Isaiah Thomas left UW after his junior season to pursue the NBA draft. Despite many detractors, he has a prospective career as long as his game continues to evolve.
The documentary is called “Road To The NBA: The Isaiah Thomas Story.”
It has a much more optimistic tone than “I Hope This Turns Out Better Than Sebastian Telfair’s Misguided Flick.”
I thought of Telfair immediately when I learned Thomas was making a movie about his NBA draft journey. If you can think back to 2004 (tall order, I know), you’ll recall the ridiculous Telfair mania as he became the smallest player, at barely 6 feet tall, to jump from high school to the NBA. The chronicling of Telfair’s journey included the brilliant Ian O’Connor book “The Jump” and a film called “Through The Fire.”
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In telling Telfair’s story, draft day was presented as his victory. Portland selected him No. 13 overall. He became an instant millionaire. He fulfilled his family’s desperate hope to turn his talent into an ATM machine. It was the ultimate triumph, supposedly.
Seven years later, Telfair is a marginal, journeyman NBA player hopping from one bench to another. He’s either not good enough to make an impact, or he stunted his growth by forcing his way to the pros too soon. And his immaturity led to some legal issues early in his career.
Of course, Thomas is different. He’s 22, not 18. We’ve seen him grow and mature and evolve into a good, likable young man at Washington. But there’s still a lesson for Thomas in Telfair’s story:
Don’t make too much of draft day.
If Thomas gets drafted and joins a team that knows how to use him, it shouldn’t be considered his ultimate victory. On the other hand, if he doesn’t get drafted, his decision to leave Washington early for the NBA shouldn’t automatically be considered a failure.
Thursday is for a player’s ego. But having a successful career is about evolution.
To date, Thomas has been able to thrive because he understands this. He’s 5 feet 9 and has been small his entire life, but instead of accepting that as a limitation, he learned how to create space and maximize his quickness and developed into a scoring machine. In the spring of 2006, he committed to the Huskies as a high-school junior, but he didn’t sign with them that fall because of academic issues. Instead, he left Tacoma, enrolled at South Kent School in Connecticut and spent two years there to become eligible. It meant he would have to delay his college career by a year, but he did it, became a solid student, and even though he’s leaving early for the pros, he plans to return and graduate.
On the court, Thomas played several roles for coach Lorenzo Romar. He was a reluctant point guard his freshman year, but he wound up playing that role more than backcourt mate Justin Dentmon, and the Huskies won a Pac-10 title. He returned to shooting guard as a sophomore, but he needed to tweak his game to fit with high-scoring forward Quincy Pondexter. It took time, but the duo worked. Last season, as a junior, Thomas resumed point-guard responsibilities in early December after Abdul Gaddy’s knee injury, and he flourished. He averaged 6.1 assists, an incredibly high number for a college guard, to go with 16.8 points and career-best shooting percentages.
Now, he wants to play in the NBA. Will Thomas get drafted? I don’t know. I think he should, somewhere in the second round, but I don’t know. Thomas could get lost in that mess.
But will Thomas have an NBA career? Yes. Emphatically, yes.
As long as he doesn’t let draft day define him, Thomas will defy his detractors and develop into a quality backup guard despite his lack of height. With strict hand-checking rules, the NBA is legislated to allow quick point guards to get into the lane and create chaos. Thomas does that as well as anyone. If he continues to improve his jump shot (reports are that he is shooting significantly better than advertised) and his defense and learns to be an effective player in limited minutes, he could create a niche. But he must evolve.
Thomas’ documentary is due out in December, and undoubtedly, it will end with what happened on draft night. Thomas badly wants to get drafted. Thomas’ film wants it even worse. Either way, though, he’ll be back in the gym by week’s end.
The real movie, with the best drama, should be filmed five years from now.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer