For one moment, disassociate all Isaiah Thomas’s statistics from his contentious persona, preposterous physical features, and the somewhat unfair stigma that’s still connected to reserves when they’re compared to starters. What you have is one of the most devastating offensive instruments in the NBA.

Thomas is 5’9” and played for three teams in his first four seasons. Now he’s the single biggest reason—aside from Brad Stevens—smart people believe the rebuilding Boston Celtics can win 48 games this season (two more than Washington won last year). He’s good, but can he be an All-Star? Momentarily consider it as a serious proposition and the question quickly morphs into a plausible scenario. Who, if anyone, from last year’s Eastern Conference All-Star squad can Thomas conceivably replace?

The starting guards in 2014-15 were Kyle Lowry and John Wall. The reserves were Kyrie Irving, Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague. Dwyane Wade missed the game with a knee injury, Goran Dragic was in Phoenix, Derrick Rose was a tragedy, and Bradley Beal wasn’t good enough. The field is more competitive this time around (especially with Paul George back in the mix), but, technically, Thomas can still squeeze into one of six slots. (Two starting guards, a pair of back ups, and two wild card selections.)

Let’s assume a couple things: Irving’s health and Korver’s expected decline/age will keep them out. That leaves two openings for a perennially injured Wade, a perennially injured Rose, Dragic, Beal, Thomas and whoever else (Reggie Jackson, Victor Oladipo, Khris Middleton, etc.) that may enter into the conversation. 

Thomas is no lock, but besides Wall and Lowry—who’s spent the preseason looking like a three-point shooting Allen Iverson—neither is anybody else. And in a crowded landscape, coaches tend to reward players on winning teams. All the better if he’s on a winner that exceeds expectations; it’s oh so clear that Thomas makes his team better. 

Last year, Boston’s offense averaged 109.2 points per 100 possessions with Thomas on the floor (including a hysterical 117.5 in 138 fourth quarter minutes—both team highs) and just 98.8 when he sat. It’s the difference between the third and 27th best offenses in the league, per (Similar reverberations were felt by the Phoenix Suns; they scored 108.8 points per 100 possessions with Thomas and 100.5 without him last season.)

The opportunity to ravage opposing bench units combined with an impotent Celtics starting lineup partially explains this disparity. But Thomas’ impact was still greatly appreciated. 

According to Nylon Calculus, only two players in the league logged a higher True Usage percentage last season. (True Usage percentage is defined as an “estimate of the percentage of offensive plays on which a player contributes to the end result while he is on the floor; ‘contributing’ is defined as a scoring attempt, turnover or potential assist.”) Only seven players boasted a higher Scoring Usage percentage—again, described by Nylon Calculus as a “percentage of plays used by the player in terms of scoring attempts whether FGA or trips to the foul line.” All seven ahead of Thomas were All-Stars last season. 

In other words, Thomas was invaluable to a Celtics team that shocked the league and made the playoffs. So, what makes him so good? Thomas sprinkles moments of deception over relentlessly quick (and deliberate) movement. His hesitation dribble is second to none, a stuttering twitch that Madusa’s defenders where they stand. 

His shot’s release is lightning, placing his defender in a precarious spot each time Boston rockets out in transition. Thomas demands tight coverage, and his immediate response to getting it is a sprint towards the basket, where he can draw contact with the best of them. 

According to Basketball-Reference, the only guards with a higher free-throw rate last season were James Harden, Russell Westbrook and DeMar DeRozan. (Jimmy Butler also falls in this category if you think of him as a guard. I don’t.) Thomas is uber-efficient, allergic to mid-range jumpers and obsessed with attacking opponents at the charity stripe and behind the three-point line.

Does this make him an All-Star, or just an extremely effective playmaker who happens to come off the bench? Applauding a sixth man for being a sixth man is somewhat of a backhanded compliment; they’re role players who rarely influence games like those who start ahead of them. (Or so some people still believe.) Manu Ginobili is a two-time All-Star, but both selections came when he was a full-time starter. James Harden didn’t make it until the Thunder shipped him to Houston. Detlef Schremp won two straight Sixth Man of the Year awards; both seasons came in advance of his three trips to All-Star weekend.

But precedent does exist! Five All-Stars in NBA history started fewer than 20 games and played over 1000 minutes, per Basketball-Reference. Thomas can be the sixth if he extrapolates last season’s 25-game sample size over a longer time frame. Boston’s upgraded roster will only help.

Thomas’ defensive shortcomings have not been mentioned for a reason. Being a liability on that end of the floor won’t put a dent in your All-Star case if you’re moving the needle on offense. If we widen the context beyond “who can make the All-Star game?” Thomas’ flaws are a worrisome smudge on his resume, and almost exclusively explain why he’s better utilized off the bench, facing units that are less likely to exploit his bite-sized frame on the block or against the pick-and-roll. 

He sort of feels like a novelty act: the one-dimensional dribbling maniac who lulls defenders to sleep before beating them over the head with a bag of magic tricks. Sooner or later the league will adapt and collectively erase what makes Thomas such slippery poison. But that day isn’t even close to the horizon—only six players were more efficient scoring out of the pick-and-roll last year (minimum 100 possessions), per Synergy—and, for now, his candidacy to make the 2016 All-Star game should definitely be viewed as a legitimate one.