Much has happened since the Isaiah Thomas-Kyrie Irving trade but finally we are going to actually see Thomas back in action. This is a nice time to briefly take stock of how Irving has done as a Celtic compared to Thomas. Irving’s Cleveland stats weren’t quite up to snuff with Isaiah’s as a Celtic. Well now Kyrie is playing Isaiah’s exact role with the Celtics. Did mixing Kyrie with Brad Steven’s penchant for getting the best out of players make Irving look better? The sample size is small but let’s look at Thomas’ 2016-07 versus Kyrie this season:
-Thomas 2016-17: 33.8 MPG, 9.0-19.4 FG/FGA, .463 FG%, 3.2-8.5 3P/3PA, .379 3FG%, 7.8-8.5 FT/FTA, .909 FT%, 2.7 RPG, 5.9 APG, 0.9 SPG, 2.8 TOPG, 28.9 PPG, 26.5 PER, .234 WS/48, 5.4 BPM, 4.8 VORP (in 76 games)
-Irving 2017-18: 32.4 MPG, 9.1-18.5 FG/FGA, .489 FG%, 2.7-6.6 3P/3PA, .404 3FG%, 4.0-4.5 FT/FTA, .894 FT%, 3.1 RPG, 4.9 APG, 1.2 SPG, 2.4 TOGP, 24.8 PPG, 25.3 PER, .225 WS/48, 5.9 BPM, 2.5 VORP (in 38 games)
Irving has paid exactly half the games that Thomas played last season and they are near a dead heat statistically. If you squint a bit, though, you have to give small edge to Thomas. Isaiah has done better in rebounds, assists, points, and free throws (by a huge margin). Kyrie has shot the three better (at a lower frequency) and has a few more steals. Irving also could get some credit for helping the Celts improve from a decent defense to the top defense in the NBA. Irving’s DPM is -0.9 but that is much better than the -3.3 that Thomas had the season before. Irving’s isn’t exactly driving the Boston improvement in defense but he has been a huge liability in Boston compared to Isaiah, whose size has always been a disadvantage on defense.
On top of that, practical considerations also made the trade logical for Boston. The Celtics have gotten nearly half a season of All-Star point guard play that they would not otherwise have had if they kept the injured Thomas on the team. In addition, Irving’s numbers so far, while arguably not quite what Isaiah did last year, are significantly better than anything Irving has ever done before. Irving’s numbers had been trending up in Cleveland but this jump has to be partially credited to Stevens (similarly, Thomas made a big stat jump when he came to Boston).
Going forward, it will be interesting to see how Thomas meshes in Cleveland as well as if the lack of Stevens depresses his offensive numbers. As is, the Cavs have played Boston nearly to a standstill and you have to think that Thomas, even pre-Boston from, will be a big improvement over Jose Calderon and will push Cleveland ahead of the rest of the conference.
Finally, the quiet side story is that the best team in the SRS, by far, in the East has not been the Celtics but the Raptors (7.06 SRS compared to 4.30 for Boston). Toronto has disappointed for a variety of reasons in past playoffs but this is the best Toronto team ever and they have a cognizable chance of winning the East if LeBron James somehow loses his extra playoff gear. That isn’t a certainty but both Boston and Cleveland should be careful.