Nearly three years ago – March 12, 2011 – Washington junior guard Isaiah Thomas delivered his most memorable performance as a Husky. In the Pac-10 Championship game against No. 1 seed Arizona, Thomas played all 45 minutes, scored 28 points and, as time was about to expire in the first overtime, ignored Lorenzo Romar’s plea for a timeout and dropped an 18-foot buzzer beater to knock out the Wildcats 77-75.
Two months later, and despite making the All-Pac-10 team three consecutive years, Thomas became the 60th – and final – player selected in the NBA draft, his low status due entirely to his 5-foot-9 height. Only the Sacramento Kings thought Thomas had a chance to stick in the league, and they thought correctly.
After Thomas averaged 11.5 points as a rookie in 2011-12, he improved to 13.2 in 2012-13. Through 59 games this season, Thomas, now a full-time starter, is averaging 20.5 points and 6.4 rebounds, astonishing totals for a player picked 60th.
In his three seasons, Thomas has also produced seven 30-point scoring performances (high of 38, twice), nine games with double figures in assists and 11 double doubles. Nobody saw that coming.
By way of comparison, two ex-Washington guards who followed Thomas into the NBA, 6-foot-6 Terrence Ross and 6-foot-5 Tony Wroten, both first-round picks in 2012, have combined to average 23.1 points and 3.9 assists in reserve roles this season for the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers, respectively.
Thomas, Ross and Wroten serve as points of reference to a current Washington guard, Nigel Williams-Goss – especially Thomas and Wroten. Thomas won the Pac-10’s Freshman of the Year award in 2009 while Wroten was the league’s Freshman of the Year in 2012.
Williams-Goss is a strong candidate to win the award this season, his principal rivals including Arizona’s Aaron Gordon, Colorado’s Wesley Gordon, USC’s Julian Jacobs and UCLA’s Bryce Alford. Aaron Gordon is the favorite, playing as he does for No. 3 -ranked Arizona, although his impact on the Wildcats is statistically no greater than the impact Williams-Goss has had on the Huskies.
Add their per-game scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocked shots averages, deduct their turnovers, and this is how Aaron Gordon, Williams-Goss, Wesley Gordon, Jacobs and Alford compare.
Williams-Goss has been especially effective in recent weeks, starting with Washington’s 64-60 victory over Stanford Feb. 12 when he had 16 points, five rebounds and five assists in 34 minutes while running the Huskies with senior-like savvy.
In an 86-62 victory over Oregon State Feb. 22, Williams-Goss scored 10 points early, finished with 14 and dished 10 assists, the most by a Washington freshman in 20 years.
Last time out, in Washington’s 72-49 thumping of Washington State, Williams-Goss scored 17 points, had a career-high 12 rebounds, four assists and no turnovers in 30 minutes.
Williams-Goss has numbers this season similar to those produced by Wroten in 2011-12, but with a several important differences: Williams-Goss is a far more accurate shooter. He makes 47 percent of his attempts to Wroten’s 44.4, 35 percent of his 3-pointers to Wroten’s abysmal 16.1, and 70 percent of his free throws to Wroten’s 58.3. Also, and although Wroten had a more powerful move to the basket, Williams-Goss is a better finisher.
With three regular-season games and the Pac-12 tournament ahead of him, Williams is 10 shy of breaking Wroten’s freshman record for assists (130). Wroten also plays better with his teammates than Wroten, who liked to work solo, often to the team’s detriment.
Recruited out of Findlay (NV) Prep, where he was both a Parade and McDonald’s All-America selection, Williams-Goss has an opportunity to finish with the finest freshman season in recent UW history. With the campaign nearing an end, this is how he ranks among the more notable freshmen guards who played under Romar, again based on the sum of points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks, minus turnovers.
Seven of the listed guards – Wroten, Thomas, Robinson, Pondexter, Ross, Roy and Conroy, spent considerable time in the NBA, or are still active in the league. Roy, with a Rookie of the Year award and three All-Star appearances, had the most success before injuries derailed his career.
Roy wasn’t much as a UW freshman, at least compared to the others, but he developed a wonderful game under Romar. More polished now than Roy was as a freshman, Williams-Goss is just beginning that process.