After Thon Maker was ruled eligible, it was reported in February that Jonathan Isaac was also considering declaring for the 2016 draft straight out of high school. But the NBA informed teams he was unlikely to be made eligible, so Isaac is taking the common path and will play college basketball for at least one season.
At Florida State, even with the departure of Malik Beasley, Isaac is joining other NBA prospects in Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes. It’s unclear if he will get enough shots to stand out but Isaac starts the season rated as lottery-caliber, according to the latest update on Draft Express’ mock draft.
That’s because Isaac looks like the prototypical combo forward for this era of basketball. At six-foot-10 with a seven-foot-one wingspan and a nine-foot standing reach, he is lengthy enough to defend close to the basket on one end while flashing enough ball skills to suggest he could become the sort of player who can make plays off the dribble on the other.
Every team in the league is looking for that sort of “big” who can draw opposing big men 25 feet away from the basket and force them to defend in space in a way they are not used to. But as is the case with most 19 year olds, Isaac is still a long way from materializing that sort of potential.
The most appealing skill of Isaac’s is his ability to create off the bounce. IMG didn’t run a particularly sophisticated offense that got him catches with the defense already bent, so most of Isaac’s offense came out of straight isolations on the side of the floor.
His handle is only OK and his first step is not all that explosive but Isaac has proven able to shake opponents side-to-side and use a little bit of a hesitation move in order to get by them.
The few times he had a ball-screen to work with, Isaac didn’t seem to have much speed even on straight line drives but did showcase the ability to drive with either hand and some polish waiting for driving lanes to clear in front of him rather than desperately attacking the soonest he could.
Isaac, however, has not shown to be much of a passer working against a set defense at this point of his development. According to d1circuit.com, he accumulated only 20 assists and 27 turnovers in 14 appearances at the Nike EYBL circuit in the summer of 2015.
When he is able to go around his defender without much struggle, Isaac can get all the way to the basket. He has not yet shown much lift attacking the rim off the dribble with explosiveness or the ability to hang in air around traffic close the basket but has flashed nice touch on non-dunk finishes, converting 60.2% of his two-point shots at last year’s EYBL.
Isaac struggles when his defender can move his feet laterally and stay in front of him, though. He lacks strength in his thin 205-pound frame to absorb contact and maintain his balance, which often results in him forcing tough shots out of awkward positions.
Isaac is also an iffy decision maker with regards to his pull-up shooting when the defender takes away the path to the basket. He can make a shot off the bounce but isn’t particularly good at it at this point of his development, yet that fact that hasn’t deterred from taking many of them during games.
Isaac uses head fakes and also likes step-backs from time to time. These moves tend to get him good separation to get his shot off. He elevates with good balance, plus the arc and touch on his shot look OK. But there isn’t a lot of consistency in his misses; he doesn’t miss just short or just long or just off target.
Isaac is at his best at this point working as a weak-side threat.
He’s not substantially better a three-point shooter off the catch than he’s shown to be a mid-range shooter off the bounce, converting just a third of his 63 three-point shots in AAU ball last year.
But Isaac has flashed glimpses of instinctive cutting. He can catch the ball on the move, leap off the ground quite easily for someone his size and play above the rim as a target for lobs, not just diving baseline or diagonally in the half-court but also filling the lane in transition.
Because of his frame, Isaac will be tried as a pure wing for parts of his career. As of now, guarding in space is not what he does best.
At the Nike Hoop Summit, Isaac was coached to pick up smaller players on switches a few times and failed to stay in front of them. He didn’t get low in a stance and didn’t show enough lateral agility to keep pace when these guards shook him side-to-side, though he used his length well to bother a shot from behind.
Contesting shots is what Isaac does best on defense, which is why he is probably best suited to defend close to the basket. He was the tallest player at IMG and when they played man-to-man, Isaac was essentially their center. Opponents tried posting him up to take advantage of his relative weakness at that position, as did the World Team at the Nike Hoop Summit. Isaac gave up ground often but was also tough to finish over due to his standing reach.
He is not a very impressive help defender yet but when he finds himself well positioned, Isaac is a legit shot blocking threat, able to elevate off the ground out of two feet in a pinch and swat close range attempts with his long arms.
The concern with him defending close to the basket regards rebounding. Isaac can pursuit the ball off the rim quickly and high-point it in impressive fashion at the high school level. But he didn’t show much attention to his boxout responsibilities, which might turn problematic as he rises through the ranks.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor and at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara