The Los Angeles Lakers got their first look at Isaiah Thomas in the purple and gold, and he undoubtedly stepped up to fill the void in bench scoring for Jordan Clarkson. His debut was solid, especially for a player who had only joined the team the night before to catch dinner with Luke Walton in Dallas.
The focus? Sticking to the basics.
“Just keeping it simple, that was his main focus,” Thomas said of Walton’s directive. “Just trying to put me in my best position to play to my strengths, and to make plays. As I get more familiar with the guys, and familiar with the playbook, it’d be even better.”
His first bucket was just that; the simplicity of basketball:
Thomas only has 27 games to get up to speed with the Lakers, though he feels being traded to the Boston Celtics mid-season in 2015 prepared him for this task. He plans on hitting the books hard to get on the same page as the rest of the team.
“They put plays on my iPad so all last night I was trying to study the playbook and figure out what they do offensively and defensively ...
“It’s going to take a little bit of time, but I’ve gotta do my job of studying what we’re doing here, and then I know coach is going to put me in position to be the best I can be in the system,” Thomas said, prepared to soak in the few-day layoff before the Lakers get back to action.
Head coach Luke Walton was pleased with what Thomas brought in his debut, expecting to see more of what “dimension” he brings in the pick-and-roll as he further integrates himself. Mighty IT delivered 22 points (7-of-12) and six assists to pen the opening paragraph in the latest chapter of his NBA journey.
Where Walton was critical of the Lakers after the game was defense, an area the team is learning to live without Larry Nance Jr. and Clarkson. The Lakers dropped the ball in Dallas, giving up 52 points in the paint.
“It should not have,” Walton said when asked if the personnel changes caused the defensive mishaps. “It’s as simple as calling a switch.”
Thomas may be 5’9 and a mismatch nightmare to figure out in the defense, but Luke liked the switching he saw from IT in his first outing as a Laker.
“Tonight he did as good as anyone on it. We didn’t really know what to expect, but when we did switch with him... I’ll check the tape and check the numbers on what it was, but he seemed to have some success for the most part when he was switching and fighting bigger players.”
This mismatch on Dirk Nowitzki will stand out, but even with the stop, the Dallas Mavericks would come up with the offensive board:
Still, it was hard not to stare at what looks like an obvious challenge for Walton to confront going forward. Things like the chain reaction this closeout from Thomas causes are going to be a point of weakness teams attack:
But it wasn’t all on Thomas. The mistakes were plentiful on the team level.
“We stopped communicating. I’m not sure why, but it was simple things we’ve been doing really well. Things we’ve done all year long, we stopped doing tonight,” Walton said.
This is a good example of that lack of cohesiveness being exposed:
Thomas saw the same thing, saying communication “wasn’t there for the most part,” after the game.
Ultimately Thomas’ time with the Lakers will be what he makes of it. He has a lot to prove after going down in flames in Cleveland, and the Lakers aren’t necessarily the best fit for him to do that as an individual player. Lonzo Ball’s return — which should be soon with only two games left until the All-Star break — will be an interesting piece of the equation.
The tangible output on offense was there from Game 1, as were the questions about his fit from a defensive standpoint. The Lakers shouldn’t overthink what that means, though, and likely won’t. IT is a free agent in the summer and the Lakers have their eyes set on the brightest stars in the sky.
Thomas might be an interesting off-the-bench player in that kind of scenario (don’t tell the Cavaliers that), but ultimately it’s hard to imagine the Lakers’ front office and coaching staff all coming to an agreement that he fits into the kind of identity they’re building on the court.
Finding the right balance between giving Thomas a chance to do his thing with free agency looming, and the Lakers continuing to focus on continuity for their foundational core, should be the big picture goal going forward.
*All quotes transcribed via Lakers.com, Spectrum SportsNet