Tim Thomas is (Probably) Not Walking Through that Door
Posted by Zach Lowe on Jun 9, 2009
I think I speak for most Celtics fans when I say I dry heaved a bit when I read over the weekend (via Spears) that Tim Thomas is telling people he wants to play for the Celtics.
Tim Thomas can tell people whatever he wants, but the fact is he is the property of the Chicago Bulls, and they are probably thrilled to have his $6.4 million expiring deal on the books. In theory, the Celtics could work out a number of trades involving their own small/medium expiring contracts (any combination involving two of House, T. Allen and Scalabrine works, as do combos involving two of those three players plus J.R. Giddens), but doesn’t that seem like a whole lot of hassle to get Tim Thomas? (Or, if you’re the Bulls, doesn’t that seem like a whole lot of hassle just to get rid of Tim Thomas? If you’re going to deal an expiring contract, don’t you want a quality player in return?)
On the other hand, if the Celtics believe Tony Allen isn’t a useful back-up wing, is it worth making a run at a “better” version of Brian Scalabrine? Is Tim Thomas a better version of Brian Scalabrine?
We’ll get to a few numbers in a second. Let’s start with one thing we know: Brian Scalabrine tries hard. I’ve never met Tim Thomas, let alone coached or covered him, but I think it’s safe to say the book on Thomas (and this is being nice) is that he tries a bit harder when his finances are at stake–as was the case during his nice playoff run with the ’06 Suns, when he averaged 15 points per game on 44 percent shooting from three-point range.
So assuming he tries hard, does Tim Thomas bring anything to the table that makes exploring a trade worth even a minute of Danny Ainge’s valuable time?
Short answer: Not really.
Thomas, going on 32 years old, really has only one NBA skill: three-point shooting. He’s a career 37 percent three-point shooter (Scal, by comparison, has a career mark of 39 percent), but he’s improved over the course of his career and can be expected to his about 40 percent of his three-point attempts on a decent offensive team. At 6’10”, Thomas will be kicking around the NBA as long he can shoot like that and drag his body around the court. He’s sort of like a left-handed reliever in that way. And he’s not shy about taking threes, either. In recent years, he’s been jacking about 6.5 threes per 36 minutes, well more than Scal’s career high rate (4.4 per 36). That actually means something to me: Thomas has a quick release, at least compared to Scalabrine. We saw that in the playoffs, when Scal was asked to play a more prominent role in the offense but couldn’t lock and load quickly enough to take advantage of (potentially) decent looks.
But that’s really all Thomas can do. He doesn’t get to the basket at all; according to 82games.com, between 75 and 80 percent of his field-goal attempts are jump shots. His assist rate (he assists on between 7 and 9 percent of teammates’ baskets while he’s on the court) is average (at best) for a forward, and his defensive rebounding rate (about 14 or 15 percent) would place him in the bottom 20 percent among all NBA forwards.
Most of all, there’s very little evidence Thomas is a useful defensive player. His defensive rating (around 111 points per 100 possessions) places him among the ten or 12 very worst defensive forwards in the league, and he no longer has the quickness to credibly defend small forwards–a skill the Celtics absolutely must find in a new bench player.
One caveat: According to 82games, every one of Thomas’s teams have actually played better on defense with him on the court since he left the ’06 Suns–the ’07 and ’08 Clippers and both the Knicks and Bulls (the latter in very limited minutes) last season all allowed at least 3.0 fewer points per 100 possessions with Thomas in the line-up. That’s a significant number.
The instant reflex is to say those numbers mean nothing because those teams were terrible defensively with or without Thomas. That’s only sort of true. The ’07 Clippers were actually 10th in the league in defensive efficiency, and the ’08 Clippers were close to average at 18th. This year’s Knicks were pretty bad–23rd–but, again, they are a limited team that would have been bad either way.
Does this mean Thomas is a good defensive player? No. A thousand times No.The 82games.com data shows he made mediocre defensive teams worse in 2005 (the Knicks) and 2006 (the Suns), so you could spin the numbers that way just as easily if you wanted.
Conclusion: He’s not worth Ainge’s time.