Any fan who follows his or her teams closely knows just how frustrating fan hood can be. For myself, a prime example is this years Washington basketball team. An underachieving team can be extremely difficult to watch, and UW fits that description. To say the Pac-10 conference is having a down year for men’s basketball is a grave understatement. For this reason, as well as some promising newcomers and a handful of returners, it seemed all too realistic that Washington might be the favorite to repeat as champions this year. Maybe this will happen, but it’s looking doubtful.
We all know that for as great as they can be at home, the Huskies are equally dreadful on the road. The numbers back this up…15-1 at home, 0-5 away. Dissecting this phenomenon and the overall disappointment the team has been so far would take up a lot of time and space, and consist of a hundred different topics we could focus on. What could have been if Charles Garcia were a Husky; How leadership is missing from the departure of Brockman and Dentmon; The impact of losing Cameron Dollar; The lack of big man contribution; How small crowds and zero energy on the road are connected; and many other subjects that all probably have some merit. Rather than tackle all of these though, I’m going to focus on one angle that can’t be ignored; Isaiah Thomas.
Just glancing at Isaiah’s numbers don’t tell the whole story. He is averaging 17 ppg to go with 4 rebounds and nearly 3 assists per game. But it’s some of the other stats that I find more revealing. He is shooting 39% from the field, and just 30% from behind the arc. From a scorer who is hardly 5’8″, (more like 5’6”) I’m sure Romar would like to see Isaiah above 40% and at least around 35% shooting 3’s. To be fair, IT isn’t the only guard who hasn’t found his touch. Scott Suggs is shooting 39%, while Elston Turner is converting only 37% of his shots. The difference is the Huskies depend on Isaiah far more than Suggs or Turner, and while his defensive has certainly improved, his decision making has not. Thomas’ 54 assists are nice, but the 57 turnovers are ugly. In comparison, Thomas’ backcourt mates are faring better. Venoy Overton has 77 assists and 50 turnovers, and Abdul Gaddy has 58 assists to just 37 turnovers. This is only one statistic, but the reality is you can’t count on Thomas game after game and his decision making is a big reason why.
One night Isaiah will shoot lights out, play lock down defense, and show flashes of Nate Robinson, a familiar small guard from Washington’s past. The next game he is shooting poorly, looking lost on the court, and occasionally letting it spill into his defensive performance as well. This trend of inconsistency is especially disturbing when you consider how heavily Thomas will be counted on next year, with Pondexter gone. Isaiah will probably always be a streaky shooter, but you can be streaky and still shoot better than 39%. And streaky doesn’t have to translate to more turnovers than assists.
Perhaps moving Thomas to shooting guard has given him the freedom to shoot first, pass second, and while the Huskies desperately need his scoring, I’m not convinced his game plan should be to carry the scoring load. I don’t know the best way to use our top guards, Thomas, Overton, and Gaddy. For now, Thomas and Gaddy start, and Venoy comes off the bench. Thomas is the scorer, Gaddy the passer, and Overton provides the spark. Should Thomas come off the bench so that less is depended on him? Would Overton struggle in a starting role? Or maybe Gaddy should be the spark, thus allowing the veteran guards to start. Maybe nothing needs to change, and Thomas is just having a down year because teams are focusing in on him. It could be that IT flourishes when he has a big man he can depend on, which clearly UW does not. Either way, one thing is a must–All three guards need to be playing 20+ minutes a night. (Had Venoy played more than 11 minutes versus UCLA I can argue the result would have been different)
In Isaiah Thomas, the Huskies have a talented scorer who can also defend. I personally watched IT score 28 points in a state game as a sophomore, including an impressive 17-17 from the free throw line. As a junior, he dropped a state tournament record 51 points in a losing effort against Venoy Overton’s Franklin Quakers. Simply put, he can produce. But the key to Thomas’ success seems to depend on his mindset. When he starts forcing shots, versus allows the game to come to him, he is likely to have a game similar to his last outing against Arizona. (3-10 shooting, 7 points, 1 assist, 4 turnovers) Still, Isaiah is the defending Pac-10 freshman of the year, and that’s quite an accomplishment. Paired with Overton, maybe the best defensive guard in the nation, and Gaddy, the #2 rated point guard coming out of high school, the Huskies have the most talented backcourt in the conference. The future is bright for all of them, but Thomas needs to grow, soon, and I’m not talking about his height.