Beach's Bits

Husky fans, the stats may not show it, but you are watching the new and improved Isaiah Thomas blossom before your eyes. Thomas' recent emphasis on distribution has been in the making for quite some time, as opponents have devised new ways to limit the diminutive sophomore's vaunted dribble-penetration, leaving him no alternative but to alter his strategy.

The loss against Georgetown may have been beginning, as the Hoyas massive frontline forced the gifted playmaker to change his emphasis on offense.

Thomas's excellent effort - 21 points and six rebounds - while shooting 50 percent from the field - was lost in the disappointing team performance, but it may have served a more valuable purpose long term, for both Thomas as well as his team.

There's no denying Thomas' scoring acumen. He's capable of getting to the rim at will, and can score with ease against players a foot taller, but it's become abundantly clear that the Huskies need more than that from their maturing star.

Until recently, Thomas has given fans only occasional glimpses of his spectacular playmaking abilities, but there's more depth to his game than meets the eye. Thomas' court vision is exceptional; a trait that was on display in the Huskies final non-conference tune-up against San Francisco. For every assist in the stat sheet, some of his deliveries were left unfinished by misfiring teammates – a concern bound to improve over the course of conference play.

"For whatever reason in the last few games Isaiah really hasn't been knocking his shot down," UW Head Coach Lorenzo Romar said after the USF win. "If he had been shooting 50 percent these last three games, he would have been phenomenal because he is distributing the basketball. He's making great decisions and he had seven rebounds last game. We know he can score, so if he can continue to do these things and now his shot starts to go down, we got one heck of a basketball player that we already know we have: A pretty well-rounded guard."

Thomas attracts defenders like road kill attracts flies; his ability to draw multiple defenders to him consistently leaves his teammates wide open looks, opportunities that until recently went unrewarded. Sure the Huskies have struggled getting their shots to fall, but as they continue to adjust to Thomas' invigorated playmaking, their inconsistent shooting should improve in kind.

Thomas will also likely find that his playmaking emphasis opens up scoring opportunities for himself as well. Defenders have gotten used to collapsing on Thomas with the realistic expectation that Thomas won't look for open teammates when he's penetrating the lane. That won't last long as open Husky cutters take advantage of the lack of attention paid to them as recipients of Thomas' stellar interior passing. They'll adjust, having to defend Thomas more honestly as a result.

Less obvious to the casual observer is Thomas's impact when he doesn't have the ball in his hands. Defensively, Thomas has slowly evolved into one of the smarter defenders on the team, rarely out of position and doing a solid job staying in front of his man. Husky fans may have noticed his rebounding as well. These aren't gimmes he's pulling down; he's a surprisingly instinctive rebounder, capable of elevating over bigger players as he crashes the boards.

Though Thomas' shooting touch appears to have been temporarily misplaced, the Huskies will ultimately be well-served by Isaiah's renaissance with respect to the rest of his game. Shooting guards are a dime a dozen; point guards, on the other hand, are disappearing from the college hoops landscape despite being the most important position on the floor.

"He's not scoring as many points, I know that," Romar said. "But he hasn't put that in front of his team. He comes to practice and he's not whining. He's not down. He just comes out. As we have seen the last few games he's found other ways to help this team. That is a mark of a very good basketball player."

If Thomas can strike a balance between his fiercely competitive scoring mentality, his instinctual need to shoot in volume and his exceptional distribution skills, we could ultimately be watching the emergence of one of the more dangerous point guards in the country.


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