By Liam McKeone
Let’s get one thing straight: this is not an argument against Russell Westbrook or James Harden. They’re both having preposterous seasons, averaging triple-doubles and leading their teams into the playoffs in the tough Western Conference. One of those two will win the MVP, and it will be well-deserved. But, what Isaiah Thomas is doing in Boston is worth looking over when talking about the 2017 MVP.
A lot of things would have to go right for IT to have a chance at winning MVP, but even now, he checks a lot of the boxes voters will look for. High points per game average? He’s second in the league in points per game, only trailing Westbrook with 30ppg. Is his team winning? The Celtics currently have the two seed and are looking to make a deep playoff push while they creep up on the Cavs for the first seed. Clutch factor? Thomas is their guy, the one they go to when they need a bucket more than anything else. Brad Stevens is a certified wizard with his ability to draw up plays, but when it matters most, he just lets Thomas take the ball, wave off his teammates, and try to score. Time and time again, when the clock is winding down, Thomas goes one-on-one with his man and usually beats him. IT is averaging an absurd 10 points just in the fourth quarter. He’s the most clutch player in the league by a wide margin right now. When the game is on the line, there’s no one better to take the last shot. You can always count on him to ice the game too; he’s shooting 91 percent from the free throw line, and it’s always a shock if he even misses one attempt in a game.
While Thomas is having an excellent season by any standards, it isn’t something out of this world. Not very many players have had the success Thomas has in the fourth quarter, but some have. This isn’t something voters have never seen before, so it’s a tough argument. But, if IT can catch a few breaks, it could happen. With Kevin Love out for the next six weeks, Boston has a very legitimate chance of stealing the one-seed from Cleveland. It will require LeBron to decide that the one-seed doesn’t matter that much, since he could single-handedly prevent Boston from taking it if he wants to. Celtics fans just have to hope he doesn’t feel like it, with all the mileage he already has on his body. Thomas would have to overtake Westbrook and take the scoring title as well. Westbrook is at 31.1 and Thomas is at 29.9, so that’s not completely out of the realm of possibility. If Thomas is the leading scorer in the NBA on one of the league’s best teams record-wise, then he has a serious case for the award.
His success is even more impressive considering the narrative surrounding Thomas. He’s 5’9”, was drafted with the very last pick of the NBA draft, and bounced around for a while before finally landing in Boston. No one has really wanted him; Sacramento drafted him, but when the time came to re-sign him to a new contract, they opted to believe that Darren Collison was their point guard of the future and let IT leave. So he went to Phoenix, who thought they wanted him, to try and team up with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe in a three-point-guard experiment. That, obviously, did not work out, and Danny Ainge traded for him in February of 2015. Thomas has flourished since then, embracing the city and the team as he helped transform the Celtics from a lottery team to playoff contenders.
Now, IT is an All-Star, he’s scoring at will and he’s winning games. The Little Guy is having a career season, and he should be in the conversation with Westbrook and Harden as the Most Valuable Player in the league. He keeps succeeding, despite the odds; he’s made his way from being the short 60th overall pick to the face of one of the most successful franchises in the NBA. Let’s see if he can pull off another upset and win the MVP.