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Isaiah Thomas can’t hold a candle to Zeke

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Why ESPN is wrong in even attempting to compare Isaiah Thomas to his namesake.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Before we get into it, let me take you behind the DBB curtain for a minute. It’s a fairly sophisticated operation, with retina scans, secret passwords, and the need for two-way authentication apps and crazy passwords to get posts up (okay that last one is actually true). When the Pistons aren’t driving us and the commenters crazy, we use the off-days as an opportunity to look for any Pistons related news. Such was the case this afternoon, when Christopher Daniels floated this across our channel on Slack.

DBB Slack Inside Stuff

The immediate reaction was a combination of laughs, goofy outrage, and a few o_0 faces made at laptops. But for me, and whatever reason, it especially stung. And after a couple hours of marinating on it and reading the article, I’ve figured out why.

First, there’s the blatantly obvious attempt at clickbait with that headline. Yes, they share the same name, spelled slightly different. Isiah Thomas and Isaiah Thomas. Yes, they are both dynamic point guards. We should all end the comparisons and conversations there.

Put plainly, this was low hanging, lazy fruit on behalf of ESPN. And here’s the thing, I like reading Kevin Pelton. I follow him on Twitter and enjoy his point of view throughout the NBA season. He’s super smart and usually on point with his breakdowns. In his defense (and as a potential spoiler alert) he even agrees in the piece that this is a bit premature. Maybe my beef here is more with the editors.

Second, it reminded me of this hack job list ESPN put together last year regarding the all-time best point guards. Listen, do I think Curry will ultimately pass Isiah for the number four spot? Yes. But this was January of 2016, before the 73 wins and Finals loss. It was excessively premature.

Which brings us back to the Isaiah-Isiah comparison. For those of you without ESPN Insider (AKA everyone reading this minus the one guy who’s a fantasy baseball die hard) Pelton does a great job of logically approaching the debate, breaking down Isaiah’s superior scoring numbers, usage, and efficiency in all the advanced NBA statistical nerd glory. I am not going to try and discredit any of that because, well - they are numbers I can’t argue.

But there’s a fun point when discussing NBA players where the numbers only go so far and the mythology of a player starts to battle with what can be calculated. This is where I think the Pistons Isiah Thomas deserves to be held in a higher level of regard, more so than perhaps most modern NBA minds are willing to give.

Specifically, Pelton calls out Zeke’s “somewhat overrated” career, and that is where I would like to bring up my first, very simple, rebuttal.

Pelton, imagine the Pistons without Isiah Thomas. Now imagine the Celtics without Isaiah Thomas.

The point is, when Zeke was drafted by Detroit second overall in 1981, the team had no championships. The franchise’s most notable player up until then was Dave Bing, and played in an often cavernous Pontiac Silverdome.

No Palace of Auburn Hills. No banners. No history. Isiah changed all of that.

This was something he spoke about in length at the Ben Wallace jersey retirement in 2016. How he would look up at the empty rafters in Detroit, and how he would compare them to Boston or Los Angeles. How he was driven to create a franchise with history in Detroit. And that’s exactly what he did with the Bad Boys, dominating the NBA landscape and bringing Detroit its first two NBA championships.

You can rightly say, this is apples and oranges. Isaiah is in a very different situation in Boston, the most storied franchise in the NBA. But one where he’s carrying on a mantle passed down by the likes of Paul Pierce, Larry Bird, and Bill Russell. See the two players situations are a crucial and important differentiator that is overlooked in this debate.

Isiah created the Pistons. Isaiah is simply continuing the Celtics.

Like I said, I can’t argue on scoring, efficiency, or true shooting. But I can argue with moments that have since become franchise-defining legends, like 25 pts on a sprained ankle, or 16 points in 90 seconds, or a 7-0 game 1 clinching single-handed run in the Finals.

I’m not rooting against Isaiah Thomas to eventually get there, he’s an inspirational and entertaining player in what can only be described as an NBA gold rush. But he’s not a franchise defining talent just yet. So stop putting him next to one in the headlines.