6:27 AM CT
ESPN Staff Writer
DALLAS — In his Los Angeles Lakers debut, Isaiah Thomas made 3-pointers, a pull-up jumper and difficult drives to the basket.
At times, the point guard felt like his old self.
“I wanted to bring something to the table,” Thomas said. “I felt like I got my powers back playing on this team.”
Calling his trade to the Lakers “a fresh start,” Thomas got over the “shock” of being dealt from the Cleveland Cavaliers by scoring 22 points and dishing six assists in his first game with the Lakers. Although Los Angeles had its four-game win streak snapped with a 130-123 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Thomas gave the Lakers a glimpse of his scoring prowess despite not knowing the playbook.
After coming back from a hip injury and struggling in 15 games with the Cavaliers, Thomas showed flashes of returning to his old form after just one shootaround with his new team. He made seven of 12 shots, including going 4-of-8 from behind the arc, and displayed his ability to score points in bunches when he put up 11 points in nine minutes in the second quarter.
“He brings another dimension to what we have,” said head coach Luke Walton, who was annoyed with the team’s lack of defense in just the Lakers’ fifth defeat in their past 17 games. “When he is able to control pick-and-rolls and get people shots, obviously we couldn’t run a ton of stuff because he has been with us for one day, but he was good.”
Thomas had dinner with Walton on Friday night upon joining the Lakers in Dallas. He tried cramming the Lakers’ playbook on his iPad on Friday night but played with admittedly little to no knowledge of the Lakers’ play sets. Walton opted to bring Thomas, who was traded along with Channing Frye and a protected first-round pick to the Lakers for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., into the game off the bench.
But Thomas, who said he would love to start but will play whatever role Walton wants, played the entire fourth quarter. He had six turnovers in the game, including one late when he left his feet inside the paint and threw the ball away due to his lack of familiarity with where his new teammates were on the floor, and committed five personal fouls in the fourth quarter.
Thomas had as good a debut as he could have hoped for under the circumstances, giving the Lakers elements that they are looking for with Clarkson gone: another instant offensive weapon with perimeter shooting off the bench and the ability to push the pace with some playmaking.
Thomas said he liked the pace and energy of his new team after averaging 14.7 points and 4.5 assists in 15 games before the Cavaliers pulled the plug on their stint with Thomas.
Lakers president Magic Johnson said he wants newly acquired guard Isaiah Thomas to be a mentor for injured rookie Lonzo Ball. Danny Bollinger/NBAE/Getty Images
“I was shocked,” Thomas said of the trade. “It was a surprise, but at the same time, I am happy to have a new start, I am happy to be here with the Lakers, happy to be with a young team that is exciting, that likes to get up and down. That’s my style of play. I am here to help in any way possible. It’s a fresh start for me. I am excited.
“It kind of reminds me of the same situation when I got traded to Boston. It was a young team that was thinking rebuild, but we had some different thoughts than that, and we made a push to the playoffs. That is my job: to come to this team and bring that spirit, that fire, that killer’s mentality and just understand that we can take advantage of this opportunity that we have [the rest of] the season. It’s about winning, and it is about winning right now.”
Thomas made it clear that he does not want to “mess anything up” with the Lakers, who entered Saturday night’s game playing their best basketball of the season. With Lonzo Ball (sprained MCL) out, Brandon Ingram has flourished at point guard. Ingram started his fifth straight game at the position and scored 22 points while knocking down four of five 3-pointers.
“This is the best they have been playing,” Thomas said. “I don’t want to mess anything up. And I told [Walton] that. Whatever he needs me to do, I am willing to do that. Yes, I would love to be a starter. I feel like I deserve that and earned that, but at the same time, it’s a new chapter for me. I am here to help this team, help these young guys, continue to be professional, continue to work hard and continue to jell together.”
When Ball returns from his injury, Walton could start Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Ingram, Julius Randle and Brook Lopez. But Walton kept his options open when asked about Thomas’ role moving forward.
“Isaiah, he is one of the best point guards in our league,” Walton said. “And I am quite aware of that. He’s been with the team for [only a few] hours now. We are going to get him playing and get him used to what we do, and I told him that for us, it doesn’t matter who starts and who doesn’t. We’re a group that different groups finish the game all the time for us.”
“He wants to start. Of course he does,” Walton added. “Everybody wants to start. I expect him to really help our team out, and I expect him to be a positive influence on our team and help us win ballgames … how many times have we changed our starting lineup this year? We are going to reward guys that are playing hard, playing the right way, that are going to help us, in our opinion, give us the best chance of winning ballgames. Now, we are still obviously developing young players at the same time, but we always take both of those into consideration.”