Isaiah Thomas is set to make his debut for the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night against the Sacramento Kings. Thomas has missed the first 56 games of the season, but is ready to lace up his sneakers for his sixth NBA team, as they compete against his first NBA team.
Eleven months after hip surgery, Denver Nuggets guard Isaiah Thomas will make his return tonight against Sacramento, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 13, 2019
Thomas is an intriguing story, and the Golden State Warriors will certainly have one eye on his performance. Denver is second in the Western Conference, and while they’re starting to fall well behind the Warriors (they’re currently there games back), they have as good a case as any team out West to challenge the two-time defending champs once the playoffs start.
The two-time All-Star could be a difference-maker for the surging Nuggets, who are 38-18, or he could be a non-factor. In the last two years, he’s shown glimpses of both, as the Warriors are very familiar with.
During the 2016-17 season, Thomas averaged 28.9 points and 5.9 assists per game for the Boston Celtics, while finishing fifth in MVP voting. But after suffering a hip injury, he was shipped in the offseason to the Cleveland Cavaliers, in the trade that included Kyrie Irving.
The goal was to pair IT’s star talent with LeBron James and Kevin Love for the 2017-18 season, but it never worked. Thomas’ hip injury never fully healed, and he was in and out of the lineup, struggling mightily when he did play. The Cavs ultimately sent him to the Los Angeles Lakers in a trade that, ironically, helped Los Angeles achieve the cap space necessary to sign James this past offseason. Thomas was a little better in a limited sample with the Lakers, but his struggles persisted.
It became clear that the point guard was still suffering from the hip injury, and he underwent surgery near the end of last season. Over the summer he signed a one-year veteran’s minimum contract with the Nuggets, where he was reunited with coach Mike Malone, who coached Thomas in Sacramento.
Now, he’ll get a chance to prove that he’s healthy and back to being a strong NBA player. The pressure is off of Thomas, as Denver has an established starting point guard in Jamal Murray. While Thomas has rehabbed his hip, young guards Monte Morris and Malik Beasley have established themselves as strong players, so Denver doesn’t need to rely on Thomas at all. If he can show flashes of the scorer that lit the league on fire for a few years, Denver gets that much stronger as the postseason nears - but there’s no pressure on the team, or the player.
Ultimately, it’s unlikely that Denver can do anything to really challenge the Warriors once the playoffs roll around. But returning a former star to glory certainly would be a good start.