ATLANTA – When the question about being league MVP was broached to Isaiah Thomas recently, in very typical Isaiah Thomas fashion, he didn’t mince his words.
He told the throng of us media folks surrounding him just hours before breaking the Hawks’ heart with a game-winning jumper on Friday, that only Houston’s James Harden and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook should be ahead of him in the league MVP race.
We all smiled when he said that because we all thought it was pretty funny.
Still, if you take a step back for moment and examine the kind of season he’s having and look at some of the usual suspects for league MVP (LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard) and the front-runners Thomas accurately identified, you have to ask yourself...is he for real?
He is for real, but the idea of him being the league’s MVP is far-fetched.
But I will say this much.
The way he has elevated his game this season, as well as the play of those around him and the Celtics franchise as a whole, that warrants at a minimum – AT A MIINIMUM – him being in the conversation when you’re talking about the top five or six candidates for the honor.
He has been like David Blaine to the Celtics’ franchise records, making them disappear while leaving us all gasping for air wondering, ‘how the hell did he do that?’
But forget about the franchise-record 29 points he scored in the fourth quarter to beat Miami earlier this season, or the 44-point performance he had at Memphis just hours after revealing a semi-mangled looking finger on his (left) shooting hand; or even the career-high 52 points in the Heat win, which was the most by a Celtics guard ever.
Thomas has the seal of approval from a couple of former Celtics in Shaquille O’Neal and Kevin Garnett, one of the most respected players of his generation and a card-carrying member of the straight-no-chaser club when it comes to praising players – something KG didn’t do a lot of when he played.
But during the Celtics’ trip to Atlanta, KG kept it real on the set of his show, ‘Area 21,’ when he told Thomas and a national audience that in his mind, the 5-foot-9 Thomas is in the conversation in his mind for the league’s MVP award.
You could tell that meant so much to Thomas, to have his game viewed on that level by a former league MVP such as Garnett.
Rest assured, if the Celtics media relations crew decides to mount a Thomas for MVP campaign, KG’s comments will be remembered as the catalyst.
And if a campaign never materializes, that’s cool with Thomas.
Because knowing how KG feels about his game this season, that’s rewarding enough.
“I don’t really care what anybody else says but my peers and people that did it before me,” Thomas said. “They really know what it takes to be great. Hearing stuff like that from KG is like … I always say all the time it doesn’t seem real to hear the guys who did it before me, such greats and legends the way those two are, to talk highly of me is unbelievable.”
League MVP is just another one of the many way-the-hell-out-there things that for now at least, just doesn’t seem realistically possible for Thomas.
As Thomas mentioned, Oklahoma City’s Westbrook and Houston’s Harden are easily the two front-runners thus far.
But as the 60th and final pick in the 2011 NBA draft, making an NBA roster was a longshot for Thomas. Once he did that, becoming an NBA starter seemed a bit far-fetched too.
Becoming an All-Star last season?
Nobody but Thomas thought that was doable.
So, while the idea of him getting MVP this season has little to no chance of happening, I’m not betting against this dude over the long run.
He’s proven doubters wrong far too many times to put any kind of limit or cap on what he can achieve in the NBA.