Going into his NBA debut against the Los Angeles Lakers, Isaiah Thomas was Paul Westphal’s go-to guy for guarding guards in the post, after developing such an image throughout the Kings‘ training camp.
Guys would try to back me down, and they would just always turn the ball over for whatever reason. I’m not saying I’m a super defender; it’s just they were trying to exploit the mismatch but always seemed to turn the ball over or take a bad shot. In training camp, Paul Westphal’s like, ‘nobody’s backing down IT, don’t do it.’Isaiah Thomas, All The Smoke
Over the course of his NBA career, Thomas became the guy coaches would go out of their way to hide on the defensive end. But with no NBA appearances to his resume, the 5-9 rookie point guard was Westphal’s secret defensive weapon off the bench. And in the second quarter of their season opener against the Purple and Gold, the Kings’ head coach decided to utilize it.
When Paul Westphal put me in the game, he’s naming who everybody got. And then I’m like, ‘coach, who do I got?‘ He’s like, ‘you got Kobe, and remember, nobody can back you down!’Isaiah Thomas, All The Smoke
The 22-year-old, who the Kings drafter 60th overall, stepped on the court and was ready for a challenge. But unlike his head coach, he wasn’t under the delusion Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest post-up guards ever, wouldn’t abuse him down low.
“I appreciate you putting me in, but Kobe’s backing everybody down,” he said to Westphal. As expected, that’s exactly what happened. But Thomas enjoyed every second of it.
The first three possessions, they do a little iso. I’m over behind Kobe, just smiling, knowing he’s about to fade away. He hits two out of three shots. The first shot he hit, I was sprinting down the court just laughing like, ‘damn, I’m here.’ The first time in my life when somebody scored on me, I was smiling and happy about it, because that was my favorite player. Even touching his jersey, I was like, ‘damn, I made it. You can hit this fade away on me all game, I’ll be silent.’Isaiah Thomas, All The Smoke
The 5-9 rookie played just over 13 minutes in his NBA debut and had 5 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists. Kobe finished the game with 29 points, 4 of which came over Isaiah. The Kings beat the Lakers 100-91 at home for the first time in over three years, and IT got a taste of what’s it like being an NBA player.
Paul Westphal throwing me in there and being like, ‘nobody can back you down,’ and then me having to guard Kobe the first three possessions of my NBA career, that was my little welcome to the NBA moment.Isaiah Thomas, All The Smoke