Isaiah Thomas looks to improve defensive ball pressure

Isaiah Thomas defends Reggie Jackson of the Oklahoma City Thunder. (Photo: Tobin Halsey)

Since taking over the starting reins a month ago, Isaiah Thomas has stepped up in practically every way possible for the Sacramento Kings. In 14 games as Sacramento’s starting point guard, Thomas is averaging 21.3 points and 7.8 assists per contest while shooting 47.1 percent from the field and 44.1 percent from 3-point distance.

Defense, however, is another story. Thomas knows he has more room for growth on that side of the floor and believes individually, it can start with the amount of pressure he puts on the ball.

“That’s the main thing, I think, with me,” the 24-year-old point guard said following practice Monday. “Lately, I’ve been watching film. I’m not putting enough pressure on the ball so the guard is kind of able to, not even drive on me all the time, but just make passes when he wants to and he’s comfortable out there. So I gotta make it more for a guard to be uncomfortable.”

According to mySynergySports, Thomas is ranked 216th in overall defense this season, allowing 0.89 points per play. Opponents are shooting roughly 42 percent from the field and 39.6 percent from 3-point distance against him.

As noted, Thomas has been stellar on offense since taking over as the Kings’ starting point guard. His offensive rating through 14 games as a starter is 107.3 points per 100 possessions. However, Thomas’ defensive rating is what drags his value back down to earth. The 24-year-old point guard has allowed 109.4 points per 100 possessions since entering the starting unit following the Rudy Gay trade.

Individually speaking, Thomas is aware that there are things he needs to work on like applying more defensive pressure on the ball. He also knows that he has to become a better team defender. Thomas believes the Kings’ breakdowns on defense begin with their lack of communication.

“Sometimes we’re in coverages that we’re supposed to be in,” Thomas said. “But a guy or two might not be in that coverage and that just goes along with communicating. We talk about it each and every day, to be loud and talk continuously and just to have each other’s back. And I think the biggest thing we see… (is that) we’re not talking.”

At close to 38 minutes a night, Thomas is playing more as a starter than he was as a reserve. He’s not using the additional wear and tear on his body as an excuse for his effort on defense. Rather, Thomas feels that he and his teammates have to do a better job locking in mentally on that side of the court.

“I think it’s more mental than anything because we’ve got the tools to be a good defensive team,” Thomas said. “We’re athletic. We’re versatile. We’ve got bigs that can run out and run the floor, that get out and guard guards when they need to. I don’t think it’s a physical thing. It’s mental.”

Trust is also an area on defense that Thomas believes he and his teammates can improve, as well.

“Coach always says, ‘Don’t rely on your help, but trust your help,’” Thomas said. “So don’t get beat before you even get beat basically is what he’s saying.”

Thomas’ game has come a long way in just his third NBA season. However, he knows that there’s still more to develop before he’s finished.

Carl Landry making progress

The 30-year-old big man is slowly but surely making progress in his comeback to the NBA. Landry, who has been sidelined since October due to hip surgery, could be on track to return in “a couple more weeks” according to head coach Michael Malone.

“He’s been practicing lately,” Malone said Monday afternoon. “He hasn’t gone through a full practice. He’s not 100 percent, but he’s getting a lot closer. And just having his energy, his voice, his intensity in the gym and in some of the drills has been real exciting for me because having coached him twice, knowing what he brings to the table, he was a big part of what we were going to try and do this year.”

In addition to team practices, Landry has been seen working out prior to games with Kings assistant coaches and staff. The original diagnosis following his surgery targeted January or February for his possible return.

“Now we’re not 10-22 because Carl Landry’s not playing,” Malone added. “But he’s definitely going to be an added piece and a weapon for us when he does start playing.”

As a member of the Golden State Warriors last season, Landry averaged 10.8 points and six rebounds in 23.2 minutes per game. Landry signed a four-year, $26-million deal to return to Sacramento after the Kings traded him to the New Orleans Hornets in 2011.


Jonathan Santiago
Jonathan Santiago serves Cowbell Kingdom as senior editor specializing in writing, podcasting and video production. He also handles the majority of CK’s day-to-day beat coverage of the Kings.

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