Isaiah Thomas declares for NBA Draft: What this means for Isaiah and for UW

To put it simply, I didn’t see this coming. Being the hopeless optimistic that you have to be to survive as a sports fan in this city I believed it when all indications pointed to Isaiah coming back. Isaiah himself even proclaimed he was coming back via twitter after their disappointing season end against North Carolina.  But here it is. Isaiah is leaving, supposedly.

According to the information that we have available to us now Isaiah has not hired an agent. This immediately brings me back to the 2003-04 season when a Sophomore Nate Robinson passively tested the NBA waters, not hiring an agent, and instead returned to school for his Junior year. He ascending to a first round status after his Junior season. This could potentially be what Isaiah is doing. Since, curiously, Lorenzo Romar has been very supportive of Isaiah testing the waters of the NBA. It’s admirable that Romar wants to help his kids and encourage them to achieve in the highest level of the sport but I can’t help but think that pushing Isaiah towards the NBA this year is a more harmful individual decision than helpful.

Let’s take into account the fact that the over whelming opinion for a 5’8″ combo guard is still a second round grade, as well as the fact that the NBA is in a collision course for an ugly labor standoff that could (probably should) take a chunk out of the 2011-12 season. It is true that Isaiah did a lot to prove his ability to handle Point guard duties this season after Abdul Gaddy’s injury, but Isaiah still had problems penetrating into the lane against zones and his jump shot still had streaky inconsistencies. Will Isaiah catch on with a team regardless? Yes, if nothing else, because of the potential he still has to achieve. He’s got more talent than players such as Earl Boykins or Nate Robinson that have made a living bouncing around from team to team as under six foot dynamo guards providing energy off the bench. He gets on a hot streak with his jump shot and does a great job of getting to the bucket and getting opposing players in foul trouble. He’s got quick hands on defense and was among Washington’s career leaders in steals. There are roles for those type of players on every NBA team’s bench.

So why now?

Perhaps Isaiah feels that he’s achieved all he could at Washington. He’s won a regular season conference title, and back to back conference tournaments. He’s played in a Sweet 16 and holds a 4-3 NCAA Tournament record. And, we can be real here, that’s about as much as you can expect out of Washington in a three year good stretch. This team won’t compete for many Final Four appearances and a Sweet 16 will always be considered a success. Even without his Senior year Isaiah will go down as one of the most accomplished Huskies ever. Maybe Isaiah felt the pressure coming up behind him with Tony Wroten getting to campus and Abdul Gaddy coming back to health. Perhaps he wanted more minutes at point guard that simply weren’t going to be there for him anymore.

What we do know having had the pleasure to watch him for the last three years is that Isaiah is a very competitive person on the court who uses everything as motivation, and perhaps the nay-saying of his NBA prospects have made him eager to prove those people wrong as soon as possible.

Still, the door will be open to return to Washington as long as he doesn’t hire an agent.

Where Washington stands as a team without Isaiah:

Without Isaiah the Huskies lose a leader. The Huskies lose the guy who wanted the ball in his hands at the end of the game. And, well, the Huskies lose 16 points and 7 assists a game. Is he replaceable? Sure, but that’s more easily written by me on this blog than it is for the Huskies to actually do on the court. But there’s reasons to be optimistic that the program can continue to churn at a high level without Isaiah.

The point guard position will still be NBA laden. Depending on Abdul Gaddy’s health the huskies will have their starter back. ACL injuries vary but it won’t be unreasonable to expect Gaddy to be back on the court playing around December, and getting back into full swing as conference play heats up. In the mean time the phenom superstud five star Tony Wroten Jr. will be able to step into the starting point guard role. Wroten is a player who will thrive in the Huskies up tempo system and who has unbelievable court vision. Early on, though, turnovers and shot selection will be a problem for him.

Rounding out Washington’s back court will be 2/3 guard Terrance Ross, who I’d anticipate eating up major minutes now, with sharp shooters Scott Suggs and CJ Wilcox being major contributors off the bench. Rainier Beach product Hikeem Stewart could be emergency depth but I’d still imagine he will use his red shirt year.

So the Huskies will be just as good without him?…….Right?…

Again, easier written than done. But his scoring can be supplemented. It’s not hard to imagine Tony Wroten eating major minutes and getting double digit point figures per game. If Abdul Gaddy can build on his 8 points and 3.5 assists when he comes back healthy than that will take a huge chunk out of the No-Isaiah hurt as well. The x-factor can really be Terrence Ross, who might just be the Huskies best NBA prospect anyways. He only averaged 8 points a game last season but that was much more a factor of fluctuating minutes and his role on the team. When he did play, he was extremely effective. He eclipsed double digit scoring 12 times, including each Pac-10 tournament game and against North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament. Given consistent minutes, Terrance can be Washington’s leading scorer.

What about the rest of the Pac-12?

The Huskies aren’t the only team being bit by the NBA bug. USC lost Nikola Vucevic. Your typical 6-10 European big man who grabbed 10 boards a game but was able to score in a finesse way, both around the basket and around the perimeter.

UCLA is being hurt by losing Tyler Honeycutt and, potentially Malcom Lee, who did the same thing as Isaiah, declaring without an agent.

But what everybody is still waiting on is the decision of Derick Williams at Arizona. And it will be a very difficult decision. Chances are, however high his stock is, it’s as high as it’s going to be. I’ve seen mocks with him going anywhere from number one overall to number six overall. Recent trends tend to point to one and done freshman dominating the top half of the lottery. This year might be a little different as this freshman crop isn’t as dominant. But with kids like Austin Rivers and Marcus Teague coming in next year it could be back to more of the same in 2012. So should Derick take advantage of what is a weak class and try to nab number one? Or did coming tantalizingly close to the Final Four motivate him to extend his college career?

Arizona has a strong class coming in so it’s hard to imagine them relenting their Pac-1(2) crown with him back. But without him Arizona will have suffered the biggest blow of any team in the Conference, though, should still be the early favorite.

So stay tuned. There’s going to be more.