If Washington point guard Isaiah Thomas is to turn his early NBA draft entry into a successful risk, it will probably be because his advisers and supporters helped lift him to his lifelong dream.
He’s getting bad advice.
Those words are ubiquitous in college basketball every spring. Too many players receive bad counseling, make ill-fated leaps to the pros and fail to do anything worthy of acclaim for the rest of their careers. Therefore, the natural reaction to every promising yet unpolished hoops star who declares for the NBA draft is to scrutinize his support system and consider adult greed the root of an athlete’s potential downfall.
He’s getting bad advice. If NBA draft criticism had an easy button, you’d press it, and James Earl Jones’ voice would announce that judgment.
In Isaiah Thomas’ case, however, such an assumption is erroneous. In fact, if the Washington point guard is to turn his early NBA draft entry into a successful risk, it will probably be because his advisers and supporters helped lift him to his lifelong dream.
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With his draft stock a polarizing subject because of his 5-foot-9 frame and score-first reputation, Thomas has a difficult road ahead of him over the next 2 ½ months. But he also seemingly has every basketball idol from this region willing to assist him. So while the main question is whether Thomas is ready to be a pro, the underlying and most fascinating aspect of Thomas’ challenge is whether this basketball community can help him prove that his decision to skip his senior season was a wise one.
From former Sonics superstar Gary Payton to homegrown heroes such as Jason Terry, Jamal Crawford and Brandon Roy, Thomas has mountains of support beyond what his family provides. And though Thomas decided to shun conventional wisdom in making this leap, he did so with a realistic understanding of the pros and cons of his choice. He isn’t going to the NBA because his peers irresponsibly flattered him. He’s going because he truly thinks now is his time to impress NBA talent evaluators because he showed tremendous improvement as a true point guard this past season and because, outside of potential No. 1 pick Kyrie Irving, this draft lacks depth at point guard.
“He’s going into this with his eyes open,” said Terry, a Franklin High School graduate and Dallas Mavericks guard, who thinks of Thomas like a family member. “He has to put in the work to get to where he wants to go, but I’m going to help him in any way I can. A lot of people are. I think this is going to work out for him.”
Thomas made his stunning announcement to forgo his senior season at Washington about 10 days ago. His difficult choice came after several days of consultation with family, Washington coach Lorenzo Romar and several players he admires. Terry was among that select group, and I caught up with him last weekend before a game in Oakland, Calif.
Thomas, who had announced his plans only a few days earlier, flew to Oakland last weekend to visit with Terry and watch his “big bro” play. Last summer, Thomas spent three different stints with Terry to improve his game, and that hard work showed last season as Thomas posted his highest shooting percentages and proved he was a true point guard.
Terry will be amid an NBA playoff run while Thomas prepares for the draft, but Terry has already devised workouts to help his “little bro” impress NBA personnel.
“If he does it and he really commits himself for the next three months, there’s no doubt he’s going to go in the first round,” predicts Terry, whose offseason conditioning regimen is as tough as it gets in the NBA. “No question. I really can’t divulge my whole plan, but it’s definitely a plan similar to what I implemented when I came into the draft.”
Thomas is already working out in preparation for the draft. Payton is among those providing assistance. Beyond telling Thomas how to train, the current and former NBA players have helped Thomas maintain patience, as well as his college eligibility, in selecting an agent. Thomas is in no rush to hire an agent, and that’s smart. He should protect his college eligibility until after the May 8 draft withdrawal date passes. That way, if he suffers an injury during training before that date, he’ll have the option to return to school.
The rule used to allow players to withdraw up to 10 days before the draft. Moving the withdrawal date up by about five weeks has made it almost impossible for kids to truly test the waters. They have to withdraw before teams are ready to have private workouts. That’s the biggest reason Thomas has chosen to commit fully to this process. He believes he has to go after the prize instead of flirting with it.
“I’ll tell you what: Every workout he goes to, every interview he goes to, he’s going to leave a lasting impression, and they’re going to want him on their team,” Terry said. “He’s a point guard in this league, and I’m very confident in that. It’s going to take total commitment from him, mind and body.”
Thomas has plenty of reputable people in his corner. If this were a popularity contest, he’d be drafted in the top five. It’s not, so he must put his head down and strive to shock his doubters yet again.
It won’t be easy. It might be impossible, but at least he’s getting good advice. It gives him an advantage over many players who enter this process blind to the harsh realities of pro sports.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer