CLEVELAND -- There was a moment in the fourth quarter of Sundays loss at Washington that captured Isaiah Thomas learning curve as an NBA point guard.
The play showed the fearlessness the Kings love about Thomas and his need to learn when to be less aggressive.
The Kings had a two-on-one fast break. Thomas had the ball with Ben McLemore trailing. Thomas attacked the basket, only to have his shot blocked by Wizards guard Garrett Temple.
I didnt (see McLemore) right until I went up, Thomas said. I felt like it was too late (to pass). I told him to speak up; sometimes I dont see things.
The Kings would like Thomas to see more on the court but need him to score, too. Thomas wants to do all he can to help Sacramento (17-34) win more, which sometimes means scoring.
Somewhere along the way, Thomas has to find the balance between being the scorer the Kings wanted him to be coming off the bench and the playmaking starter they need him to be after trading Greivis Vasquez to Toronto.
Sometimes when we get down, I put it on myself a lot to take things over, Thomas said. Its what leaders would do anyways. The Chris Pauls, the Steph Currys, those type of guys do the same thing. Ive just got to pick and choose my spots. Its a learning process for me and not only for me for the coaching staff and for the players. Each and every day Im learning, learning how to be a point guard and how to lead.
At the start of the season, the Kings idea was to bring Thomas off the bench and allow him to wreak havoc as a scoring machine.
But when the Kings had the chance to trade for Rudy Gay, it meant parting with Vasquez, the pass-first complement to Thomas.
The coaching staff and front office are fans of Thomas but realize hes a scorer first and knowing when to dial down his offense is a process. And barring the addition of a player similar to Vasquez, the Kings need Thomas to continue to improve as a facilitator.
Thomas has been bothered by a sprained wrist, which has made it harder for him to shoot from three-point range. But he still looks for his offense while trying to keep everyone involved.
Thats such a delicate balance for him, Kings coach Michael Malone said. And the reality is, this is not an excuse for Isaiah, but you cannot just flip a switch and go from being a scorer to a playmaker, and thats what hes trying to do now from a scorer off the bench to a starting point guard thats got to facilitate and try to get us organized every possession.
But for all the knocks on Thomas, hes been the best playmaker the Kings have had in years. Hes averaging 6.2 assists, 14th in the NBA through Sunday.
I think Im getting better, but at the same time coach always tells me, If youve got a shot, take it. I dont want you to not be aggressive, Thomas said. But at the same, its a learning process for me because I feel I can make every shot.
Thomas said hed ideally shoot 13 or 14 times per game at the most, but each game is different. When center DeMarcus Cousins and forward Rudy Gay were injured, Thomas shot more frequently, including a career-high 31 attempts last month in a loss to Indiana.
The Kings, however, are 0-9 when Thomas shoots 20 or more times and 4-1 when he has 10 or more assists. Thomas is averaging 20.8 points and 7.2 assists in wins and 20.1 points and 5.7 assists in losses.
Hes done a very good job of at it at times; other times, obviously, hes been OK, and hes got to get better, said Malone, adding that its his job to help Thomas find that balance between scorer and passer. And to his credit, hes aware of it; hes trying. We watch film, we talk about shot selection, getting us into sets, which sets can we run.
Malone wants Thomas to score. The Kings rely on his offense to be competitive. Its more about taking the best shots for the team and not dribbling in circles until hes forced to take a tough shot as the shot clock ticks to zero.
When defenders give Thomas an open jumper by going under screens, the Kings can live with that shot.
When guys do that, I feel like Im a good enough shooter, and I work on my game each and every day to knock down that shot, Thomas said. Youve just got to take what the defense gives you each and every night. Thats what Im learning.
Thomas said he encourages teammates to let him know when to get them the ball, as he did with McLemore.
Especially when I feel like Ive got an angle or a step on a guy, Im looking to the hoop. Im looking to score the basket, Thomas said. Like I said, its a learning process. Ive got to get better at it, and thats just what it is.