On Wednesday night Isaiah Thomas quietly played his first NBA game in 11 months. Amidst all of the trade chatter and the All-Star break, the former All-Star and MVP candidate’s debut flew under the radar.
Thomas’s story is a reminder of how quickly time affects perception. The 5’9 lefty came equipped with a 7’2 ruggedness and was the face of a surging Celtics team that had hopes on developing into the team that would finally knock off LeBron James’s regime in the East.
He was never the biggest or quickest player but always possessed the ability to create just enough space to get his shot off. IT at his best possesses a deep bag of hesitations, twists, and turns that keeps defenders off balance and just far enough away to create finishing opportunities despite being an under-the-rim scorer. His fearlessness and just-add-water instant offense gave him staying power as a smaller player in a league where opponents can easily be a foot taller. He knew he was due for a big payday infamously saying the Celtics would need to “bring the brinks truck” in order to sign him after the 2017 season.
What happened instead was a magical playoff run where Thomas played through tragedy and injury en route to shutting down his season during the conference finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers. His heroic performance was overshadowed by the organization’s concerns about his injured hip.
There was an understandable concern in Boston about how Isaiah’s production would pan out with an injury that affected so much of his patented herky-jerky movement around the court. How could he maintain the same explosion as he approached 30 years old with a nagging injury? Despite a memorable playoff performance including a 50 point splurge against the Wizards, Thomas was shipped out for Kyrie Irving as Kyrie and Boston both sought new beginnings and a change of direction.
After expecting a maximum contract, Thomas now is approaching his 30th birthday and just suited up officially for his seventh team in eight seasons on a veteran’s minimum contract. His 13 minutes were productive with all eight of his points coming in the third quarter on the way to a Nuggets win.
“My job is not to fit in. It’s to stand out,” said Thomas before Wednesday’s game against his first team, the Sacramento Kings. “I’m going to do whatever I can to get minutes on the basketball floor and I’m going to play to win and help this team get to the next level.”
The good news for Thomas is that he is in a perfect situation for a rehabbing player. Similar to Demarcus Cousins, Thomas is making a late-season comeback for a team projected to make a deep playoff run. The Denver Nuggets are playing extremely well and have been at or near the top of the Western Conference all season despite not having the ability to put a completely healthy roster on the floor.
Michael Porter Jr. has yet to play a single dribble for the Nuggets and Gary Harris will also boost their backcourt depth upon his return following the All-Star break. With Nikola Jokic surging after posting triple-doubles in five of the last nine games, the Nuggets will be the healthiest they have been all year at the perfect time–right before the playoff chase.
— Brandon Robinson (@ScoopB) October 1, 2018
For Isaiah, this is an opportunity to build a second chapter that starts with providing the Nuggets with an offensive spark off the bench as they prepare to battle things out in the Western Conference. The Nuggets are hoping to reap the benefits of their patience and be rewarded with signs that Thomas can still provide meaningful stretches of high-level offense as he did only two short years ago.
IT will provide a veteran presence on one of the league’s youngest teams and could potentially prove worthy of a healthy payday outside of Denver with a strong performance. His acquisition has proven to be a low-risk high-reward move for a franchise that is already set to compete in the years to come. A strong performance from Thomas is a win for both parties.
The longer Denver’s season lasts, the more Isaiah Thomas will get to display his talents on the brightest stage with fresh legs. If he is able to recover and perform at a high level, Thomas may reintroduce himself as a household name and continue his run of overcoming the odds.