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Originally published March 31, 2011 at 6:01 PM | Page modified April 1, 2011 at 7:14 PM

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Steve Kelley

Come back, Isaiah Thomas. You're not ready for the NBA yet

Washington's Isaiah Thomas said Thursday he won't be back for his senior year. He'd be wise to reconsider and return.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Sitting with an NBA team president during the Pac-10 tournament last month, we played the favorite game of all NBA bird dogs at this time of year:

Tell Me If The Underclassman's Ready For The Next Level.

• Washington State's guard Klay Thompson? "Imagine him paired in the same backcourt with someone like (Washington Wizards point guard) John Wall. He's ready."

• Arizona's power forward Derrick Williams? "OMG, we'd start him tomorrow night."

• Washington's guard Isaiah Thomas? "Not ready."

At this point in his development Thomas, who is maybe 5 feet 7, is too small for the NBA. He's too small because he doesn't do any one thing well enough to survive in the league.

At his height, a player either has to be the quickest guy on the floor, a slithering driver like Nate Archibald was, or he has to be the best athlete on the floor, disruptive in the way former Washington guard Nate Robinson is.

Thomas isn't ready, but Thursday he announced that he was declaring his eligibility for June's NBA draft. He said he would not hire an agent, which means he could change his mind and stay for his senior season at Washington.

But his tone was definitive.

"Yes, it's a goodbye," Thomas said Thursday.

I don't think he's coming back to Washington, and that's a mistake.

Thomas should test the market. He should talk with NBA coaches and scouts. He should hear the truth from the people who work at the level. He needs to know what he needs to hear.


They will tell him he has a lot of work to do. They will tell him he needs to become a more consistent shooter, and he needs to get his shot off quicker. He needs to be a better free-throw shooter. He has to become a better on-ball defender.

He has to find a way to score at the rim. He struggled this season trying to get to the basket against teams with length and height, most notably in the NCAA tournament against North Carolina.

When Klay Thompson auditions for teams this spring, he will knock down one shot after the other, machine-like.

Thomas can't do that. Not yet.

He doesn't have that one "wow" move. He needs another summer to find it, another summer to improve his shooting and another season to improve his all-around game.

In his favor, scouts don't yet know about the size of Thomas' heart. They don't know about the indomitability of his spirit. They don't know that when Thomas gets knocked to the floor, he doesn't stay on the floor. He pops up immediately.

They don't know that, at every level, Thomas has found a way to overcome his size.

He likes being told what he can't do, and then doing it.

There were times this season when Thomas carried Washington. He was fearless with the ball. In the final moments of big games, he wanted to take the last shot. His game-winner in the Pac-10 tournament final against Arizona showed just how clutch he can be.

After Abdul Gaddy was lost with a knee injury in January, Thomas showed he can be a point guard. But in late February, fatigue set in. Thomas went into a shooting slump, and the Huskies lost two of their final three home games.

It doesn't make sense for him to leave now. A lockout is looming in the NBA, which means if he enters the draft, Thomas may have no place to play next season.

Maybe the point-guard log jam at Washington is bothering him. With Gaddy healthy and Tony Wroten joining the team, Thomas probably will have to play both guard positions. Maybe he believes that will hurt his chances in the 2012 draft.

But if he stays, Thomas will be the preseason favorite for Pac-12 player of the year. If he stays, Washington again will be a legitimate contender for the conference championship. And if he stays, he will have one more year to mature into the kind of player an NBA team would consider.

But if he goes, Thomas could sentence himself to a long stay in NBA limbo. A lot will happen between now and draft day, but he probably will be chosen in the middle of the second round, play in the summer league and the exhibition season, then either sit on the end of the bench or land in the NBA's Development League.

So come back, Isaiah. It isn't too late. The NBA still will be around in 2012. And you need your senior year.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or

Huskies' early exits
Isaiah Thomas would be the fifth UW player to leave early for the NBA draft. Others had mixed success:
Year Player NBA draft NBA career
1997 Mark Sanford Second round (31), Miami Never played
2003 Doug Wrenn Not drafted Never played
2005 Nate Robinson First round (21), Phoenix In sixth year with third team, 11.3 ppg career
2007 Spencer Hawes First round (10), Sacramento In fourth year with second team, 8.4 ppg career

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation. | 206-464-2176



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