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NBA Draft 2017 Scouting Profile: Jonathan Isaac

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Isaac has fantastic defensive potential, untapped offensive skills, and a strong motor to back them up. Isaac might require more patience than most of the forwards in the class, but the payoff could be tremendous.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Florida State Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Isaac

NBA Position: F/Small-ball C

General Information: 19-year-old freshman, played at Florida State. From Bronx, NY

Measurables: 6'10.5", 205 lbs, 7’1.5" wingspan, 9’0.5” standing reach.

2016-17 Season Statistics: 12.0 PPG, 1.2 APG, 7.8 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 1.5 BPG, 1.5 TOPG (32 games played, 26.2 minutes a contest) – 50.8% FG, 78.0% FT, 34.8% 3P

Summary:

Isaac might require more patience than most of the forwards in the class, but the payoff could be tremendous; he offers incredible defensive versatility and an untapped offensive game with a developing jumpshot and post skills. While Isaac deferred to much at Florida State, he was also held back in a messy system with too many ball-needy players and not enough volume to go around. Contrary to popular belief, Isaac offers a relatively high floor with his excellent defense, and at worst becomes a hard-working hustle player on offense... but if that jumpshot becomes a real weapon, look out.

Offensive Breakdown:

Isaac’s stats are tantalizing and show a three-level scoring threat in development. He finished with a 42.7% success on spot-up shots (69th percentile), and despite his low usage in the offense, that was on a higher number of spot-up looks than even Lauri Markkanen. His insane length, great pop, and high release make him hard to contain, and he showed some ability to score on the move. He wasn’t the most consistent shooter (a late season slump destroyed his shooting percentages), but he was still damn impressive; according to hoop-math.com, he was 70% successful in the post, 41% on two-point shots, and 34.8% on threes. Wrap that all up with a 91st percentile for success in the half-court (49.5% shooting), and you’ve got an efficient young player with just enough success to move the needle from “maybe the shot is a weapon” to “the shot’s probably a weapon.”

Isaac’s playmaking and handles are his biggest concern on offense. He was eager to keep the ball moving, often to his own detriment, but his court awareness is very much a work in progress as evidenced by his 1/1.2 assist/turnover ratio. If he’s going to become a higher volume offensive player, he needs to be a capable playmaker, and for all the complaints about Jayson Tatum’s (lower on my board) passing… he still had a more impressive assist rate (12.6% to 7.6%), even accounting for his higher usage.

Another downside on offense is Isaac’s poor success in transition; you think flying around the court would benefit Isaac, but his 0.96 points per transition possession is below the 40% percentile mark. This will obviously need to change, and it starts and ends with improving Isaac’s ball handling – his turnover rate raises from 13.3% overall to 18.8% in transition.

The offensive concerns with Isaac are obvious – despite a solid basic of skills, he’s a raw player who faded into the background constantly throughout the season. He averaged just 8 field goals attempted per game, and just 12.2 per 40 minutes; the only lottery prospect with less shots per 40 is Lonzo Ball. But while it’s completely fair to worry about drafting such an inconsistent, low-volume player given the talent around him, it’s also vital to consider Isaac’s collegiate situation.

Florida State’s offense was a travesty thanks to (1) 11 players averaging more than 10 minutes per game with no consistent rotation; (2) lineups that tried to play fast AND big when the team had only ONE ball handler and 2.5 shooters, and (3) Leonard Hamilton deciding to build the offense around Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes, two players who had effective field goal percentages under 52%. Far too many possessions went by without Isaac, the team’s second most efficient scorer AND only big shooter, getting a look at the ball.

The good thing about Isaac’s season is it showed how much he could contribute even on just 8 looks a game. He didn’t just freeze up or get rooted in certain spots – he was on the move constantly. And he was a deadly weapon when he caught the ball on the perimeter, because when opponents gave him too little space – or even the right amount – he could beat them on the attack. He scored on a whopping 66.7% on cuts to the basket, 89th percentile according to Synergy. Almost 25% of the time on cuts, he ended up drawing the foul. He’s also going to provide points through pure hustle on offense; he finished with a 7.6 offensive rebounding rate, which was surprising considering the amount of time he spent outside the post on offense.

You need look no further for Isaac’s ability to impact the game with low-volume than the NCAA tournament, which was the most visual representation of FSU’s terrible offense and the terrible things it did to limit Isaac’s looks. Go watch the play above again – that was CONSTANT through their Florida Gulf Coast AND Xavier contests. But at the same time… in his two games, Isaac combined for 27 points/14 boards/8 assists/5 steals on 10/16 from the field and 4/7 from three. In only 45 combined minutes.

Isaac has potential across the offensive spectrum, with the only major worry being his playmaking. Even if his shot never develops to the point of being a guaranteed 3-and-D player, his ability to at least threaten both inside and out (and the fact that he’s a 6’11 big man who can run like a gazelle) will have value in an NBA offense. But given all the skills he flashed over the season, it’s easy to be very excited about what in his game could be unlocked on an NBA offense with space and playmakers looking for him off-ball. A 6’11 big man with a 41% success on 2-point jumpers and a developing 3-point shot isn’t the easiest player to overlook, especially if he gets the eye of the tiger.

Defensive Breakdown:

Isaac has as high a defensive ceiling as anyone in the class, and showcased a stellar and wide (if still developing) defensive skillset at Florida State. He was able to play smaller wings and even guards on the perimeter and keep up with them on the move, and yet he was also Florida State's best rim protector (2.3 blocks [6.7% rate] per 40 minutes) and showed little fear in muscling up against/jumping up to meet rim rushers. He's much more confident at utilizing his excellent physical tools on defense, and while he won't provide the immediate impact he did at college until he puts on some muscle, his 6'11 size, quick feet, and 7'1 wingspan will help him tremendously. He created a lot of turnovers and defensive events when you consider both that block rate and his 2.4% steal rate.

While Isaac is probably more suited to guarding fours at the NBA level, his ability to defend the perimeter and recover if he loses the first step battle will help him tremendously when guarding wings. Since he played with at least one (sometimes two) players bigger than him, he ended up guarding ACC wings such as Jayson Tatum (Tatum was 12/30 in the two games against FSU) and Justin Jackson on a regular basis.

Considering he was playing alongside Chris Koumadje (7’4, 240 pounds) and Michael Ojo (7’1, 300 pounds) and often guarding perimeter opponents, Isaac’s 12.8 rebounds per 40 minutes (25% defensive rate) is mightily impressive and beats out most of the class’s power forwards (and all the small forwards). Isaac isn’t afraid to muscle up to rivals for the boards, although this skill might take some time to transition until he catches up to NBA bulk.

Intangibles:

While Isaac isn’t the most confident player on the court, he’s got a strong motor and rarely gave less than excellent effort. Where Josh Jackson and De’Aaron Fox highlight energetic intensity, Isaac is a more composed player, which is visual through his on-court impact; he never called for the ball (despite the fact that he was probably the team’s second most advanced scorer), and could have nights of limited offense impact... but that never stopped him from fighting on defense, making his impact on the glass, and dominating hustle plays.

There’s a chance that alpha-male instinct never develops in his game, and if it doesn’t, he’ll end up a strong defensive player whose offense comes through hustle plays and open looks as a 4th option. But if I learned anything from Skal Labissiere last year (13th on my final big board), it’s this: individual creation ability is the hardest skill to predict, especially with hyper-raw players with high-tier NBA toolsets who were severely held back in college. Skal showed less creation ability and the same hesitancy on offense a year ago, and we all know how quickly that changed.

Fit with Sacramento:

Isaac fits with the Kings’ position-less philosophy on both ends of the floor; a player who can attack the rim and provides a shooting threat, WHILE also guarding multiple possessions and sometimes protecting the rim. Projecting all of these skills to manifest at high levels is overly optimistic, but even if Isaac doesn’t develop in all the ways, he provides a solid threat to impact the game on both ends of the court.

The Kings need more shooting at more positions, and while Isaac’s shot isn’t a guaranteed NBA commodity, it’s much safer than all the forwards in the first round not named Jayson, Justin, Lauri, or TJ. It might take a year or two for Isaac’s flat shot to stretch out the NBA three point line, but when he does, his ability to attack the rim AND shoot will make him a dangerous offensive threat. In a league that is stressing playmaking, pace, and shooting above all else, Isaac provides two of those... but his playmaking needs serious improvement. Since only one of the Kings bigs has flashed solid passing vision (Willie, and that was really only over the course of three months), the beautiful “jazz style” offense the Kings want might take a while to develop.

His defensive ability might be best suited to guard bigger forwards and hang closer to the rim, but he's got the footspeed and the length to hang with most forwards. A smart defensive coach could certainly figure out ways to creatively use free-flowing young guys like Isaac, Skal Labissiere, and Willie, all who have at least threatened the ability to play on the perimeter.

His best strength on defense isn't in one-on-one situations (although he’s pretty damn good at that), but rather as a free safety where he can help out on defense, recover for teammates, and protect the rim. This is both a strength and a weakness, as he’s often too quick to fully commit to the help and leaves his man open. Sound like anyone else we know? Yeah, Isaac and Willie will be a damn terrifying...and yet sometimes infuriating defensive pair. Length and versatility for days, with plenty of potential on the perimeter (if Willie’s collegiate perimeter defense ever translates...). They’ll either learn to feed off each other or they’ll be butting heads for a while.

Isaac has fantastic defensive potential, untapped offensive skills, and a strong motor to back them up. I see him as a safe floor player who at worst will be a strong defender, and as a high ceiling player with his developing shooting and full offensive skillset. If Sacramento is so inclined to be patient with another raw player, I truly believe Isaac can be a multi-dimensional weapon and one of the better players in this draft class.