BOSTON — Isaiah Thomas is a very talented scorer, but to quote a popular Geico commercial: “Everybody knows that.”
Yet the Boston Celtics point guard is working very hard to improve another part of his game, and it showed Friday night.
Thomas tallied a season-high 10 assists to go along with his 23 points, helping Boston earn an impressive win over the Atlanta Hawks at TD Garden.
Thomas usually doesn’t rack up the assists — he averaged just 4.2 helpers per game last season — but early-season injuries to Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley have placed a heavier playmaking burden on the 5-foot-9 guard’s shoulders.
According to head coach Brad Stevens, Thomas is relishing the extra responsibility.
“He studies the game — we sat down (Thursday) for a little bit of time, and he had already watched all his clips and watched the (film),” Stevens said Friday. “I don’t think that’s unusual — I think a lot of guys do that — but I think he really delves into it.”
The fruits of Thomas’ labors were on display Friday night, as the guard showed excellent court vision on plays like this one, where he found Jae Crowder for an easy layup:
Thomas knows there’s still room to get better, though, and Stevens saw that desire for improvement right off the bat.
“He made a really good pass to Amir (Johnson) on the first play and was a little bit late in delivering it to him on the second, and he came over and just said, ‘I’ve got to get it to him quicker,'” Stevens said. “He’s studying the game and thinking the game, and that’s good. We need him to spray the ball around as much as we need him to score.”
Indeed, Thomas is the team’s go-to scorer, and his offensive production down the stretch was a key part of Boston’s win. But if the 26-year-old can make opposing teams respect his ability to pass, the reward could be even more open looks and high-quality scoring chances.
Striking the balance between scoring and distributing can be tricky, but as Stevens alluded to, Thomas is willing to put in the work to improve.
“I just try to go out there and make the right play each and every time down,” Thomas said. “I’m still getting better at that: figuring out when to score and when to be a facilitator.”
Thumbnail photo via Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports Images