NBA All-Star Game 2017: Isaiah Thomas for MVP? Celtics star says 'Why not?'
The only thing Boston's star little guy needs is the minutes and a hot start to steal the show
NEW ORLEANS -- All the talk about the MVP of Sunday’s All-Star Game leading into the event is about Russell Westbrook. There’s an expectation of Westbrook going off amidst his Warriors teammates. It’s an easy narrative, a simple concept, a tasty bite of NBA drama being extrapolated out to an award that’s been difficult to predict in the past.
But ... what about Isaiah Thomas?
“We’ll see,” Thomas said Saturday when asked if he would gun for MVP, his face breaking out in that wolf-in-sheep’s clothing grin he’s known for. “If I get the minutes ... why not?”
The Boston Celtics’ point guard is playing the best ball of any of the competitors headed into the night, at least as far as what defines All-Star MVP goes. That award isn’t about defense, or team wins. You need buckets. And Thomas has averaged 32 points per game since January 1, while shooting 48 percent from the field. He’s playing at his peak, and he’s healthy. That matters when we talk about the best competitor to snag the award.
Then there’s opportunity. The man in charge of those minutes Sunday is Thomas’ own coach, Brad Stevens, and Thomas admitted he would be lobbying Stevens the way he does in-game to get more minutes. Stevens admitted he’ll have Thomas breathing down his neck, and if Thomas gets off to a hot start when he comes in, it’s possible that he’ll generate the kind of minutes necessary. That will depend on how much Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan, the starters, want to play. But Thomas stands with a real opportunity to go for it. He heats up faster than anyone. That’s key because he’ll have to get out to a hot start for the others to be OK with giving him a run at it.
There’s the motivation. Thomas badly wanted to make the All-Star team, and while he’s been in town, he’s been ever-present, doing media appearances, sponsorship spots, and very much embracing the moment. Thomas is not content to be “one of the NBA stars,” he genuinely brings a mindset of wanting to take over the whole weekend and establish himself as one of the elite players in this league, even at 5-foot-9. You have to want it, if you’re going to nab that title. You don’t luck into it. Basically players go out, and if they get hot, they start to try a little harder, and that’s essentially all you have to do to win All-Star MVP. You’re already good enough, you just have to try.
And of course, there’s the mentality. You have to be willing to kind of stat hunt a little bit, or gun on the offensive end. Thomas has all of that. There’s no defense in the All-Star Game, so it’ll be like almost any minute he’s on the floor anyway.
Thomas is in a fascinating place in the NBA zeitgeist. On one hand, he’s well liked by the players, and has emerged as the best player on the second-best team in the East. He’s being listed on various early MVP ballots, despite how much the Celtics’ defense suffers when he’s on the floor. But there’s still an air of disbelief when it comes to a player of his stature being a serious threat to be the best player in the NBA. Winning All-Star MVP wouldn’t change those minds, but it would definably put him into the conversation, when put in consideration with how the rest of his season has gone.
Thomas isn’t the “sexy” pick for All-Star MVP. But with how many of the other top candidates will need rest, and how awkward things could be for Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, Thomas has a window. He knows it, and you know he’ll go for it. After all, no one splits the defense and gets to the rim as fast as Thomas.
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