Isaiah Thomas plays with a bravado bigger than his 5’9 frame would suggest.
“I’ve just always had confidence in myself,” said the Sacramento Kings rookie point guard in the locker room after Thursday night’s three-point win over the Portland Trailblazers. ”And then, I have the respect and confidence from my teammates. That gives me even more confidence in myself to play the game because my teammates trust me and believe in me.”
In his post-game press conference, Kings head coach Keith Smart called Thomas a “know-how guy” and a “100-percent winner”. Smart made a point of praising the intangibles the rookie brings that aren’t measured by the final box score.
“He understands how to play,” Smart began. ”He’s all for the team, when he’s not playing he’s supporting and as (I’ve) said (before), he is a plus, plus, big-number guy when he’s on the floor with our basketball team.”
According to 82games.com, Smart may be onto something. In clutch situations (which 82games determines as “4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points”), the Kings are 3-1 with Thomas in the lineup.
“That is big for us, (for him) as a rookie to come in and have confidence,” third-year guard Marcus Thornton said following his return to action last night. ”And control the team when we need to be controlled. And make the right plays – it’s big for us.”
The Kings head coach added that Thomas’ tenacity seems to “ooze” over to his teammates, giving them a “supreme level of confidence on the floor.” Thornton agreed whole-heartedly and suggested that the rookie’s unselfish game is partly the reason why.
“He’s a willing passer,” the Kings starting two-guard said. ”So if you’re open, he’s gonna get it to you. And you know me as a scorer – I love that.”
Thomas says “(playing) with my heart” also fuels his confidence. Perhaps his emotional approach to the game is setting an example for the rest of his team.
“I feel like when I’m in the game those guys play a little harder,” Thomas said. “And they see me going out there trying to get blocked shots, trying to do whatever I can to win and it gets them amped up a little bit.”
Smart credits practice for improved play
In Smart’s first two weeks as head coach, the Kings played nine games in 14 nights, leaving them very little time to work on their shortcomings.
Since last week’s embarrassing blowout to the Denver Nuggets, the Kings have found some relief in their schedule, which provided five days of practice time before yesterday’s win over the Trailblazers.
“This team is a team that needs to practice,” said Smart, who for the first time since January 5th has the full roster at his disposal. “When we get quality practice in, our season won’t allow it, but when we get a couple days, we can reinforce a lot of things like how we want to trap, how we want to rotate. And we can break everything down and do it.”
The Kings have talented players practically at every position. But with the roster’s average age of 24.69, the Kings are the youngest team in the league. With so little workout time until recently, Thornton believes they’ve missed the reinforcement provided by practice.
“We’re a young team and we have a lot of stuff,” Thornton began. “A lot of stuff to (work on) to make us the team we want to be.”
Teammate Thomas thinks the extra time in the film room has helped. Seeing their faults on offense and defense is a big plus, according to the rookie point guard.
“The more practice time we get, the better we’re going to be as a team,” Thomas said. ”Because we need to see our mistakes. We need to capitalize on our mistakes and make them into positives.”
Jonathan Santiago is co-editor of Cowbell Kingdom. Follow him on Twitter.