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Thomas still working on weaknesses, has made great strides this season

When asked at the beginning of the season who I thought should start at the point for your Sacramento Kings, I said Aaron Brooks, no questions asked. For me, starting Isaiah Thomas was not even an option.

Fast forward to the present and, not only have I softened my stance against “The Pizza Guy” starting, but am finally seeing the reasons Coach Keith Smart has stuck with him since inserting him into the starting lineup in the first week of the regular season.

Isaiah Thomas lofts one up in the lane for an easy two

Let’s be honest here. After watching Tyreke Evans run the show for SacTown for nearly three years, I really struggled watching ‘Reke play the small forward late last year. I got the concept, but didn’t think it was the best way to utilize Evans.

Enter Aaron Brooks.

So now I’m thinking that Brooks is the answer and Thomas would be a solid backup. Considering that the Kings also signed James Johnson, moving Tyreke to the two made sense.

After not getting off to the start Coach Smart wanted, he benched Brooks and inserted Thomas into the starting five.

Of course, Thomas brought the flair and excitement that made him a crowd favorite right away at Sleep Train Arena.

But I was reading between the lines, so to speak.

Think about this. This team went from the fans and the players thinking that Evans was the savior and leader to DeMarcus Cousins being the next big thing to the last pick in the draft – and maybe the shortest – Isaiah Thomas being the one to lead Sacramento to the promised land.

That’s not only a tough transition for the loyalists that follow the team, but for the players themselves. And I think that some of that animosity has shown itself on the court this season.

Nonetheless, things are starting to settle down at the old barn and Thomas is finding his way.

Early on, my biggest issue with the second year player out of Washington was that he was hunting for his shot before looking to include his teammates in the action. Exactly the opposite of a point guard’s job. There were many games in which Thomas had 15-20 points and barely registered an assist.

Thomas gets the pleasure of guarding James Harden

Then there was the Philly game on March 24. One look at Thomas’ line and you would immediately notice. The super sophomore put up 25 points and hit four triples along the way. Did you see the rest of his numbers? Zero assists and zero steals. On paper, one of the most selfish games a point guard could have.

But not so fast says Coach Keith Smart.

“When I went back through the film, there were several occasions where he dropped the pass off to a couple of guys under the basket and they didn’t finish plays,’ said Coach Smart. “He made the plays to a couple of guys at the perimeter and they didn’t make their shots. As you see, the stat sheet says zero, but he did have six or seven plays he made where guys just simply didn’t make their shot.”

“He had a couple of plays where Tyreke came off on a screen right toward the elbow – all he had to do was throw up a jump shot, he was wide open – but he caught it and put it down. A couple times he dropped a pas of to “Cuz but he caught it and put it down two times and went to the basket.

“He was making plays, but that donut just stood there.”

Since then, Thomas has been much more consistent with his assists totals and Smart knows why.

“I think it (the zero assist game) it really stood out to him,” said Smart. “I keep telling him, you’ve got to have a plan for your assists. Kidd, Stockton, Nash – they get out of the gates fast. They get five assists in the first quarter or the first half. Now your on track for ten.”

The issue at hand now seems to be the same issue I’ve ever had with Tyreke Evans. Trying to do too much on his own. Forcing his way into the paint – even attempting to barrel through three guys in the middle – with little to no success.

Thomas’ weakness is very similar in that at times he dribbles and dribbles and dribbles and dribbles and dribbles – you get my point? – until there are either five seconds left on the shot clock or he has it taken away by one of the big guys clogging the lane.

Thomas goes into the jungle trying to beat Harden to the rack

Both are unacceptable and kill the teams momentum every time.

Both Smart and Thomas are aware of this and Smart had a suggestion for the player.

“He has to keep understanding space is his best friend on the floor,” said Smart. “He has a high dribble and he has to get to that point to where he can control that dribble. When guys like Nash and Steph Curry get into tight spots, they get real, real low with the basketball. He’s still at that stage where he is a very high dribbler.”

Thomas, who has corrected or is working on fixing the earlier issues I’ve brought up, understands that this may be the one that puts him over the top.

“If I can get as low as I can get, they don;t want to get as low as they can get because I’m already lower to the ground than they can get,” said Thomas.

How hard will it be for Thomas to learn a shorter, lower to the ground dribble?

“It’s not going not be that much harder,” continued Thomas. “I just have to watch film and really work on it, especially when I’m in the paint. Staying low and finding the cuts and openings to so I can make plays for myself and my teammates.”

“Once the season’s over, I’m going to watch a lot of film and really try and work on it and come back next year even better.”

So for you Pizza Guy lovers, I get it. He is exciting to watch and brings a needed intensity to the club.

If Thomas can truly stop forcing the issue at times and keep all his teammates involved (and hopefully happy – not all on him), the next growth spurt Thomas makes will be one into the national spotlight.

 

PHOTOS COURTESY OF:

RON NABITY

http://www.nabityphotos.com/index.htm

Francisco Garcia gets a standing “O” in his first game ever at Sleep Train Arena without a Kings uniform on.
Garcia and Tyreke Evans share a laugh at center court before the game

Chuck Hayes’ niece sang the heck out of the National Anthem
Jeremy Lin sprints past Thomas for an uncontested layup
Jason Thompson powers down a rebound for an easy score. Thompson finished with 17 points and 15 boards.
Travis Outlaw splits the defenders to get to the rim for a bucket
Francisco Garcia, one of my favorite Kings of all-time!
Bennett Salvatore gives DeMarcus Cousins the look before Big Cuz says something he can’t take back
Evans tries to lift one over Omer Asik’s outstretched arm
J.T. powers one down over a Rocket
Evans with another one os his patented whirling-dervish-reverse layups
Thomas tries a floater late in the game
Marcus Thornton had 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting
Chuck Hayes feeds the ball into the paint
Great sequence here – Cousins starts his move around Omer Asik . . .
. . . as Cousins lowers his shoulder . . .
. . . as he clears space under Asik’s arm on his way to the hoop

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