Whether it's from the oven, microwave or off the bench everyone loves their pizza piping hot. As the leader of the Suns second unit (the Delivery Guys) can a green light help Isaiah Thomas become the most prolific per minute scorer off the bench in the NBA?
Ridiculously premature story alert.
The Suns season is off to a pretty good start.
The number one reason for that is the stellar play of Isaiah Thomas. A pair of 23 point games has featured the talents of the team's biggest free agent signing. The four year, $27 million dollar contract seemed like a great deal at the time. Through two games it appears to be highway robbery.
Thomas (+10) was joined by reserves Alex Len (+12) and Gerald Green (+15) to provide a huge lift in the Suns 94-89 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Halloween night. The reserves didn't need costumes to be downright scary.
In what appears to be a deliciously devastating development, coach Hornacek has experimented with deploying the trident attack in the team's first two games with stunning success. While Isaiah substituted in for Eric Bledsoe in the first and third periods of the Suns victory over the Spurs, the 1-2-3 punch of Goran Dragic, Bledsoe and IT played together in the second period and, most importantly, for the final 4:35 of the fourth quarter when the Suns outscored the Spurs 10-2 to close out the game.
Through two games The mismatches the Suns create for their opponents preponderate the mismatches the Suns face with their three point guard lineup. This may be a trend that continues if the Suns can count on second year center Alex Len to play goalie, a role he excelled in against the Spurs.
While Isaiah has taken the majority of ball handling duties while he has been on the court, imposing his will upon the game and maximizing his impact, he has also appeared comfortable playing off the ball. The fungibility of the Suns point guards has been seamless.
But I digress.
While what I mentioned above creates many story lines, I want to focus on the abundant scoring of Isaiah Thomas. Especially the ridiculous rate at which he has been pouring in buckets. Isaiah has scored 46 points in 49 minutes through two games.
This shouldn't really come as a surprise.
As a starter in 2013-14 Isaiah finished 21st in the league in PPM with 21.1 per 36. That would have been good for first on the Suns, slightly ahead of the Dragon. It was also fourth best in the league among point guards behind Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving.
Not too bad.
But can Isaiah actually climb up the ranks this season?
Moving to a reserve role won't necessarily stymie his chances. After all, ahead of Thomas on the list is super sub Jamal Crawford. Last season Crawford became the fourth player to win the Sixth Man of the Year twice. A main reason for this was his penchant for abusing defenses, averaging a splendiferous 22.0 point per 36 minutes.
Crawford did start in in over a third of his games for the Clippers games last season (24 of 69) so he wasn't strictly a sixth man in the truest sense. The first time he won the award, however, he came off the bench in all 79 of his appearances.
Many of the best sixth men only occupy that position to maximize the team's effectiveness, not because they lack the talent to be a starter. Manu Ginobili, who was actually still 35th in the league in PPM (19.5 per 36) last season, is a prime example of a player who sacrificed his ego for the success of the team.
It has worked out pretty well for him.
It could work out pretty well for the Suns and Thomas. Having the luxury of Thomas as a "backup" lets the Suns substitute in one of the better point guards in the NBA. Not just reserves, better period. Isaiah benefits by getting minutes against inferior players he can exploit. Since Thomas can hold his own with the best starters in the league, reserve point guards like Ronnie Price (Lakers) and Cory Joseph (Spurs) are massively overmatched.
It makes sense that Thomas might just fill it up this season.
Not only that, but with P.J. Tucker returning after the Suns game against the Utah Jazz the Suns may have a top nine that can match any rotation in the league. The Suns bench might be absolutely outstanding.
Scoring seems to be one of the most coveted assets for premiere bench players. Taking out Miller and Odom, the other eight players on the list combined PPM average was right around where Thomas was last season.
Thomas also looks to become the fifth Sun to earn the Sixth Man of the Year award, joining Eddie Johnson, Danny Manning, Rodney Rogers and Leandro Barbosa. The Hydra (although Ghidora and Cerberus actually have three heads...) unit may help his case, since the three point guard lineup could allow Isaiah to average ~30 minutes a game as a reserve.
In 1988-89 Eddie Johnson averaged 26.5 points per 36 minutes for a Suns team that averaged 118.6 points per game. While that number seems unattainable, and downright filthy, it might be possible for Thomas to have an even greater impact on the team's offense because of his ability as a facilitator for his teammates.
One of whom, Gerald Green, was actually 28th in the league in PPM last season (20.0 per 36). Green's numbers will likely diminish this season due to the paradigm shift provoked by Isaiah's arrival. The reserve unit is now indubitably Isaiah's vessel to captain.
His own personal pizza parlor.
For some reason there wasn't a ravenous demand for Thomas last summer. For some reason he was undervalued despite passing the eyeball and paper tests. For some reason 20 and six just wasn't that attractive.
Now he might be on his way to being the best scorer off the bench in the NBA. Maybe even the best player off the bench in the NBA period. The (very) limited sample size looks promising, but there's a lot of basketball left to play this season.
One thing is sure, though. If Isaiah just wanted to feel wanted when he signed with the Suns he sure the hell is doing the right things to make sure that happens.