Before I begin, I’ll have you know I’m not a Boston homer (avid member of Heat Nation). As a native New Jerseyan, I live in the mecca of sports rivalries. Giants or Jets? Knicks or Nets? (It was the Nets until Jay-Z and Mikhail Prohkorov snatched them away). Yankees or Mets? I sincerely hope you’re not one of the anomalies who root for the Patriots or Red Sox, otherwise you’re quite familiar with sneers and derisions when you wear that Bean Town jersey in public.
All else equal, considering the MVP race at this point is a moot point. Making a historic, season long triple-double performance is worthy enough for the Most Valuable Player Award in my book, and if you don’t pick the guy who did that, you’ll pick the next best thing. Removing pure numbers from the equation though opens up the MVP race quite a bit, including the likes Steph Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Kawhi Leonard, and of course, LeBron James. Add to that list one Isaiah Thomas and season awards voters have a lofty challenge of determine the NBA’s best.
Admittedly an argument steeped in historical significance in this year’s MVP race is less than ideal for any candidate not named Russell Westbrook. Though the impact of the Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas is comparable to 2001’s Allen Iverson, even beyond the trainer’s measuring tape.
A.I., the NBA’s premier poster child for counter culture was competing amongst titular giants during his MVP season. The Answer’s in-conference competition was reserved to Ray Allen and the 2nd seeded Milwaukee Bucks, who were second in both Points Per Game and 3-Pointers made (though the 3-ball’s impact has markedly changed in the last 15 years). In the West however, Iverson’s competition was steeper, including the 2000 champion Lakers featuring Finals MVP Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, as well as Gregg Popovich’s Spurs and the Sacramento Kings.
By season’s end, O’Neal was averaging a hair under 29 ppg and a league best 14.3 total win shares, just as Tim Duncan and David Robinson led the Spurs to tying for league-best defensive rating (98, tied with the Phoenix Suns). Similarly, Chris Webber’s Kings were one of the fastest paced teams in the league (2nd) and thereby led the league in team scoring.
How then, did Iverson manage securing an MVP award amidst the capable play of the bigs in the Western Conference? Just like those Boston fans in New Jersey, A.I. was an anomaly.
The 6 foot guard from Georgetown University rewrote the age-old adage, “There is no I in team,” by featuring him as the centerpiece to an otherwise inconsequential 76ers squad. A league best 31.1 ppg wasn’t a mere display of scoring prowess; it was a necessity. Theo Ratliff (that’s 2001 NBA All Star Theo Ratliff) was the apparent second option for the Sixers, though he only came through with 12.3 ppg in only 50 contests before being traded for Dikembe Mutombo. Despite having a competent point guard in Eric Snow (7.4 assists per game), the ball was indubitably glued to Iverson’s hands. Ultimately, Iverson was the only bright spot in an otherwise questionable at best group of athletes representing Philadelphia.
Now, consider the “King in the Fourth,” Isaiah Thomas. The 7-year man from Washington has led his team to the first seed in the Eastern Conference amidst one of the more competitive top-halves of the East in years (only second time since 2010-11 at least the top 3 teams in the East had at least 50 wins). Moreover, Thomas’ 4th quarter wizardry through the early months of 2017 freed up opportunities for Avery Bradley, Al Horford and Jae Crowder to contribute. Alongside a Celtics best 43 straight 20 point games, Thomas became the star the Celtics considered trading to acquire to shore up their playoff successes come April. And if his production wasn’t enough, Thomas’ re-appropriation of Damian Lillard’s “It’s Lillard Time” celebration oozes the attitude and ambiance of MVP Allen Iverson.
Should Thomas even be considered for MVP? No. Russell Westbrook dragging the Thunder away from irrelevance following Durant’s jump to the Warriors would’ve been more than enough to garner MVP votes, even if he didn’t beat Oscar Robertson’s legendary record. And if not Westbrook, then Harden is busy making waves of his own, translating his game into that of a premier point guard after attending Mke D’Antoni’s School of Basketball. But in some alternate universe where KD never left and Dwight is still showering in Houston, Isaiah Thomas is the NBA’s MVP.