The Boston Celtics have made an abundance of moves this offseason through trades, the draft, and free agency, but the health of Isaiah Thomas‘ hip will ultimately determine the Celtics chances against the Cleveland Cavaliers when the 2018 playoffs roll around.
During Game 2 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas aggravated a right hip injury he originally sustained in March of the regular season. An injury that forced him to miss the rest of the series, erasing any hope the Celtics had of upsetting a heavily favored, LeBron James led, Cavaliers team.
Thomas’ injury has since drawn comparisons to the one suffered by former Syracuse Orange and Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jonny Flynn. Both Thomas and Flynn are of similar stature, shorter players with exceptional athletic ability. Flynn’s injury required surgery and soon ended his professional basketball career. Although doctors have determined that Thomas does not currently need surgery, at only 5’9, his hips and lower body are essential to the deadly hesitation moves he combines with elite quickness and ball handling to make up for a lack of height. A lingering hip injury could potentially be devastating to his overall game.
If Thomas were to miss time, Boston will look very much like it did this past season. Gordon Hayward would step in for Thomas as the Celtics clear-cut number one option. Hayward will be forced to play more minutes and his usage rate will likely increase, up from 27.6% in 2016-17 to around the 33.7% mark Thomas posted. Without both Thomas and Hayward able to play, like last year, the Celtics will experience stretches where good shots can be difficult to find and the time between each made basket increases.
If Thomas is 100%, the Celtics will be an offensive juggernaut. With Hayward also on the floor, Boston will not be forced to rely solely on Thomas as the teams only playmaker and shot-creator. Hayward’s ability will allow all of his teammates to get better looks at excellent shots, resulting in a more fluid and effective Celtics offense. As a result, Thomas will not be forced to grind his body as much as last season to make plays. This should also lead to an improvement in Thomas’ league-worst defensive production, enabling the team as a whole to be more effective on both ends of the floor.
When the 2018 playoffs near, Boston will likely be in a tight race with Cleveland for the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. Securing the top seed will be crucial in a series against Cleveland and Thomas will need to be at full-strength if the Celtics are to do so. If he is not, Boston’s chances take a significant plunge. If he is, LeBron will be faced with his greatest Eastern Conference challenge since the Miami Heat narrowly edged the Celtics out in 7 games during the 2012 Conference Finals.
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