NBA Free Agency Report: New Orleans Pelicans Now Set To Sign Veteran Guard Isaiah Thomas
Pelicans aiming to add veteran scoring guard
Isaiah Thomas has been without an NBA team for a while now, but that would drastically change soon. With the New Orleans Pelicans currently plagued by tons of injuries on their players, they have decided to audition Thomas for a role in head coach Stan Van Gundy’s rotation by signing him to a 10-day contract, as per Andrew Lopez of ESPN.
Thomas, who has notched two All-Star appearance in his career, was the 60thpick in the 2011 NBA Draft. But he immediately made an impact for the Sacramento Kings during his rookie year. He started in 37 games that year, and averaged a decent stat line of 11.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 0.8 steals per game.
It was during his third year with the Kings that Thomas first eclipsed the 20-point average in the scoring column, and it was already clear that he has what it takes to be a consistent and deadly scorer in the league. He then bounced to the Phoenix Suns, then was traded to the Boston Celtics in 2015.
It was with the Celtics that Thomas grew into a star. He was selected to the All-Star game twice, and notched a career-high 28.9 points per game during his career-best performance in the 2016-17 season. Thomas forged a great relationship with Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, who expressed his joy in seeing his former player suit up again for an NBA team.
As per Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe, Stevens expressed how thrilled he is for Thomas, and reiterated his belief that the veteran scoring point guard can make a difference out there for the Pelicans.
“I watched him play with Team USA and communicated with him a little bit around there. Really happy for him. I sent [Pelicans head coach Stan Van Gundy] a text right afterwards. I can't say enough good things about Isaiah. Obviously I can’t say enough good things about Isaiah,” Stevens said. “I’m brought back to how much I appreciate the way that that team played, and he was obviously the leader of the group. But he was so special here and so special to be around that you want the best for him, and this is a great opportunity.
I’m sure Isaiah’s going to kill it when he gets that opportunity,” Stevens said. “I’m sure it’s going to lead to a long-term opportunity, as we all hope.”
Of course, Thomas’ journey back to his NBA return was not an easy thing to do. After his career year in 2017, everything went spiralling downward for the dynamic 5-foot-9 guard. He suffered a hip injury that ultimately became the main reason why his on-court production and impact drastically dipped.
In the summer of 2017, Thomas was shipped to the Cleveland Cavaliers as a main piece in that famous Kyrie Irving trade deal. But he only played 15 games for the Cavaliers, and it was obvious that the hip injury was more serious than many people thought it should be. Thomas would only average 14.7 points and 4.5 assists during that span, including a very measly 36% overall clip from the field.
Thomas was then traded to the Los Angeles Lakers that same year, then bounced around the league, playing for the Denver Nuggets and the Washington Wizards in the next couple of years. However, it was clear that Thomas was not the same player as before, and he only played in limited games for each of those teams.
But Thomas has had an excellent bounce back year so far. He was part of the Team USA roster that competed in the FIBA qualifying tournament last February. Thomas led the team in scoring and he produced a stellar 50% clip from the three-point line in those two games. In an interview with ESPN Senior Insider Adrian Wojnarowski last offseason, Thomas revealed that he went through a procedure to heal his bothersome hip injury. Thomas said that the procedure was successful, and that it has resulted into him having not to play through the hip injury like he did in the past few years.
Thomas also chimed in his thoughts about the pandemic brought upon by the COVID-19 virus. While it is true that the effects of the pandemic have been devastating for everyone, he still had something positive to take away because it gave him the time to go through the hip procedure.
"It's like night and day for me," Thomas, 31, told ESPN. "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," Thomas said. "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."
As for the Pelicans, this is indeed a low-risk, high-reward move for them. Getting Thomas will not break the bank for them, and they don’t have to commit to him on a long-term basis. There is no doubt that the Pelicans are underperforming this season, evident in their record of only 21 wins against 27 defeats, which is only good for the 12th spot in the stacked Western Conference standings.
While it is true that their offense is ranked at the top half of the league, there is no doubt that their defense has not been as good. They give up 114.9 points per game to their opponents, which is the fifth-worst number in the league. They only block 4.2 shots per game as a team, and only 7.1 steals per contest. This is a mind-boggling series of stats for a team that boasts a bevy of good defenders in Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Eric Bledsoe, not to mention that they also have two other frontcourt players in Zion Williamson and Steven Adams whose unique physical gifts can greatly contribute on that end of the floor.
So it is without a doubt that the Pelicans must improve on the defensive end of the floor. They have shown some promise on defense as of late when they won tough contests against playoff contenders like the Denver Nuggets, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Dallas Mavericks and the Boston Celtics.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who is currently putting up numbers of 10.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 steals per contest this season, detailed out why it is very important for his team to really be committed on defense. As per Jim Eichenhofer of NBA.com, Alexander-Walker said that they have to take pride in their defensive schemes so as to move past teams in the West standings. He says that when they put up a good defensive play, it usually translates to a better performance on the other end of the floor.
Alexander-Walker also chimed in his thoughts on the Pelicans’ push towards the playoffs, particularly for the play-in tournament for the last two playoff sports in the Western Conference.
“Being able to take pride in it. That Minnesota game was kind of like a reality check, in a sense. That’s what it was to me. That feeling we had, we didn’t want to be there again. I think I speak for all of us when I say we understand what we need to do to win, and that’s defending. In order to make a playoff run, to make a push to try to get into that eighth spot, it’s definitely about getting stops. We’ve used that to our advantage.
You have (Zion) who attracts (defensive attention). You have Brandon (Ingram), who has always been a willing passer in double-teams. Guys are shooting the ball with confidence, taking their time, understanding the flow of the offense and shooting open shots, not turning down open shots. And the ball movement has been great. When you have all of those things come together, it puts us where we are right now. Personally for me, I block it out, because I’m the kind of guy who needs to focus on just what I can control – the team trying to win games. But I know the team’s aware. We talk about what we need to do and where we’re at right now, and how we can get into those (playoff) spots. Looking at our schedule, understanding that we’ve got to go on a run, go on some streaks.”
As for Thomas’ potential niche in the Pelicans’ rotation, it is highly expected that he will be coming off the bunch to provide a much-needed scoring punch in the second unit. The Pelicans recently shipped veteran sharpshooter JJ Redick to the Dallas Mavericks, so it is without a doubt that they are in need of another perimeter shooter that can help space out the floor on offense.
On top of that, the Pelicans are also dealing with tons of injuries on their roster. Ball is dealing with a hip injury, Hart is still recovering from a thumb injury, Ingram is currently out due to a foot injury, and Zion has suffered a thumb injury. Those four players take up the lion’s share of the team’s offensive schemes, so it is just right that the Pelicans front office opted to bring in a proven scorer who can also make plays for his teammates.
It remains to be seen if Thomas can garner a significant amount of playing time when the Pelicans’ key cogs return from their respective injuries. But there is no doubt that he will immediately see minutes on the court, and maybe even close out games for the Pelicans. As per William Guillory of The Athletic, shot creation is the main thing that Van Gundy and the rest of the Pelicans coaching staff are expecting to get from Thomas.
Guillory also detailed out why it is important that the Pelicans only gave Thomas a 10-day contract, instead of immediately signing him to a contract that will last for the rest of the season.
The Pelicans need to fill out the back end of the roster without dipping into the luxury tax and using 10-day deals is the easiest way to do that. Thomas is a veteran in a position of need and he has some familiarity with guys on the roster like Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram from his time in L.A. I don't expect Thomas to play a huge role, but he could provide some help to a young guy like Kira Lewis Jr. as he works to find his way in the league.
It's hard to tell because he has been away from the game so long. We know he's remained active and played with Team USA in the Fiba AmeriCup, where he looked pretty decent. I'm not expecting him to get big minutes, but head coach Stan Van Gundy loves veteran guards and the Pels need more shot creation in the backcourt. If he does have anything left in the tank, this will be a good situation for him to put it on display.
With tons of injuries on their roster, the Pelicans have lost their past couple of games, including a lopsided defeat at the hands of Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks. After that disappointing loss, the Pelicans are now set to embark on a three-game road trip that will feature games against John Wall and the Houston Rockets, a tough contest against James Harden and the Brooklyn Nets, and a rematch with Young and the Hawks.