Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas has repeatedly asserted that he'd like to be a starter. Last year's Sixth Man of the Year runner-up fully accepts his current bench role, but any time the idea of being a starter is floated, Thomas doesn't hide his desire to be on the floor at the beginning of games.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has suggested that he's open-minded to the idea of Thomas being a starter but felt last season that Thomas best helped Boston by sparking the second unit. Heck, it was that Thomas-led reserve unit that might ultimately have propelled Boston to a surprise playoff berth.
For Day 5 of our Celtics Summer Forecast series, we asked our blogger panel: Will Thomas be a long-term starter for Boston during the 2015-16 season?
The answer was an emphatic "No." All but one contributor our 14-member panel suggested that Thomas would not elevate to the starting lineup -- at least more than just an occasional spot start -- this season.
This writer agrees with the majority. While Thomas is Boston's most talented offensive player -- and maybe the team's best player overall -- his skill set is best utilized, and his deficiencies best masked, in a reserve role.
But it wouldn't surprise us to see Stevens experiment with Thomas in a starting role at times before the start of the season. While Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley project as the starting backcourt combo, Stevens could mix and match a bit or test out three-guard lineups we're likely to see during the regular season.
One thing Stevens often stresses in regard to Thomas' role is that to the coach, it matters more who is on the floor at the end of games, and Thomas was one of the league's top players in fourth-quarter production last season. Regardless of Thomas' role at the start of games, it seems pretty obvious that he is going to remain a closer, and that's something Boston desperately needed before his arrival.
Our panel sounds off on the idea of Thomas as a starter:
Brian Robb, CelticsHub (No)
The team needs to find out what it has with Smart at the point guard spot, and he showed some strong strides this summer in that department. Thomas will still see starter’s minutes, but Stevens clearly values him anchoring the second-team offense. I expect plenty of tinkering with the starting lineup, but I don’t think Thomas will be one of the pieces moved into the fold.
Kevin O'Connor, CelticsBlog (No)
The Celtics likely want to slap opponents around with hard-nosed defense to start games and then come in with their offensive unit midway through the opening quarter, making Thomas a preferred option to come off the bench. I agree with Stevens: It doesn’t matter who starts; it’s about who finishes. But this is the case only if they get Thomas to buy into that "defense-first" plan. If not, there is no harm in starting him, because he is the best player on the team, and there is no reason to potentially ruffle any feathers by making him do something he’ll be reluctant about.
Tom Westerholm, MassLive (No)
As much as Thomas wants to start -- and my goodness, that guy wants to start so bad -- he's too perfect in his current role off the bench: a flurry of quick baskets, dominating the opposing second unit and sparking a late first-quarter/early second-quarter run that can put the Celtics in a good position as the first half winds down. With Smart looking more and more comfortable as a playmaker, Thomas' performance off the bench won't look as incongruous as it did last year when Boston's second unit seemed so much better than its starters.
Jared Weiss, CLNS Radio (No)
Thomas is the perfect third guard. He is explosive and relentless, with his engine redlining at every possible moment. That makes for a great backup guard but not an ideal quarterback. While the league’s style of play has geared toward point guards with an offensive profile like Thomas’, the most successful point guards can still sit back and run the show. The Celtics want to see Smart be that guy. Until he proves he can’t be that guy, it’s Smart's starting job.
Mark Vandeusen, CelticsLife (No)
It just makes too much sense to keep Thomas on the bench -- he's perfectly suited for the Vinnie Johnson "microwave" role. Bradley is the longest -enured Celtic; Smart is the future of the franchise. Both are established starters at this point. The only reason to bump one for Thomas is to placate his ego, but as long as Thomas has got the ball in crunch time, that appears to be a nonissue.
Cory Prescott, CLNS Radio (No)
Before his 46-game stay in Phoenix last season, Thomas started the majority of his three seasons in a Sacramento Kings uniform. Generously listed at 5-foot-9, Thomas has the ability to be an above-average starting point guard in the NBA. His size, however, clearly hinders his ability to match up defensively with the great point guards around the league. The stress of having to help out on Thomas’ defensive matchups puts the team at a clear disadvantage. A bit of a ball-stopper at times, Thomas is at his best when the ball is in his hands and he’s looking to score.
Jeff Clark, CelticsBlog (Yes)
I think at some point Thomas will be a starter, though I'm not sure when or what it will take to make it happen. It could take a trade or some kind of unconventional lineup adjustment by Stevens (perhaps starting Smart and Thomas together). There are concerns with his size and ability to defend. But he's such a talented scorer and playmaker that it makes sense to maximize his usage as long as it works within the context of the system.
Jon Duke, Celtics Stuff Live (No)
Smart and Bradley are the starters until either Smart shows he's unable to run the offense (unlikely) or Bradley is traded. I could see an offense-focused second unit with Thomas and forward David Lee giving teams fits.
Eddie Santiago, CLNS Radio (No)
Smart should be able to take a big enough step forward offensively that the team will be able to keep bringing Thomas off the bench. Thomas is better-suited to come off the bench and lead a second unit than he is taking on top point guards all over the league. He almost won Sixth Man of the Year for his efforts last season, so messing with that could prove to be a negative move. Defensively, his size limits him, and even if there is an injury, Stevens might choose to bring Thomas off the bench and start rookie Terry Rozier.
Ben Mark, Red's Army (No)
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. The Celtics flourished when Thomas arrived last February in large part because of the way he galvanized the second unit. His presence on the floor elevated other bench players (Jonas Jerebko, Jae Crowder). He'll still get starter minutes. The only concern will be keeping Thomas happy in his sixth man role.
Jay Ouellette, Red's Army (No)
Thomas won't be a starter but he should be. He's the best player, but the guy the Celts are hoping to be their next franchise player is also a PG (Smart), so I doubt Thomas starts this season.
Bill Sy, CelticsBlog (No)
Isaiah Thomas might finish games, but he won't start them. IT is a classic sixth man: a high-energy scorer who plays with speed and energy and, most importantly, invites contact and finishes well in traffic. Thomas should be able to take advantage of second-string lineups with opposing teams already in foul trouble. He'll likely be paired with Amir Johnson in pick-and-rolls or Kelly Olynyk and Jerebko for kickouts.
Mike Dynon, Red's Army (No)
IT deserves to start and wants to start, too. But Thomas clearly provides a spark as a super sub, and in the fourth quarter, it no longer matters which five were on the court for tipoff. The sixth man role helps Thomas stand out from the crowd, and -- with Boston’s tradition of Ramsey, Havlicek, McHale and Walton -- he should embrace coming off the bench.