Sacramento Kings’ new offensive approach plays to Isaiah Thomas’ strengths

Isaiah Thomas rises for the layup against Utah. (Photo: Steven Chea)Isaiah Thomas is blossoming before of our eyes. He has gone from the final pick in the 2011 NBA Draft to making the Sacramento Kings’ roster. He has gone from bench player to starter and is now cementing himself as a mainstay in the Kings’ lineup, garnering enough recognition from the national media to get a late invite to All-Star Weekend.

It’s an incredible story. The documentary has already been started and it should be a good one. It’s more than just a long-shot making it.  Thomas is becoming an NBA name.

However, it hasn’t all been peaches and cream. Thomas’ minutes and spot in the rotation have yo-yoed all season almost without rhyme or reason. While it has been trying, he seems unfazed.

“I don’t worry about if I’m going to play the bulk of the minutes or not,” Thomas said following Saturday night’s big win over the Utah Jazz. “This whole year has been up and down, so you never know. You have to go in with the mindset to do the best while you’re in there and when you come out, cheer for the next guy.”

In his 24 games since returning to the Kings starting lineup on Dec. 28, Thomas is averaging 14.3 points and 4.3 assists in 30 minutes per game. Those are solid numbers for a starting NBA point guard.  But in the team’s five games in February, Thomas is starting to ramp it up.

Sure, five games is a small sample size, but Thomas is asserting himself on the offensive end this month, averaging 19.4 points and 4.6 assists in 34.6 minutes a game. He is showing some of the scoring attributes he displayed during his three years at the University of Washington and it’s earned him a spot on Charles Barkley‘s team in the Rising Stars Challenge in Houston later this week.

“I just go out there and try to play,” Thomas said. “I try to play as hard as I can, take the right shots, make the right passes and things like that.”

After a disastrous 1-5 road trip that ended last week, a favorable schedule gave the Kings a four-day break to recharge and revamp the team’s struggling offense. The new plan is to crank up the tempo and turn back to the run-and-gun that was so successful for the Kings at the end of last season.

Coach Keith Smart is running scrimmages with an 11-second clock to force his team to get up and down the floor and into their offensive sets quicker. Smart has a young team that can really fly, but Thomas is at the forefront of that effort.

“I think that’s how we need to play from here on out,” Thomas said of the new offensive approach. “That only works in our favor.”

“I’ve coached those types of teams,” Smart said of trying to increase the Kings’ pace on the floor. “I’ve been around those types of teams. One thing we were doing is, the ball was sticking. We were running too many post ups, so our point and rate of production had gone down drastically.”

In the Kings’ back-to-back home wins this weekend, they scored a combined 237 points, 48 of those coming from Thomas. The pace was quick and the ball movement was solid. More importantly, the team was entertaining and beat two quality squads fighting for playoff spots.

In Sunday’s win over Houston, Thomas checked back into the game in the fourth quarter with the Kings’ trailing. He scored 17 of his 23 points down the stretch and turned a loss into a win almost single-handedly.

While Smart is getting inconsistent production from Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton, both proven NBA scorers, Thomas appears to be excelling. This is his type of game and this is quickly becoming his team.

Thomas still needs to work on his assist rate and get his teammates involved more in the offense, but we are seeing strides being made. Keep in mind that this is a player who in the span of less than a 120 games has gone from NBA doubtful to Kings starting point guard.

He is a player who has had to fight for everything and has earned the respect of both coaches and teammates. You don’t get to where he is without being a little bit feisty.

“He will be proving for the rest of his career that I belong,” Smart said. “And when you have that kind of chip on your shoulder – not an ego chip, but a chip that I want to learn, I want to get better, I want to continue to improve my game so I can become a really good player in the league.”

So enjoy watching Isaiah Thomas play in the Rising Stars Challenge this weekend. He deserves the invite and there is no way he is going to back down from anyone.


James Ham

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