One-on-One: Should Isaiah Thomas be an All-Star Game starter?

Isaiah Thomas

Each week, two Red’s Army writers will shadowbox in a written word showdown– taking opposite sides of a Celtics-related question. This week, Jordan Higgs (@EreJordan) and Ben Mark (@bmark86) debate whether or not Isaiah Thomas should be an all-star starter

Jordan: Isaiah Thomas should be an all-star starter

I can’t believe there’s any debate about this: Of course Isaiah Thomas should be an All-Star starter. I’ll be the first to concede that Kyle Lowry is a lock: The Raptors are the second seed in the east (for now) and Kyle Lowry is a demon on both ends of the floor. That said, the second spot belongs to Thomas. Thomas is currently fourth in the league in points per game (28.4)–first among Eastern Conference Guards–and first in fourth quarter scoring (10.1). If he is able to maintain those numbers it’ll be the best fourth quarter scoring performance in twenty years. No matter what offensive metric you look at Isaiah has been a dominant force, eclipsing the rest of the Eastern Conference guard crop.

I feel like John Wall is Thomas’s main competition for this spot (Irving and Kemba are similar types of players and Thomas is crushing them in just about any metric) so I wanna address the argument for him directly. Yes John Wall is putting up crazy assist numbers (10.1 assist per game) but Thomas still has been respectable in that department  (6.1 assists per game) with a superior-if-comparable assist to turnover ratio (2.5 to Wall’s 2.3). Even if Wall is a better passer, his offensive game just isn’t as impactful, as Thomas leads him both in PER (26.9 to 23.6) and Offensive Win Shares (5.7 to 2.7). Bottom Line: Thomas is far and away more impactful on the offensive end because what little he cedes in the passing department he more than makes up for with his scoring and efficiency.

And then there’s the argument that Wall is the superior defender. I’m not going to argue defense doesn’t matter–it does, that’s why I’ve deemed Kyle Lowry a lock. Isaiah Thomas is at least six inches shorter than John Wall and despite his best efforts it’s near impossible for him to defend effectively. But does it matter? When we look at a metrics that measures a player’s overall impact like VORP Isaiah Thomas and John Wall are neck in neck (2.2 and 2.3 respectively). Yes there are other metrics–Thomas leads in Win Shares while Wall spanks him in Real-Plus Minus–but I think the numbers here are close enough that it’s hard to make a clear case for Wall over Thomas.

When it’s this close you’ve got to give the edge to the guy on who’s the best player on the third best team in the conference and is putting up historic numbers. Not to mention the MVP buzz. Yeah, maybe John Wall is a better player, but Isaiah Thomas is having a better season and the All-Star lineups should reflect that. You’d be hard pressed to convince me otherwise.

Ben: Isaiah Thomas should not be an all-star starter

It’s late on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of May in Toronto and save for a few, stray “Let’s go Celtics!” chants from Bostonians who made the trip across the border, the noise in the Air Canada Centre barely registers. The Celtics have just won game seven of the Eastern Conference semifinals, carried by their diminutive point guard, Isaiah Thomas. Thomas was torrid all series long, but saved his best for the decisive game seven—going at point guard Kyle Lowry all afternoon and drilling a go-ahead three with five seconds to go, right over his outstretched hand. Thomas then turned towards a delirious Cs bench and yelled “who’s the all-star starter now!”

Ok, we can stop the day-dream, but you get the point. My argument against Isaiah Thomas starting the all-star game has less to do with his lack of merit and more to do with the potential positive effects of his getting snubbed. Isaiah Thomas’ game is 80% skill and 20% chip—as in a ginormous chip on the man’s shoulder from slights, perceived and legitimate, which he’s faced since he first picked up a ball. If Isaiah Thomas is passed on a starting spot in favor of Lowry, John Wall, Kemba Walker or Kyrie Irving, he’ll use it as fuel for the rest of the season. All of those other point guards are likely playoff-bound in the East, meaning there’s a fair chance Isaiah meets at least one of them in the NBA’s second season. Just imagine how badly he’ll want to lay waste to any of those guys if they were deemed more worthy of a starting spot.

Alright—back to the day-dream: It’s the 2017 off-season, with the draft just a week away. Paul George is growing frustrated with the Indiana Pacers, and in a telling interview with Adrian Wojnarowski drops this nugget: “I just feel like, in the prime of my career, it would be great to be teamed with a play-maker. Not saying it needs to be this guy, but I had a ton of fun in New Orleans playing next to Isaiah Thomas. Playing with a guy like that, I think, would really help my career.”

To the present day: Isaiah referenced holding court with all-stars in Toronto last year and whatever groundwork was laid may have helped the Celtics land Al Horford. Give IT a chance to run the second unit for the east all-stars and make an impression with a disgruntled star. He won’t have to share ball-handling duties with Lebron James or Giannis, near locks for starting nods once the media and fans vote. The dude cut his teeth in the league as a sixth-man-extraordinaire and it will be fun as hell to watch him enter the game and immediately start cooking. Whether it’s Jimmy Butler or Paul George on the second unit with Thomas, there’s a chance to continue planting the seed that Boston is a team on the rise with a solid core and Thomas as an all-NBA type of teammate.

Does Isaiah deserve to start? Jordan lays out a compelling argument and it’s hard for me to poke holes. But imagine a world in which Isaiah gets snubbed… It may not be so bad after all.

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