Aww hell, here’s a pass Isaiah Thomas made last night.
This fuckup makes sense, to a degree: Thomas is playing just his sixth game with the Lakers, which means some discord between him and his new teammates can be expected. His hip is, it seems safe to say, still not fully recovered from getting more or less popped out of its socket less than a year ago. It’s also entirely too easy to pick on a single bad pass, one tiny moment from a game that the Lakers won. All true enough. But.
None of those explanations, even taken together, quite explain just how out of sync Thomas looks, in this play and in general. He looked broken throughout his short and disastrous stint with the Cavs, and he looks even more forlorn now that he’s been exiled to play out the string with a lousy team; that his hell season now means he has little to no chance at getting anyone to back up the Brinks truck when he hits free agency only makes things worse. It’s all very bad! Thomas is shooting threes more often than ever before in his career, hitting them less frequently than ever before in his career, and while he’s still scoring at the rim better than any person under six feet should be able to, Thomas is getting none of the nifty floater action in the lane that made him a legitimate MVP candidate just last year. The less said about his defense the better.
When this lost season ends, Thomas will be a free agent. His value is going to be very difficult to gauge, and there’s really no way of knowing if he’ll continue to be as bad as he’s been this year. His fucked-up hip will probably keep him from ever again being the best player on a conference finalist, but there is a wide range of possible outcomes below that. He might just be what he is right now. He might be some version of Isaiah Thomas again. He’ll almost certainly land somewhere in between.
I don’t know any more about the likelihood of any of that than you do, but it is still worth remembering how good Isaiah Thomas was. The dude dropped 53 on the Wizards in the second round last season, finished fifth in MVP voting, and generally behaved like an untouchable plucky badass all the while. He played like that in Sacramento, too, and during his brief stint in Phoenix. More than his diminutive stature, the giddy heights of Peak Thomas were defined by that sense of brashness. He’d fly into the lane at centers and finish over and around them, relishing contact instead of avoiding it. He’d get up and talk shit. It was wonderful.
And for all that Thomas seems to be trying to rediscover this year, it’s that edge that’s missing more than anything. Perhaps his inability to chill is what drove a wedge between he and LeBron James in the first place—by all accounts, that Cavs locker room really was poisonous, and Thomas sure never did shut up—but seeing him on the court so obviously putting in time rather than trying to destroy everyone/everything he faces is disconcerting and sad. Maybe his hip injury really has robbed him of a crucial amount of his athleticism, and that whatever he’s lost will be enough to keep him from ever being an all-star again, or, more ominously, keep him from playing like Isaiah Thomas. I hope not, because a fully functioning Isaiah Thomas is one of the most fun players in the NBA. He deserves better than whatever has happened to him this year.