Isaiah Thomas has productive Pelicans debut in long-awaited NBA return, happy to ‘feel back to normal’

He had to wait well over a year, but veteran guard Isaiah Thomas finally made his return to an NBA court. The New Orleans Pelicans signed Thomas to a 10-day contract earlier this month, and he made his debut with the team Tuesday night against the Atlanta Hawks. 

The return was a long time coming for Thomas, who last played on Feb. 3, 2020 as a member of the Washington Wizards, and it certainly didn’t take him long to have an impact out on the floor. Almost immediately after checking into the game in the first quarter, Thomas picked up an assist with a nice drop-off pass to a cutting James Johnson: 

Thomas’ first basket with New Orleans came in the second quarter when he knocked down a 3 on an assist from Eric Bledsoe: 

Thomas wasn’t content with sinking just one 3-pointer in the second quarter. He also converted a floater and then knocked down another 3 to score eight straight points for the Pels: 

The Pelicans ultimately lost the game 123-107, but Thomas finished with 10 points, two rebounds and two assists in 25 minutes of action — pretty promising production for a player who had been out of the league for 14 months. Despite his lengthy layoff, Thomas’ confidence never wavered. 

“I was always going to get back no matter what,” Thomas said prior to the game against the Hawks, via ESPN. “I think with me and the mindset, if you ever have doubt, you shouldn’t be doing anything that you’re doing. … Obviously I’m human and some days it was hard to get up than others and continue to work without seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. But I have the utmost faith and the utmost confidence in myself. Things have never been easy for me, why would they start now?”

A big key for Thomas moving forward is his health. Thomas was hampered by a hip injury during his last several stints with the Cavaliers, Lakers, Nuggets and Wizards. He addressed the issue over the offseason by undergoing a hip resurfacing procedure, and now he said he feels like his old self. 

“I’m 102 percent. I’m more than good,” Thomas said. “This is the best I ever felt since before I got injured. It’s not even a question no more. Every day I wake up with a smile on my face because honestly I never thought I would feel this good again and feel back to normal. Physically I’m ready. Mentally I’m ready. And I’m just happy to really be here.”  

Thomas’ return to NBA action was complete with a pair of tributes to the late Kobe Bryant, who Thomas has previously credited as a mentor and an inspiration. Thomas is wearing No. 24 with the Pelicans to honor Bryant, and he also rocked a pair of Kobe Nike’s in his Pelicans debut. 

Ultimately, Thomas is going to have to string together more positive performances if he wants to stick with the Pelicans for longer than 10 days, or get picked up by another organization. But while his future in the league remains an uncertain one, it’s important to celebrate the small victories in life, and for Thomas getting back out on an NBA court after such a long time away had to be an awesome feeling. 

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