Making the Case: Isaiah Thomas for MVP

Russell Westbrook and James Harden have had incredible seasons, but the Beard and the Brodie haven’t been on the same level as Isaiah Thomas.

Photo by Keith Allison,, courtesy of creativecommons.org

Isaiah Thomas of the Boston Celtics in action against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on January 24, 2017 in Washington, DC.

It’s arguable that the National Basketball Association has never seen this much offense in its 70-year history, and that’s due in large part to players scoring at an all-time high. The two highest scorers in the league, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, are the two favorites to win the MVP. The third-highest scorer in the league, however, has been (literally) vastly overlooked for consideration.

Here’s why Isaiah Thomas should win the MVP:

Shooting

The highest field-goal percentage among the top three scorers goes as follows:

  1. Thomas, 46.4 percent
  2. Harden, 43.9 percent
  3. Westbrook, 42.6 percent

These are good, if not great, shooting percentages. Nonetheless, Thomas shoots 2.5 percent better than Harden and 3.8 percent higher than Westbrook.

What about 3-pointers? Thomas has got the Beard and the Brodie beat in those categories, too.

Westbrook and Harden are shooting 34.4 percent and 34.6 percent from beyond the arc, respectively. Thomas is shooting 38.3 percent from deep.

Finally, Thomas is shooting more than 5 percent better than either Harden or Westbrook from the free-throw line. Westbrook is shooting 84.5 percent on free throws, Harden is shooting 85.1 percent and Thomas is making 90.9 percent of his shots from the charity stripe.

Efficiency

Now it’s time for a little game. The game is simple: question and answer. Ready? Good.

Question: In the NBA, which two players turn the ball over more than anyone else?

Answer: James Harden (5.8 turnovers per game) and Russell Westbrook (5.4 turnovers per game).

Interesting. The two leading candidates for MVP are also turnover machines. But, I digress.

Isaiah Thomas, coincidentally enough, averages less than half the turnovers of Harden, with only 2.8 turnovers per game.

Clutchness

Is clutchness a word? The red squiggly line that appears as I write this would indicate that it’s not, but it’s time to invent it.

There’s a reason Isaiah Thomas has been dubbed the “King in the Fourth.” His performances in the fourth quarter have been other-worldly, and he usually shines brightest under higher pressure.

For example, his career-high 52-point performance was impressive. What’s more impressive are the 29 points he scored in the fourth quarter of that game that gave his team the 117-114 win over the Heat earlier this season.

In the fourth quarter, only two players average more than nine points: Russell Westbrook and Isaiah Thomas. The more efficient of the two, of course, is Thomas.

Yes, Russ is averaging 10 points per game in the fourth quarter, but Thomas is just behind him with 9.8 points per game in the final frame, and it takes Thomas just 5.9 field goals to hit that mark, compared to Westbrook’s 7.3 field goals attempted in the last quarter of the game.

Either way, both will break Kobe Bryant’s fourth-quarter scoring record of 9.5 points in 2006.

If triple-doubles are all that matters and turnovers are irrelevant, then sure, either Harden or Westbrook should win the MVP. But if a player can score nearly as much at a much more efficient rate, especially with the game on the line, then it’s time for the NBA’s shortest-ever MVP.

Featured image by Keith Allison, courtesy of Creative Commons