SACRAMENTO, Calif. – There was no attempt at downplaying it as some insignificant individual honor in the grand team scheme, no try to minimize the moment as meaningless in-season recognition halfway through the marathon. The No. 60 pick in the draft had just been named Western Conference Rookie of the Month. Everything about it was significant.
Isaiah Thomas went from the last player chosen in June to making the Kings to forcing his way in the rotation to cracking the opening lineup to 19.2 points, 6.8 assists and 50.7 percent from the field the first five starts to being named the best first-year player in his conference for February. In an especially noteworthy contrast, the East winner was Kyrie Irving, the first selection.
This was a big deal when Thomas learned of the announcement Thursday, primarily because of the perspective. February in the West was no typical pick by the league office. Most teams had passed on him in the draft over concerns of a 5-foot-9 player making, some looking elsewhere two or three times, and it took until the second full month of the season for Thomas to be recognized as a standout rookie.
“Any award in the NBA, I’ll take it,” he said. “It’s a blessing for guys. It’s something nice. I don’t know who wouldn’t want it. It’s something that a lot of people didn’t think I could get. To myself, I felt like if I had the opportunity that I’m given right now that I could get awards like this. It was unexpected, though. I did not think I was going to get it. I wasn’t even thinking about it.”
Kings coach Keith Smart, looking for a sign of blood flow in the offense, changed the starting lineup in the latest expanded role for the point guard from Washington, moving Tyreke Evans to small forward in place of John Salmons and pairing Thomas with Marcus Thornton in the backcourt. Thomas has put up big numbers ever since while providing exactly the speed Smart wanted.
Thomas is the fourth King to be named Rookie of the Month, joining eventual Rookie of the Year Evans (October/November 2009, December 2009), Brian Grant (January 1995) and Lionel Simmons (December 1990, February 1991).