The craziness of free agency has descended upon us.
As of midnight on July 1st, NBA teams were allowed to sign free agents to offer sheets. And as the clock struck 12, the rumors began flying left and right. LeBron James might be the biggest name in free agency right now, and every team with cap space is seemingly trying to make a run at him. However, there are other quality players out there that present to be more suitable fits for the Golden State Warriors.
And one of those players is Sacramento Kings guard, Isaiah Thomas, not to be confused with Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas. For those that don’t know, Isaiah is a 5-foot, 9-inch point guard who was the last pick of the 2011 NBA Draft. Under the Kings tutelage, he has blossomed into a dynamic score-first guard who is not afraid of putting his head down and driving to the basket. Thomas shot 54.1% in the paint (with 68.5% at the rim), where 40% of his shots were taken. Isaiah is capable of creating his own shot, as most of his shots were unassisted; with only 24.1% of his 2-point attempts being assisted.
Thomas prefers to attack the basket on his drives, or tries for 3-point attempts (where he shot 35% for the season). He rarely settles for midrange shots (only 27.6% of his shots were between the paint and 3-point line). While averaging 20.3 points a game, he also averaged 6.3 assists a game. He got to the free throw line 8.3 times a game, and shot 85%. As you can see, his offensive stats are impressive – in a team where three players averaged more than 20 points a game, Thomas’ offensive rating was highest for his team (minimum 500 minutes played). He is ranked 25th in the league for points per possession in ‘Isolation’ sets (0.98 pop). For an undersized guard, that is an impressive feat. His other strengths include running the pick and roll, where he operated 41.7% of the time and scored 0.89 points per possession (28th in the league).
However, Thomas is not without his weaknesses. Thomas struggles defensively at times, where his size can be a huge disadvantage (no pun intended). He is often guilty of reaching and overplaying for steals. His size prevents him from fighting over screens, and can often be caught out of position. He can be quite erratic when handling the ball (averaging 3.1 turnovers a game). At times, he may develop tunnel vision, where all he can see is the rim and is hellbent on scoring. That said, he can never be faulted for not trying and has improved on the defensive end under former Warriors assistant head coach, Mike Malone.
Ultimately, the decision whether to let Thomas leave is in the Kings’ hands. Thomas is a restricted free agent, with many teams expressing their interest in him. Reports have claimed that teams are willing to offer a starting salary of $6-7 million per year, and rumor has it that the Pistons have offered $24 million over three years. The Warriors, unfortunately do not have the cap space to sign Thomas outright. They can seek to shed some salary to drop just below the cap, which would allow them to enter the bidding war. The other method would be to do a sign-and-trade deal with the Kings, with their $9 million traded player exception as a tool for matching salaries. The Kings have not said whether they intend to match any offers for Thomas, but their current salaries stand at $66 million, which does not leave them with too much flexibility.
The Warriors need a bench leader – a sixth man to come off the bench and spell Curry when he needs a break. Thomas is a dynamic ball handler who can score easily – a problem that the Warriors’ bench encountered on several occasions last season. Thomas may even play alongside Curry, where Curry can function as a space creator and 3 point threat. More importantly, signing Thomas to an offer sheet does not hamper the Warriors’ chance at acquiring Kevin Love in a trade.
The Warriors trialled Kent Bazemore, Steve Blake, Jordan Crawford, and Toney Douglas as their backup point guard last season. That experiment failed. The search for a quality backup point guard continues, and the Warriors may have just found their man. The possibilities for success are there; it’s just a matter of whether the salary cap allows it to remain a mere possibility or become a true reality.