Second-round draft picks tend to carry limited value, and for good reason: the second round is, for the most part, a complete and utter crapshoot. That being said, a vast majority of second-round talent rummaging around today’s NBA was plucked late. Prime examples include Carlos Boozer and DeAndre Jordan, who were both selected with pick 35, and Chandler Parsons was taken with pick No. 38. Still, it’s pretty much unheard of for the last pick to become something in the Association, and that’s where Isaiah Thomas – the one who inked a four-year, $27 million sign-and-trade deal with Phoenix – was drafted.
At the Reebok Classic Breakout hosted at Philadelphia University, Dime sat down to catch up with Zeke about the free agency process, his developing game, his life off the court and shattering the expectations that came with his size and draft slot.
He’s coming off of a career year in which he took on another big role in Sacramento, starting at point guard in 54 games and averaging a career high 20.3 points and 6.3 assists in 34.7 minutes per game. He also shot over 45 percent from the field while sporting career highs in player efficiency rating (20.5) and win shares (7.7). Perhaps that’s why Phoenix signed him to such a lucrative offer sheet, one which the Kings did not want to match.
[Ed. note: Thomas hadn’t yet been dealt to Phoenix in a sign-and-trade at the time this interview took place]
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Dime: Last year you made a really big jump offensively. You proved you’re not undersized and can create your own shot – you actually shot 55 percent in the paint. What are you looking to build on in the coming seasons?
Isaiah Thomas: Just becoming a more complete basketball player. In all aspects, I feel like I can be better at everything. I just want to continue to work, and come back so people are like ‘man, he’s gotten better’. That’s all I want people to think and say and when they see me play, they’re gonna know that I put in work.
Dime: Yeah, for sure. And you made a big jump in minutes too, as well as a big jump in usage after Greivis Vasquez went to Toronto. How much of your improvement do you owe to Mike Malone?
IT: A lot. Ever since day one, he’s loved my game, been 100% real with me, given me the opportunity to showcase my skills. The whole coaching staff with the Sacramento Kings has been the best coaching staff I’ve had in my three years, and they’ve really helped me morph into the player I am today.
Dime: Speaking of your coaching staff, this was your third coach in three seasons in the NBA. I know that’s tough on the maturation of a player. How much does that affect your development as a player and also your decision in free agency, with the possibility of a fourth coach in four seasons looming?
IT: It’s tough, but at the same time that’s just the business of the NBA. You never know if you’re gonna have a coach for however many years, you just gotta do your job, and that’s being a pro and continuing to work hard and doing whatever is asked of you. So, I mean, it’s crazy to have three coaches in three years, but at the same time, I just continue to just be me, and do whatever I can to get my team wins.
Dime: Yeah, and talking about free agency, one aspect of a player that’s really overlooked is his family. You’ve spoken to us in the past and noted that you have two sons to think about. How much does that factor into free agency and how much is that on a player’s mind when he’s making big decisions like this?
IT: It’s big. I mean, when you have a family, you gotta think of how your kids are gonna be raised, where you’re gonna live, if it’s a cold area, if it’s nice. I mean, at the end of the day, you have to do what’s best for yourself, because at the end of the day the teams are doing what’s best for them. But family really comes into it, and people don’t usually really think of that aspect, and it’s very important.
Dime: For free agency, you say you have to do what’s best for you, it obviously helps in your development as a point guard to play off of a lights-out shooter, for pick-and-pop and drive-and-kick purposes. The Kings just drafted one in Nik Stauskas. What are your thoughts on that pick, and have you guys been in touch?
IT: Yeah, we have, a little bit before he got drafted, because we actually attended the same prep school. We didn’t go there the same years, but he went a couple years after I did. I talked to him during March Madness, and we have a cool little relationship, and he’s definitely gonna help the Kings out tremendously. He’s a great shooter, an underrated ball-handler and a guy that can make plays.
What do you think?
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