Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas on Michael Malone: “He trusted me from the jump”


Michael Malone remembers a story his father, longtime NBA coach Brendan Malone, used to tell him about Allen Iverson.

The shortened version goes something like this: Iverson — a talented, irreverent point guard out of Georgetown — was playing in his first summer league after being drafted by Philadelphia in 1996. Malone recalls his father telling him that the coach of the 76ers, Johnny Davis, told the assistant running the summer league team: “Talk to Allen. He’s got to be more of a point guard.”

“So he talked to Allen Iverson and Iverson said: ‘You must not have watched me in college. That’s not what I do,’ ” Malone recalled.

Iverson, of course, went on to a hall of fame career as a high-volume scoring point guard. The story provided an interesting parallel as the Nuggets on Friday hosted the Celtics, who are led by another pint-sized star in Isaiah Thomas, a 5-foot-9 point guard knocking on the door of the MVP conversation.

When Malone coached Thomas in Sacramento during the 2013-14 season, he had no interested in funneling Thomas into the role of a “traditional” point guard, as others in the organization were attempting to do. It was an approach Thomas still appreciates.

“He was a guy that trusted me from the jump,” Thomas said of Malone. “He believed in me, and when he was able to coach me he allowed me to play through mistakes, allowed me to be myself and was someone that was a 100 percent real with me from Day One. So someone that I’m really close to, and we talk to this day.”

Malone told Thomas he would come off the bench at point guard behind Greivis Vasquez. But he was also clear that he wanted Thomas to be Sacramento’s closer, the guy they could trust to finish games. Thomas averaged 20 points this season, and this season he leads all NBA players in fourth-quarter scoring.

“I wanted him to be the best Isaiah Thomas possible,” Malone said. “I wanted to be that scorer, but also look for ways to make your team better. I think that’s what he’s gotten better at along the way.”

Footnote. The Nuggets assigned rookie guard Malik Beasley to the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the D-League.