Five months removed from a hip resurfacing procedure, two-time NBA All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas is charting a course for the 2020-21 season armed with visual and data evidence that he's now a much stronger candidate to contribute to an NBA roster as a bench scorer.
"It's like night and day for me," Thomas, 31, told ESPN. "There's no more pain. I've got my full range of motion. For three years, I was trying to play the best players in the world on one leg. I needed help from my kids to put my socks on in the morning.
"Now, I can lift weights. I can squat low. I can work out twice a day. I'm able to cut and move and stop, able to cut and go. I feel like I'm 31 years old again. And now, I have scientific evidence to show that."
Seven months ago, Thomas had been traded to the LA Clippers from the Washington Wizards and waived. For him to play in the NBA, something had to change with his hip. Finally, he decided that a procedure by Dr. Edwin Su, a renowned orthopedist in New York, was the best chance to resurrect his playing career. Thomas' hip was bone-on-bone, the pain relentless and the constant favoring of his right side constantly compromised his balance.
"Before the surgery, you could see he was clearly favoring his right side; and that it was painful," Su told ESPN. "It was natural to avoid pushing off and landing off [the left]. Four months post-op, we are seeing higher loads and seeing symmetry between the right and left."
"Now, he's playing like he's eight months out from surgery, not just four. He's such a hard worker. He's moving quickly, and able to jump and pivot."
Su has routinely executed a hip resurfacing procedure on patients, including professional athletes, but Thomas was a far different case: younger, athletic and trying to restore a level of explosiveness that would allow him to compete with the best athletes in the world.
The surgery included a unique kind of artificial joint to account for Thomas' age and need to regain movement. At 5-foot-9, this was an imperative for Thomas to regain.
"The goal was to give him a smooth joint surface so he doesn't feel pain and has better mobility," Su said. "We have more confidence for athletes like Isaiah to get back to full activity."
Thomas' hip issues started with an injury in the 2016-17 playoffs with the Boston Celtics. He had been playing the season of his life --- making a second consecutive All-Star game appearance, averaging 28.9 points and becoming the most dominant fourth-quarter scorer in the league. He pushed through an injury in the playoffs, only to be ruled out with the hip in the Eastern Conference finals and eventually traded in the offseason to the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of a package for Kyrie Irving.
Thomas believed he returned to the court far too soon that next season with the Cavaliers, still far too limited in his mobility. Thomas struggled, then found himself sent to the Los Angeles Lakers in a February 2018 deal.
He signed successive one-year deals with Denver and Washington the next two years, until his release after a three-way trade to the Clippers in February.
Whatever teams want to see out of Thomas -- perhaps a performance at a pro day or a series of workouts at a team facility, once such things are allowed again -- he is anxious to show them.
"In some ways, the time off because of COVID was a blessing in disguise for my career," Thomas said. "It allowed me to take the time to get this procedure done, and get back physically to a level I need to be to compete in the league. I made the right decision to do this, and I'm anxious to show people I can contribute to a team again."