will face in his career.
Unfortunately for adversity, it has no idea who it is dealing with.
Isaiah Thomas has never given up, and there is no chance that he will this year. Move him where you want, judge him based off of his height, try and break him, but he just comes back stronger and stronger each time.
Thomas loves proving people wrong. This season, he has the chance to prove more people wrong than ever before. For Thomas, those doubting him are not a curse, but instead they are fuel for a potentially amazing comeback. The story of Isaiah Thomas is far from over. It might actually just be the beginning.
So watch out NBA. The little guy is about to do big things.
Cover photo via: Nuggets.com
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