Fantasy Basketball: Isaiah Thomas' Surge Is for Real
By just about any measure, this is Isaiah Thomas' best NBA season.
The 5'9" point guard has been on a tear in recent games, scoring 52 points two games ago and dishing out 15 assists in his most recent contest -- both career highs.
His Boston Celtics sit at 21-14 on the year and may be just a tier below the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference (and the might also be merely just a tier above the rest of the East, as well).
But one thing is for sure: Thomas' production should be here to stay.
In 9-category leagues on Yahoo!, Thomas ranks 17th this season in terms of per-game averages and 23rd overall. That's a full round of value ahead of his preseason rank (36).
Our fantasy rankings also have him 17th.
That's what happens when you average 27.8 points, 2.6 three-pointers, 6.4 assists, 2.5 rebounds, 0.9 steals, and 2.2 turnovers on 45.3% shooting from the field and 90.5% shooting from the line.
Those are career highs in points, threes, assists, field goal percentage, and free-throw percentage.
The production is great, and his value has been welcome, but the better news is that there's a good chance he can keep this going.
He's attempting 7.3 three-pointers per game, easily a career high, and he's converting around his career-average rate at 36.4% this season. Combining that with a career-best two-point field goal percentage (50.8%), and Thomas owns an effective field goal percentage of 52.3%, tops in his six-year career.
Perhaps you're seeing the elevated per-game attempts from beyond the arc and waiting for regression, but his three-point attempt rate (the percentage of his field goals that are actually three-pointers) is .385. In his career, it's .369.
That's all thanks to attempting 28.2 field goals per 100 possessions, up from a career rate of 22.6 and a jump from his 25.5 mark last year.
More impressive yet is his free-throw rate. He's attempting .470 free throws per field goal attempt. His career rate is .389, and he's topped .400 just once before (back in 2014-15).
So, he's getting to the line more frequently (and remember -- shooting a career-best 90.5% from the stripe) and not really doing much in the way of relying on the three too heavily or converting from deep at an unsustainable rate.
Thomas has never possessed a usage rate higher than 30% in his career. This season, he's up to 33.4% while posting a career-low turnover rate of just 8.9% (it's 12.6% in his career).
And it's not as if he's simply isolating and ignoring teammates. Just 8.7% of his possessions are isolation plays, ranking 90th among 314 players with at least 15 games played. But his points per possession on isolation plays (1.31) is tops among 114 players to attempt such a play on at least 7% of their possessions.
Overall, he grades out in the 98th percentile in isolation per-play efficiency among qualified players.
Thomas ranks top-12 in pick-and-roll ball-handler situations, too, with 261 such plays this year. He grades out in the 83rd percentile in efficiency on those plays, scoring 0.97 points per possession.
Thomas has been surging in the box score -- make no mistake. But the underlying stats show that he's capable of sustaining his fantasy prowess.
He is converting at his usual rate from beyond the arc but is simply shooting more of them by being on the floor for 33.5 minutes and maintaining a career-high usage rate. He's getting to the line with a higher frequency than ever before and is converting at, sure, a career-best rate, but he's a career 86.9% free-throw shooter.
His assist rate is up to a career-high 34.7% (again, nothing too far from his 29.5% career mark), and his turnover rate is lower than ever.
This isn't a case of wacky percentages. This is a case of a big-time player finally being able to play like a big-time player, and fantasy owners are reaping the benefits. Our algorithms see him as the ninth-best fantasy asset moving forward.