Isaiah Thomas May Be Most Underrated Prospect In 2011 NCAA Tournament

Isaiah Thomas is a forgotten or scorned player to many NBA Draft scouts, but those guys really should be paying more attention to him as the 2011 NCAA Tournament gets underway. There's really no reason why Thomas is not considered a legitimate NBA prospect going forward.

The biggest knock on Thomas is that he's small. There aren't very many 5'8'' players in the NBA, especially those that are combo guards. But over the last two months, Thomas has dramatically improved his point guard skills, to the point where I have a hard time believing he couldn't make it as an NBA point guard. He's nearly doubled his assist average per 40 minutes this season, jumping from 3.8/40 as a sophomore to seven a game as a junior. He had double-digit assists in five games this year, all in Pac-10 games. Getting his teammates involved may have been a challenge in the past, but not anymore.

Thomas has also become a much more efficient scorer this season. One of the other issues with him in the past is that he exhibited poor shot-selection and played out of control. This season, though, his true shooting percentage is all the way up to nearly 57 percent, which is well above average. All of his percentages are up too -- he's now shooting 52 percent from two-point range, nearly 36 percent from three-point range and 45 percent overall. Throw in his creative finishing ability around the basket and his ability to change speeds to freeze defenders -- skills that have always been there -- and what's not to like?

If Jameer Nelson can be a successful NBA point guard, why can't Thomas? Before you dismiss that as blasphemy, let's compare their statistics when both players were juniors. Nelson, of course, broke out fully as a senior, but Thomas is still only a junior, so I think the comparison is still fair.

(Stats via Draft Express and Basketball Reference)

Isaiah_jameer_medium

Nelson was a better scorer, but that's mostly because he took more shots. Thomas, on the other hand, is a better playmaker and was actually more efficient. If Thomas was three inches taller, he'd be talked about as a lottery pick. As it is, he's not even listed in the first round of the Draft Express mock draft.

Thomas already had a mini-coming out party in the Pac-10 Tournament title game (thank you Gus Johnson), but he could open a few more eyes if his Huskies surprise and make a deep run. Maybe then, scouts will finally take notice.

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WHO: Isaiah Thomas, point guard, Washington. 5'8'', 180 pounds.

WHEN: Friday, March 18 at 9:45 PM Eastern, Washington vs. Georgia (CBS).

PAY SPECIAL ATTENTION: Fans of the Timberwolves (Rubio insurance with your team's second pick), Blazers (no more Andre Miller guys), Rockets and Bobcats.

NBA COMPARISON: Jameer Nelson, except four inches shorter

Need a printable March Madness bracket?

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