Isaac Likekele played the role of defensive specialist in the United States’ title winning campaign at the U19 FIBA World Championships– a role filled by guys like Marcus Smart, Elfrid Payton and Josh Okogie in previous years.
Ranked only 156th in the 2018 high school class, the six-foot-four bulldog didn’t draw much attention in his first year of college basketball at Oklahoma State – scoring just 279 points on 48% effective shooting in 924 minutes and posting a 14.6 PER on 32 appearances for a team that lost 20 of its 32 games last season.
But the 19-year-old really impressed with his defense in Crete last month, which will generate more interest in his second season in Stillwater.
He can really bring the heat to opposing guards at the point of attack and has the combination of bulk, physicality and tenacity to switch onto bigger wings regularly. Likekele also showed a knack for making plays in the passing lanes and made a killing in the defensive glass in very impressive fashion for someone his height.
The NBA will be checking to see if he develops into a more capable scorer, especially as a spot-up threat away from the ball, since though he has shown decent court vision as a shot creator for others in pick-and-roll, Likekele is likely to be viewed as more of a secondary ball handler on offense.
Likekele can bend his knees to get down in a stance, has the lateral quickness needed to stay in front out in space, leverages the strength in his 215-pound frame to contain dribble penetration through contact, plays with a ton of tenacity trying to reach around for strips and uses his length to contest pull-ups effectively.
He is big enough and tough enough to match up against wings regularly, which was what he was most often asked to do in Crete, but didn’t prove himself capable of picking up big men on switches, as he struggled to hold his ground in the post against true behemoths.
Likekele hustles back in transition and even flashed some explosiveness elevating off one foot with momentum to pick up a chase-down block.
Despite his bulkier frame, he did well navigating screens to chase shooters around the floor and deny them clean catches into their shots.
Likekele was active on stunts to help crowd the area near the basket and was effective enough recovering back on hard closeouts. He didn’t show superior quickness to run the shooter off the line regularly but impressed with his body control getting into the shooter’s personal space without fouling often – which is a big deal in the golden age of the three-shot foul that we live in currently.
Likekele flew around off the ball and showed great instincts jumping passing lanes – averaging 3.4 steals per 40 minutes, a top 10 mark in the event.
He also made an impact in the hidden areas of the game – rotating to take away clean paths to the basket whenever he was the closest defender to the goal and proving himself a willing charge drawer as the last line of defense.
But his most impactful contribution was probably on the glass, where Likekele collected 20.2% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor, the top mark in the tournament among players labeled by Real GM as the point guards.
Likekele can make a play in middle pick-and-roll against a set defense.
He can turn the corner with good speed when the path is there right away but also showed the ability to play with pace waiting for slower-developing driving lanes to materialize.
Likekele can make a well-timed bounce pass on the move, drop-off to the roll man after engaging the big defender into stepping up, execute basic kickouts to the strongside after sucking in the help, toss a pass over the top against blitzes or hard shows and deliver a wraparound pass in traffic – assisting on 19.6% of the United States’ scores when he was on the floor in the World Championships.
He doesn’t have a quick first step operating in isolation and was a bit too wild a driver at times but flashed some side-to-side shiftiness, a hesitation move with decent suddenness and a nifty between-the-legs dribble to change directions, besides being able to play through contact due and bulldoze through due to his strong frame.
Likekele was unimpressive as a finisher, though. He didn’t attack the basket with enough lift elevating off one foot in traffic, did poorly on extended finishes among the trees and struggled with his touch on floaters and non-dunk finishes, though he managed to convert 55% of his 43 two-point shots thanks to his effectiveness in transition and on cuts.
Likekele was no pull-up threat whatsoever as well, with opponents actively sagging off him and going under screens him when he was on the ball.
He was no threat as a spot-up shooter either, showing little fluidity and comfort in his catch-and-shoot stroke – taking just six three-point shots in 141 minutes, nailing just one them. Given his 50% foul shooting over 16 free throws in the tournament and 65.7% accuracy in 102 such attempts with Oklahoma State last season, it’s questionable if he even has the natural touch to be expected to develop into a more capable shooter in the near future.
As is the case, Likekele tries to offer some value by acting as a willing screener and active cutter but that’s unlikely to be enough for him to get a real shot in the NBA.
 DOB: 2/25/2000
EDITOR’S NOTE: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara