Four seasons ago, Isaiah Thomas put up 28.9 points per game to finish third in scoring, led the Boston Celtics to the Eastern Conference finals and was named to the All-NBA Second Team alongside two-time MVP Stephen Curry. Since then, he's played just 84 games for four different teams.
The culprit has been his hip, which he originally injured during his magical 2016-17 campaign. He tried to go the extensive rehab route, but that proved unsuccessful, and he underwent arthroscopic surgery late in the 2017-18 season. But while that helped, it didn't solve all of his issues, and he's struggled both with his health and his game in recent seasons. Now, however, he says he has reason for hope.
Thomas underwent another hip procedure earlier this year, and said in an interview with Adrian Wojnarowski that he has "no more pain," and hopes to show teams he's ready to be a solid contributor again. Via ESPN:
"It's like night and day for me. There's no more pain. I've got my full range of motion. For three years, I was trying to play the best players in the world on one leg. I needed help from my kids to put my socks on in the morning.
"Now, I can lift weights. I can squat low. I can work out twice a day. I'm able to cut and move and stop, able to cut and go. I feel like I'm 31 years old again. And now, I have scientific evidence to show that."
"In some ways, the time off because of COVID was a blessing in disguise for my career. It allowed me to take the time to get this procedure done, and get back physically to a level I need to be to compete in the league. I made the right decision to do this, and I'm anxious to show people I can contribute to a team again."
In terms of the bigger picture, it's terrific news that Thomas is pain free after dealing with this issue for so many years. As he said, he was struggling just to put his socks on, and that has to be a miserable experience for anyone, let alone a professional athlete who was on top of the world just a few years ago. So that's the first thing. If nothing else, at least he'll be able to have a more enjoyable life with his wife and kids.
As for the basketball, it's more of a wait-and-see situation. He says he's no longer dealing with pain, and his doctor told Wojnarowski, "Before the surgery, you could see he was clearly favoring his right side; and that it was painful. It was natural to avoid pushing off and landing off [the left]. Four months post-op, we are seeing higher loads and seeing symmetry between the right and left."
The next step will be seeing it on the court before knowing exactly how much he can help a team. In 40 games with the Washington Wizards this season -- the most he's played since 2016-17 -- he put up 12.2 points and 3.7 assists in 23 minutes a night, and shot 41.3 percent from 3-point land.
But while it's clear he still has the talent and shooting ability, that has never really been the question over the last few seasons. Rather, it's been whether those traits are there at a high enough level to offset his poor defense, and justify how much he needs the ball. The lack of athleticism and mobility due to his hip injury has played a big role in that dilemma, as it's limited how effective he can be on the offensive end.
At this point, he's not going to ever going to be an All-NBA player again, but he doesn't have to be to earn a spot on a roster. If he looks as good physically as he feels, his shooting and scoring could be useful off the bench. Whether an NBA team agrees, however, remains to be seen.