Last year, Isaiah Thomas had one of the best offensive seasons in recent memory. He made the All-Star team and the All-NBA second team, leading the Boston Celtics to the first seed in the Eastern Conference.
For an inconsistent Boston offense, Thomas dazzled with his play-making, scoring and late-game heroics throughout the season.
But on March 15, Thomas suffered a seemingly insignificant hip injury that would later sideline him in the playoffs. According to Tom Haberstroh, Thomas re-aggravated the injury multiple times, though he didn’t sit out any games because of it. After the second game of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Celtics announced that Thomas would be out the rest of the series with a “right femoral-acetabular impingement with labral tear.”
This news came as a surprise: Thomas’s hip problem had never been discussed, as his initial injury was diagnosed as a knee issue, not a hip one.
Thomas opted not to have surgery, hoping the hip would heal naturally over the 2017 offseason. But rumors have been circulating that his hip may be in worse condition than originally thought, and he may miss the majority of the 2017-18 season.
What is the injury?
A “femoral-acetabular impingement with labral tear” is just one of many problems a human hip can have. Specifically, this injury is when the ball-and-socket joint does not have full range of motion due to bone and cartilage irregularities. It’s an injury that is often difficult to diagnose despite its critical consequences.
The track record of NBA players who have suffered a similar injury to Thomas’s is not kind. LaMarcus Aldridge returned from his hip injury fine, but players like Jonny Flynn, Martell Webster and Wilson Chandler missed significant time with bad hips that often took longer than expected to fully heal.
Recently, additional details of the injury have cast even more doubt on Thomas’s health. Reportedly, he is dealing with arthritis and loss of cartilage, which lengthens and complicates the healing process. According to one source, “No one has any idea how quickly this will heal or if it even will heal at all.”
That’s simply not a good sign.
Given Isaiah Thomas’s small stature and existing troubles on the defensive end, any lost explosiveness or agility could be disastrous. His ability to find holes in opposing defenses and finish over much taller players could take a major dive, and his weaknesses on defense will only be exploited further.
What does it mean for the Cavaliers and Warriors?
The Cavaliers have three other point guards on the roster, all of whom are under minimum contracts: Derrick Rose, Jose Calderon and Kay Felder. All are pretty terrible on defense, and none will come close to filling in for Kyrie Irving’s or a healthy Isaiah Thomas’s output offensively. Against the Warriors, they’ll be exposed.
Irving may have his faults, but the Warriors rightfully feared him in both the 2016 and 2017 Finals. If Isaiah Thomas isn’t able to fully recover from his injury, the Warriors will be able to tremendously exploit Cleveland’s lack of talent at point guard.
It’s worth noting that, in the past, Thomas’s defense against the Warriors has been among the worst in the league. If he cannot contribute offensively at a decent level, consider the Cavaliers’ entire point-guard depth a crucial Achilles’ heel.
There is substantial reason to doubt Thomas will be fully healthy at any point this season, and it could spell doom for any hope of a Cavaliers’ championship. If his ability declines next season, especially on the defensive end, the consequences will send ripple effects across the entire Cavs roster.