It wouldn’t be accurate to label Isaiah Thomas cocky, but he does have a confidence about him that’s hard to ignore.
Then again, you have to be confident when for most of your basketball career you’ve been told you can’t make it.
Thomas is 5-foot-9 and was the last pick in the 2011 NBA draft, but he’s been a leader for the Kings almost from the moment he joined the team.
Though Thomas is coming off the bench, he’s off to a hot start, scoring in double figures every game, and he’s filled the reserve role the coaching staff hoped he would. When he enters a game, the pace and intensity increase dramatically.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“I just play my heart out,” Thomas said. “That’s how I’ve known how to play since Day One. I’ve been the smallest guy on every court I’ve been on. It’s no different. I just like to play hard.”
Though Thomas believes he has the ability to be a starting guard in the NBA, he has accepted his role this season by averaging 18.1 points and 4.7 assists, both second on the team.
Bringing Thomas off the bench as point guard was never viewed as a demotion by coach Michael Malone, who said the decision was more about Thomas’ knack for changing the game and giving teams an opposite look from starter Greivis Vasquez, who is more of a pass-first point guard.
“Isaiah’s a scoring guard,” Malone said. “What I always try to be is realistic. I’m not going to change them and I don’t want to change them. Isaiah is a guy that puts tremendous pressure on the defense. He’s a mighty mite; he gives us great energy.”
Plus, not putting so much responsibility on Thomas to run the team frees him up to be a scorer – he’s one of the Kings’ top long-distance shooters. There also are times when Malone likes playing Thomas and Vasquez together because it gives him two decision-makers on the floor.
In the Kings’ two wins this season, Thomas and Vasquez played well together. Either can handle the ball, and when Vasquez does, Thomas is free to focus on scoring.
“It’s fun, but that’s my role anyway,” Thomas said. “I come in and can be in attack mode and just try to make plays for myself or for my teammates. And when I’m in the game with Vasquez, it makes it easier because he’s looking for me at any point in time.”
Thomas’ scoring has provided highlights this season, but Malone is pushing him to be more balanced between scorer and facilitator.
“What I’ve challenged him to be is sometimes more of a playmaker,” Malone said. “You look to score, but once you do your job and you collapse that defense, now you have to make the right play and get guys open shots. He’s also doing a better job of being a better on-ball defender.”
But Thomas isn’t satisfied with his impressive start, and he still plays every game like he’s proving doubters wrong. He also believes he could do a lot more to help the Kings.
“I hold myself to a high standard and I think I can play a lot better,” Thomas said. “I think I can make more plays for my teammates. I think I can score the ball a lot better. But at the same time, whatever the team needs me to do, that’s what I’m going to do. I think there’s always room for improvement.”
Pistons (2-5) vs. Kings (2-5)
• Where: Sleep Train Arena
• Time: 7:30 p.m.
• TV: ESPN
• Radio: 1140
• 1. Play big: The Pistons have one of the biggest and most athletic starting frontcourts in the NBA with the addition of Josh Smith. Patrick Patterson, Luc Mbah a Moute and Travis Oultaw all could be assigned to defend Smith if he’s at small forward a lot.
• 2. Ball security: The Kings are averaging 12.1 turnovers while forcing 15.9. That has to continue because the Pistons have the ability to turn mistakes into fast-break points if the Kings are sloppy with the ball. The Kings had only seven turnovers in Wednesday’s win over Brooklyn.
• 3. Keep defending: Sacramento has held it’s last two opponents below 44 percent shooting. If the Kings defend well, they will have more opportunities to run and not have to rely on a halfcourt offense. The Kings want to play at a fast pace and can do that more with good defense.
– Jason Jones