HOUSTON Wherever Isaiah Thomas has played, he's been the catalyst for the success of his team.
So as an NBA rookie, it hasn't been easy for Thomas to sit for long stretches or get into a game for a few seconds at a time. Still, it hasn't stopped Thomas from believing he is a capable leader. The 5-foot-9 point guard showed that Wednesday with his 20-point, six-assist effort in the Kings' 98-91 win at Toronto.
Thomas closed the game scoring 12 points in the fourth quarter, playing a solid two-man game with center DeMarcus Cousins and getting Tyreke Evans shooting opportunities by dishing to him while penetrating the lane.
Even though his playing time has been inconsistent, Thomas hasn't stopped carrying himself as if he is in charge whenever he is on the court.
"You're born a leader," he said. "You really can't teach anybody how to lead, and I've always been a leader in life. I feel like these guys respect me, have confidence in me on the court, so when I tell them something, they listen, and vice versa."
It's hard to lead from the bench, and Thomas has done a lot more sitting than he did as a college starter at Washington. That prompted Thomas to ask coach Keith Smart what he could do to get more playing time.
The answer was similar to what Thomas had been told by other coaches: be patient.
"I said, 'I can't promise you playing time,' " Smart said. "I've got to play these guys right here, I've got to play our first-round draft pick (Jimmer Fredette), but you've got to stay ready. Things in the NBA change quickly."
What changed this week was leading scorer Marcus Thornton missing the first two games of this five-game trip because of a left thigh contusion. That put Fredette in the starting lineup and left Thomas as the only point guard on the bench. When Smart saw Thomas was in a groove against the Raptors, the coach had no problem leaving the rookie in to close the game.
It's not a position some would have predicted for the last player picked (60th overall) in the 2011 NBA draft.
"If you say, 'Why was he the last pick?' there's only one reason his size," Smart said. "He has everything else. Energy, he's athletic. If he were 6-3, he wouldn't be there, he'd probably be a first rounder. But you can't teach heart, and he has a big heart."
Thomas' ability to establish himself as a leader hasn't surprised teammates, who saw the rookie's intangibles during the shortened preseason training camp.
"That's what a point guard is supposed to be," Cousins said of Thomas being a leader. "Some people get it early, some people get it late. Luckily, he got it early."
In doing so, Thomas has quickly gained the respect of his coaches. He works with assistant coach Bobby Jackson, who had a 12-year NBA career, on how to find his offense as a small guard.
And Smart promised he wouldn't throw Thomas into games for a few seconds at a time, a courtesy often reserved for veterans not the last draft pick, who is usually happy with whatever time he gets.
"I told him, 'I'll never put you in the game again (for) eight seconds in the third quarter. That's not fair,' " Smart said. "I said, 'If I can't get you in the first half, I won't play you. It's just going to be that way, but stay ready,' and he's done that."
Thomas appreciates that courtesy, even though he didn't complain about running in cold for eight seconds instead of playing a bigger role.
"That's one of the toughest situations," Thomas said. " My job is to go in and stop the best guard. It's hard, but there are no excuses in this league, and you've got to be ready."