Isaiah Joe headlines today’s Sixers draft target. The 6’5″ wing took college basketball by storm in 2018. Turning into one of the nation’s elite three point shooters. While his sophomore has not been as smooth, Joe comes into the draft as a top shooting prospect. Providing that type of range most teams look for in today’s NBA. So what has changed from his freshman to sophomore year? And how can Joe contribute much needed offense to Philadelphia’s current core.
- Payton Pritchard, guard from Oregon
- Jahmi’us Ramsey, guard from Texas Tech
- Myles Powell, guard from Seton Hall
- Jalen Smith, forward from Maryland
- Saddiq Bey, wing from Villanova
- Tre Jones, guard from Duke
- Aaron Nesmith, wing from Vanderbilt
- Desmond Bane, guard from TCU
- Kira Lewis, guard from Alabama
- Patrick Williams, wing from Florida State
- Ty-Shon Alexander, guard/wing from Creighton
- Jordan Nwora, wing from Louisville
- Cassius Stanley, guard from Duke
- Elijah Hughes, guard from Syracuse
- Nico Mannion, guard from Arizona
THE TALE OF TWO (VERY DIFFERENT) SEASONS
Isaiah Joe walked into Fayetteville as the nation’s 28th-best shooting guard. The four-star recruit entered a Razorback team anchored by future NBA draft pick in Daniel Gafford. With a dominant big man, coach Mike Anderson opted to flow Arkansas’ offense from inside out. A newcomer to the SEC, Isaiah Joe benefited from an array of open looks during his first season. As a freshman, Joe shot an impressive 41% on 8 three pointers per game including a 10 three pointer game against Florida International that immediately put him on the NBA map. But understanding how it came about is significant. With Gafford at center, much of the defense shifted inside. Leaving wide open shooting lanes for Joe to take advantage of. Take a look here at how this played out for Arkansas.
Fast forward to his sophomore year. With Gafford now out of the picture, Joe turned into a significant target for defenses. As a result, his three point shooting cratered. Defenses now keen on stopping Joe made life extensively harder in the perimeter. Here is how it looked during his second season.
With a larger bullseye Joe’s shooting efficiency plummeted and while Arkansas enjoyed modest team success, it was much harder to find the player that burst into the scenes in 2018. Even still, Isaiah Joe left a considerable mark including a 26 point outburst against Georgia weeks after sustaining a significant knee injury (one that would require surgery at season’s end). Joe’s focus now shifts to the NBA draft. Where he must show to be much closer to the player we saw two seasons ago.
- Significant shooting range. Comfortable pulling up well beyond the three point line both in the half court and in transition.
- Quick to establish balance. Can retrieve a poor pass and set feet in compacted spaces.
- Comfortable shooting off one dribble. Uses subtle step back to gain space when facing tight ball defense.
- Leverages the attention as shooter to slip subtle passes behind the defense.
- Aware space defender. Long athlete. Moves well laterally. Above average reaction skills.
- Thin frame limits impact as a switchable defender and scorer near the rim.
- Not a dynamic ball handler. Settles for contested floaters. Low level shot creator off dribble drive action.
- Rarely used off screens and dribble hand-offs.
- Can get trigger happy. Attempts to shoot himself back into games with a poor shot selection.
- Impacted by speed of play of strong SEC teams. Shot a combined 6-27 from deep vs Kentucky and LSU.
DECIPHERING ISAIAH JOE’S OFFENSIVE GAME
Isaiah Joe relies heavily upon his bag of tricks to generate offense. At Arkansas, coaches had a good feel as to how to involve him into the flow of the offense. Joe is not a high volume isolation scorer. As a result, much of his offense comes from scripted sets. Yet there is more to Isaiah Joe’s game that meets the eye. Understanding the framework of his offensive game is a significant step to project ahead. So let’s dive into the details
CREATING SHOOTING SPACE
Much of what can possibly raise Joe’s game at the next level is his ability to handle tight ball pressure. No one will mistake him for James Harden. However, Joe displayed encouraging shot creation at Arkansas. Two moves that particularly stand out are the pump fake and the step back. Per Synergy, Joe scored in the 99th percentile among isolation scorers (1.375 points per possession). But don’t be fooled by this statistic as he accounted for only 16 ISO possessions on the season. Regardless, these are indicators of a player that can do more than score off the catch. The step back is an intriguing part of Joe’s arsenal. Against Kentucky, you can see how he gets Tyler Herro moving off balance only to pivot and fire.
But it is not just the step back that Joe uses to generate space. Faced with constant pressure in the perimeter, he also displays a subtle pump fake that usually sends defenders flying. This is a quite useful tool as his efficiency from deep causes defenders to hedge extremely hard at him. Just take a look at how a simple ball fake creates an entirely new shooting window for Joe.
BASELINE MOTION AND THE PICK AND ROLL
There are also elements of motion that (occasionally) creep into Joe’s game. Most of all of them revolve around the baseline. Joe has phenomenal balance. And his ability to quickly get into shooting form is one of the most impressive parts of his game. Aided by baseline screens, Joe can extend defenses horizontally as well. And that provides tremendous stress for defenders to keep pace. Against Alabama, the smallest window of confusion was enough for Joe to knock down a corner three.
Another element of his scoring repertoire lies within the pick and roll. Joe is quick to leverage screens and use his dribble to set up the shot. Last season, Joe scored in the 85th percentile on 47 possessions as a pick and roll ball handler. While the sample size is relatively small, we can see here how the threat of the shot puts defenders in a conflicting position.
Joe is also a savvy ball handler who understands how to play off his teammates. When defenders push up, he is more than willing to sneak a pass to his roll man. It is those subtle intricacies that shows the ability to expand beyond a spot up shooter.
SPOTTING UP IN TRANSITION
It is no secret that Joe does most of his damage in clear catch and shoot scenarios. However, things get increasingly more interesting in transition. Where Joe has the absolute green light to fire. Never shy on confidence, Joe is more than willing to let it go. Often catching defenses by complete surprise. Joe is a tremendous spot up shooter and his ability to quickly set his feet is a significant advantage. In this clip against Indiana we see how decisive Joe can be off the break.
Approximately 17% of his scoring possessions came on fast break opportunities (per Synergy). And while Joe loves to rise from afar, he will also flash to the corners in transition. Constantly providing an additional passing outlet against a scrambling defense.
For a team thirsty for three point shooters Isaiah Joe could fill an immediate need. Prior to the stoppage, Philadelphia ranked 14th in three point efficiency and 22nd in volume. Not the type of numbers you associate with an elite offense. The Sixers did enjoy a relatively high number of three point looks off the catch (633 – 4th most attempts). Leading the way was Al Horford and his absolute abysmal 33% on catch and shoot threes. All this points to a scenario where Isaiah Joe could logically slide into a shooting role (without Horford). A lineup that would include Tobias Harris at power forward and Joe toggling between small forward and shooting guard. While he does not possess the frame to defend bigger 3’s, the shooting potential is an ideal fit with this group.
The draft site Tankathon projects Isaiah Joe’s NBA three point efficiency at 40%. Replacing Horford with this type of production could have a significant impact on Philadelphia’s offense. The Sixers found some comfort last season in the development of Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton. But it is still too early to tell if either player’s shooting improvements are sustainable. In Isaiah Joe, Philadelphia would have a Robert Covington-like prospect. A player with a higher defensive upside who can knock down a high volume of open three point shots. This would give the team another offensive option to space the floor around its two star players.
- 40% true shooting percentage against Top 50 teams last season (54% TS on the year)
- 1 of 7 players to make 200+ three pointers over the last two seasons (207 total)
- Per Synergy scored 0.984 points per spot up possession last season (70th percentile)
- Led SEC in three point field goal percentage in 2018-2019 (41%)
- 89% free throw shooter last year (75% during freshman season)
Isaiah Joe will likely command the attention of many NBA teams in a league where three pointers are becoming increasingly more valuable. The key question during this draft process will be on his significant drop in efficiency this season. While signs point to factors outside of his control, Joe will have to assure scouts that the shot will translate to the next level. Some indicators show a player capable of making the transition. But in a draft rich on depth, Joe could very well find himself out of the first round. If that’s the case, he would provide tremendous value for most teams atop the second round. In a league where zone defenses and shooting distances are on the rise, Isaiah Joe is the perfect compliment to teams trending towards modern basketball concepts.