The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics swapping Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas capped off a wild NBA offseason.
After concerns about Thomas’s health left the trade in limbo for several days, it’s now official. Kyrie is a Celtic. Isaiah is a Cavalier. Now what?
In a letter Thomas penned for The Player’s Tribune entitled “This is For Boston,” he gives a heartfelt goodbye to his former team and its fanbase. But Thomas also delves into his future with the Cavaliers. In short, he expects his new team to be nearly unstoppable. From Thomas:
“You are not going to want to mess with the Cavs this year. This is going to be a great year to be a Cavs fan, a great year. And I’m excited. From a basketball perspective, me on the Cavs is a match made in heaven. If you’ve watched any Celtics games last year, then you know how many times I would have to go through double and even triple teams, just to get my shot off. It ended up working fine for us — guys played great, and my shot was falling. But this year…man, it’s not even going to be a thing. You really going to throw three guys on me, when I’m sharing a court with the best basketball player on the planet? Nah, I don’t think so.”
There’s no doubt playing alongside LeBron will give Thomas more space than ever. Nicholas Sciria, a basketball researcher who’s contributed to BBallBreakdown and Nylon Calculus, recently analyzed how open each NBA player was on their average 3-point attempt last season. Sciria found Thomas often attempted 3s in the face of tight defense. In fact, James Harden was the only other NBA player (out of 234 total qualified players) who had less space on his average 3-point attempt.
Thomas still shot 37.9% from 3 last season, but better spacing should raise that percentage even higher. NBA advanced stats show Thomas shot 38.9% from deep last season when the closest defender was 4-6 feet away and 52.3% from deep when the closest defender was 6-plus feet away.
LeBron shifts the entire defense anytime he’s on the floor. It’s like he has his own gravitational pull. Once he finds a lane and dive-bombs toward the rim, defenders must collapse to try to contain him. That opens up space for his teammates, and James’ elite vision and passing takes care of the rest.
The prospect of IT and King James together on the floor is tantalizing, but Thomas will have to recover from his hip injury before that can become a reality.