ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported on Thursday that Orlando signed Isaiah Briscoe after he impressed in their veteran mini-camp late last month. Basketball Insider’s Eric Pincus has since reported that Briscoe agreed to a three-year deal worth the minimum, with just $500 thousand guaranteed this season.
The 22-year-old surprised many by accepting an offer to play in Estonia straight out of college, instead of trying the G-League route first, but that decision appears to have paid off, as he was able to score a guaranteed commitment from an NBA team in his second year as a pro, even if the amount doesn’t necessarily set in stone that they expect him to make the team.
The six-foot-three combo guard averaged 27.6 points per 40 minutes on 56.3% true shooting in 39 appearances for Kalev-Cramo in the VTB United League and the Estonian KML.
Naturally, his numbers were better in the domestic league than in the stronger multi-country competition, which features Russian teams with far superior budgets than their opponents from other former Soviet Union regions.
Nonetheless, Briscoe impressed enough to be named Young Player of the Year in the VTB United League, despite the fact Kalev-Cramo finished tied for last with 18 losses in 24 games. In the Estonian KML, the side won 31 of its 32 games on its way to the title and Briscoe was named to the All-KML Team.
The New Jersey native spent a few possessions off the ball at the start of halves but was the top shot creator on the team – logging a jaw-dropping 33.1% usage-rate and assisting on 27.5% of Kalev-Cramo’s scores in his 1,041 minutes. He did most of his work in isolation and got his touches out of ball reversals or against switches.
On the other end, the Kentucky product didn’t show the same level of intensity and tenacity he was known for during his time in Lexington. He used his athletic ability and remarkable length for someone his size to fly around getting into passing lanes but his impact in other areas left something to be desired, considering his reputation as an impact defender.
Briscoe had the chance to show he is a very resourceful player operating off the dribble and looked closer to the player he was in AAU than the one in college.
He has a tight handle and can keep the ball in a string as he changes speed or directions, pivots into a well-coordinated spin move and goes behind the back in a pinch to shake his defender off balance, creating a lane to drive or separation to pull-up.
Briscoe also impressed with his burst off a hesitation move to blow by his man out of a standstill and his head-fake is remarkable, though he needs to improve his decision making in terms of where he is going, as he was often seen driving into traffic and challenging rim protectors from a position of weakness.
In pick-and-roll, Briscoe usually looked to back down and isolate against switches but showed he is a very capable shot creator for others against conventional coverage. He can split doubles at the point of attack and get downhill or play with pace and unleash an in-and-out dribble to destabilize the big defender.
Besides basic drop-offs and kick-outs against a collapsing defense, Briscoe can make well timed pocket passes, rise up in a pinch for jump-pass kick-outs to the opposite wing and launch hammer passes from under the rim to the corner off speed drives.
Operating off the ball, he also proved to be a willing ball mover making the extra pass around the horn.
Briscoe turned it over on just 13.9% of his possessions, which is a decent mark for someone with such high usage and assist rates.
Briscoe improved a lot as a shot maker. His jumper is a lot more fluid, as he is now able to launch a variety of good-looking shots off the dribble:
- Stop-and-pop pull-up;
- Crossover into his pull-up;
- Go between the legs into his pull-up;
- Go behind the back into his pull-up;
- Fake one way, pivot to the other into a turnaround fade-away jumper off a hiked leg.
Within close-range, Briscoe is not an explosive leaper off one foot or two feet in traffic but has shown righty and lefty finger-roll finishes, the flexibility to adjust his body in the air, some ability to absorb contact and finish through thanks to his bulky 210-pound frame for someone his height and a floater to finish over length from the in-between area with so-so touch.
That said, the ball doesn’t go in at an appealing rate on his pull-ups just yet, his length hasn’t translated into an ability to complete reverses among the trees and his strength hasn’t translated into an ability to finish on his way down regularly, as he ended up making just 51.2% of his 441 two-point shots last season.
Isaiah Briscoe ranked among the most prolific scoring guards in Europe last season with Kalev, but also showed key improvement as an opportunistic 3-point threat. pic.twitter.com/HUu6uIaa0e
— Synergy Basketball (@SynergySST) July 5, 2018
What kept his true shooting at an average .563 percentage was his development into a more capable catch-and-shoot three-point shooter. Briscoe is still only an open shot shooter but looks much less mechanical than he did at Kentucky, possessing a compact release out in front but managing to get his shots of comfortably over closeouts thanks to his high elevation.
He nailed 39% of his 118 three-point shots last season, at a pace of 4.5 such attempts per 40 minutes – a decent mark considering how much work he did on the ball. However, his 70% foul shooting on 184 free throws still doesn’t offer much comfort to the assumption that he has turned the corner as a capable shooter.
As he shared a lot of his time on the court with smaller players like Branko Mirkovic and Stek Sokk, Briscoe more often than not acted as a weak-side defender.
Though he was regularly seen flat-footed off the ball, he leveraged his quickness into well timed reactions. His closeouts were only so-so, as someone with his athletic ability was expected to run shooters off their shots more often than he did, but Briscoe did well using his six-foot-nine wingspan to get into passing lanes – averaging 2.4 steals per 40 minutes.
He proved he is able to execute the scheme as well – attentive to his responsibilities coming off the weak-side to help crowd the area near the basket. Briscoe is not an explosive leaper off two feet to act as a shot blocking threat but showed to be a very willing charge drawer.
Kalev-Cramo had him picking up bigger wings on switches from time-to-time and Briscoe put up very pleasing effort fronting the post to prevent easy entries or holding his ground in stout post defense if the opponent did manage to enter the ball over him.
His struggles were navigating off ball picks, as he might not be suited to chasing shooters around the floor in one of the few instances where his bulky frame works against him. His contributions in the defensive glass were also somewhat disappointing, as he collected just 12.9% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor last season. Even if he is a guard, he was expected to stand out a bit more from an athletic-standpoint.
The biggest disappointment was in individual defense, though. When he did guard the point of attack, Briscoe didn’t go over picks regularly and struggled to slide them cleanly when he did go over. But perhaps more concerning, he didn’t hustle in pursuit to challenge shots and passes from behind all that often. Someone with his length is expected to make a big impact in this area but that didn’t materialize.
And though he has the length to matchup with wings regularly and a bulky frame that suggests he should be able to, Briscoe hasn’t yet developed enough strength to contain dribble penetration through contact against these types of players often.
 DOB: 4/13/1996
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