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Isaiah Thomas openly reminisces about his time with the Boston Celtics. He was an MVP candidate, a household name, and a fan favorite. His run with the Celtics was a thing of legend and the Washington Wizards had a front row seat to witness it.
It’s been roughly three years since Thomas and the Wizards met in the Eastern Conference semifinals. At the time, nobody could’ve predicted that the two would be back at square one, trying to salvage what used to be while simultaneously starting over.
Now, Thomas, like the Wizards, is rebuilding, and he’s doing it in the only city that would give him a chance.
And while Thomas has shown flashes of his old self earlier in the season, his production has since dipped considerably. At some point the Wizards will have to address how many more chances they will give him before they end this experiment.
Thomas scored 16 points in his debut against the Spurs, followed by a 17 point, 10 assist night against the Rockets in just 24 minutes. But he relied heavily on the perimeter shot and, following a number of injuries, could no longer lean on the quickness he once possessed to get to the basket.
Still, Washington’s coaching staff should’ve been thrilled. The front office took a chance on Thomas, who, at the time, was deemed one of the only viable offensive options on the roster, and he was producing in limited time on the court.
This was the chance Thomas was looking for in Denver, a green light to take shots, and showcase himself to the league, to prove the doubters wrong.
That hasn’t happened.
In six games this month, Thomas is shooting 28 percent, including games in which Bradley Beal, the team’s first, second, and third option, has been sidelined with injury.
Over the past two games, Thomas has made just four of his 24 shot attempts. The team has looked more lethargic when he’s on the court, struggling to get into their sets and find a rhythm offensively.
The shooting slump might be just that—a slump—but it could also be a reflection of who Thomas is as a player today.
Of the 324 shots he’s attempted with the Wizards, only 28 have been considered shots “at the rim”—meaning, layups or shots within the same distance. In the 2016-17 season, when Thomas was having an MVP-type season, he attempted 565 shots at the rim.
Mid-range jump shots were a small part of his game, but now, shots outside of the paint make up most of his selection.
Unlike Ish Smith, who has been proficient from mid-range (Smith is making 54 percent of his shots from 10 to 16 feet), Thomas’ struggles have been highlighted in that area (Thomas is making 36 percent of his mid-range attempts).
Thomas’ quickness has largely disappeared after dealing with the countless injuries he’s overcome—numerous quad contusions and multiple hip injuries (and arthroscopic surgery on his right hip) that prevented him from remaining a top point guard. It’s forced him to change his game—to become an outside shooter—but, at least as of late, he’s been unable to make the proper adjustments to remain efficient.
His lack of quickness has made him a liability defensively, too.
Opposing teams have seen their offensive ratings skyrocket by nine points when Thomas is on the court. Washington is dead last in defensive rating, and a good chunk of that is due to Thomas.
Washington’s goal this season was not to win games, but at some point, the coaching staff—if they haven’t already—have to consider the consequences of playing Thomas, especially since he’s started in 26 of his 29 appearances.
The Wizards cut 22-year-old point guard Justin Robinson to make room for Gary Payton II and also parted with veteran C.J. Miles while converting Anzejs Pasecniks’ two-way deal into a standard NBA contract. To do that, Washington will have to make room on the roster.
Right now, it’s difficult to point to anything Thomas is doing—at least on court—that warrants the continued playing time he’s receiving.
Washington is hyper focused on developing its young talent, which comprises most of the roster. Thomas was largely brought on board as a veteran, locker room presence, someone the team could potentially flip for a pick or asset if he showed positive consistency throughout the season. He’s never quite fit into the “bigger picture” of what new general manager Tommy Sheppard wants to accomplish in D.C.
Sheppard’s team will have to make a difficult decision with Thomas. Whether that merely entails swapping him out of the starting lineup for Smith or trading/waiving him is to be determined.
But hoping—and reminiscing—that the “old IT” will be back hasn’t been the answer.