PORTLAND — Basketball’s version of Mr. Irrelevant has proven to be anything but.
Former University of Washington point guard Isaiah Thomas — the 60th and final pick of last June’s draft — has shown his value to the Kings goes beyond carrying bags and fetching donuts.
Entering Monday night’s game, the 5-foot-9 rookie was averaging 5.6 points and 14.3 minutes a game fro Sacramento. Impressive numbers? Not necessarily. Impactful numbers? Absolutely.
“He’s helped us win a couple games this year already,” Kings coach Keith Smart said of the Tacoma native. “He’s a willing student and is progressing at the right pace ... I trust him. I trust what he’s doing.”
Thomas averaged 16.7 points and six assists in his third and final year with the Huskies, and hit a game-winning buzzer beater to beat Arizona in the championship game of the conference tournament. However, that type of success rarely translates to the NBA for a playe rwho is shorter than the average male fan in attendance.
But Blazers coach Nate McMillan has known Thomas since he was even smaller — during his elementary years, to be specific — and is not surprised by the splash the little man has made in the big time.
“Guys like that, it’s a different confidence,” McMillan said. “He’s a tiny guy. You’re talking about guys like a Spud Webb or a Mugsy Bogues, guys that have made it to their levels at their size. It’s a different toughness.”
Thomas does not disagree. He said that not only did he expect himself to achieve what he has in the NBA, he expected more.
“When you’re small, you gotta have some sort of chip on your shoulder to get through this league,” Thomas said. “I’ve never been given anything in my life. So for me, all I can control is going as hard as I can.”
Thomas said he has yet to hear from McMillan this season despite their long-time relationship.
Asked how he felt about that non-communication Monday, Thomas smiled and said, “It hurts my heart. Hopefully he’ll say something tonight.”