Sports media loves crazy and confrontational, so Isiah Thomas is back in the news. The articles and comments about Isiah include 3 accepted ‘truths’:
1. Isiah is crazy mean
2. Isiah is incompetent
3. Isiah has a great NBA draft record
At the moment, I have nothing to challenge or add to the 1st 2, but #3 needs to be scrutinized closely.
Isiah Thomas NBA draft picks (number is actual draft position):
1995 7th Damon Stoudamire, 35th Jimmy King
1996 2nd Marcus Camby
1997 9th Tracy Mcgrady
1998 5th Vince Carter, 47th Tyson Wheeler
2004 44th Trevor Ariza
2005 8th Channing Frye, 31st David lee, 54th Dijon Thompson
2006 20th Renaldo Balkman, 29th Mardy Collins
2007 23rd Wilson Chandler
To evaluate these picks objectively, we need to know what information was available to Isiah at the time of the picks. The main way to summarize this information is through predraft ‘mock’ drafts. Mock drafts were put together by Basketball fans who wanted to predict draft outcomes. Let’s look at the same draft list, but with some significant pre-draft information (number is predicted draft position of the player prior to draft).
1995 11th Damon Stoudamire (consensus #1 PG in draft), not in top 30 Jimmy King (famous member of the Fab 5 at Michigan)
1996 4th Marcus Camby (great college player, taken right before Ray Allen and Stephon Marbury)
1997 7th Tracy Mcgrady (dropped to 9th despite great expectations, prob because he was a highschooler)
1998 8th Vince Carter (Vince was drafted before Dirk Nowitski and Paul Pierce, but expected to be drafted after them), not in top 36 Tyson Wheeler
2004 48th Trevor Ariza
2005 8th Channing Frye, 48th David lee, not in top 60 Dijon Thompson
2006 43rd Renaldo Balkman, 26th Mardy Collins
2007 23rd Wilson Chandler
Almost all of these picks were unsurprising and not risky. Of the 13 draft picks attributed to Isiah Thomas, only 1 (David Lee) was a surprising pick that greatly exceeded expectations. The others were really ‘safe picks’, chosen because they were the consensus best player available for the team. Keep in mind that these mock drafts were created by fans, with no inside information (unlike Isiah), yet they were able to almost exactly predict these picks. The main reason that most of Isiah’s picks became good players is that Isiah always ran bad teams who received high draft picks.
Isiah also drafted from other teams in the 1995 expansion draft with no great luck. Only 2 of the 14 he picked lasted more than 1 season with the Toronto Raptors: Zan Tabak and Oliver Miller. They went 21-61.