The Case for Jonathan Isaac as a Dallas Maverick
Credit to Draft Express for all the videos, to check out their breakdown of Isaac as a prospect, which further explores more of Isaac’s weaknesses as well, visit: http://www.draftexpress.com/profile/Jonathan-Isaac-90052/ *
It seems like every offseason that passes, the Mavericks convince themselves they can get by another year with a Band-Aid at the point guard position. Ever since Jason Kidd left the team a couple years following that magical 2011 championship run, the answer just hasn’t been there. Dallas has tried out 14 different starting point guards since Kidd left in 2012 and there is still no clear answer to this positional problem in sight. Cuban runs through point guards like I do bad similes in my articles (see what I did there ;). All of this is true, and yet, I’m about to try and convince you why the Mavs should NOT necessarily be “all-in” on a PG with the 9th pick in the PG-heavy 2017 NBA Draft. The reason? His name is Jonathan Isaac.
Jonathan Isaac is a 6'11" 19-year-old out of Florida State with a 7'1" wingspan and the quickness of a guard. His motions on the court are so fluid that he seems to glide effortlessly like a gazelle. Those measurements and that fluidity scream potential. Plus, the kid can really play. Isaac projects as an NBA PF but could just as easily play SF. His unique combination of size and speed makes him one of the most intriguing and unique players in the draft.
The most appealing thing about Isaac as a prospect is his defensive versatility and overall defensive potential. First, let’s examine his versatility. In a league that becomes more and more “position-less” by the year, having a guy who can guard nearly every position on the court is extremely valuable. Draymond Green of the Warriors would be the premiere example of this. Basketball is all about exploiting mismatches and when you’re playing against a guy like Green, there are very few players in the entire league that prove to be a mismatch. Even the historically stubborn Gregg Poppovich, for example, was forced to employ a “small-ball” lineup against the Rockets and Warriors because Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge were simply too slow to guard the opposing team’s plethora of weapons. Pop has long been an outspoken traditionalist so doing this shows that the realities of the new NBA forced his hand. Isaac is not nearly as polished as Green defensively, but he has the athletic ability to eventually make that same claim as Green.
Below is an example of what I’m talking about; watch as Isaac has the quickness to contain Virginia Tech SG Justin Bibbs and the length to finish off the play with a swat:
He forces Notre Dame guard Steve Vasturia into an ill-advised shot here after switching onto him off the screen:
Here, Isaac stonewalls Virginia Tech PF Zach LeDay despite weighing 30 pound less:
Isaac’s overall defensive potential is staggering as well. His combination of size, speed, and length give him all the tools to become a potential lock-down defender at the next level. Isaac definitely needs to add to his thin frame and has a lot of defensive fundamentals to clean up (off-ball defense, fighting over screens, understanding team defense), but all of these are very common and often expected of a 19-year-old entering his rookie season. Although his fundamentals still need work, Isaac’s already much more polished on the defensive end than the majority of his draft peers.
Check out Isaac’s 1-on-1 defense against potential top-5 pick Jason Tatum (important to note: Isaac handling Tatum’s already NBA-ready frame nicely). Isaac uses his quick feet to recover and stay in front of Tatum, uses great body position to stop Tatum’s penetration and to force a poor shot, and, finally, utilizes fast hands to strip Tatum leading to a fast break opportunity:
Isaac does a great job of using his length to create steals (like in the video above) and to block shots. Isaac averaged 1.2 steals and 1.5 blocks a game, very impressive numbers for someone who averaged just over 26 minutes a game.
Defense is Isaac’s clear strength but is far from his only skill. Despite often playing along two teammates standing over 7" tall, Isaac managed to grab 7.8 rebounds a game in only 26 minutes and snatched 25% of the defensive rebounds available to him, good for 4th best in the entire ACC (as a 19-year-old SF, this was extremely impressive). Isaac was able to do this while weighing under 210 lbs and spending most of his time at the SF position, proving that he made the most of his elite athleticism, ball-instincts, and rebound positioning.
Offensively, Isaac is very raw but flashes potential in many areas. Isaac would be a below-average ball-handler as a SF but would be one of the better PFs at handling the rock right out. He has a strong enough handle to at least push the ball up the court on the break. Isaac also can create a little for himself off the bounce in the half-court. While far from perfect, he still has plenty of room to grow in this area. At this point, Isaac is much more comfortable off-ball than creating with the ball in his hands. He’s an excellent cutter, he’s a good spot-up shooter, and he is relentless when crashing the offensive glass for tip-ins/outs. Isaac, although inconsistent at times with his shot and its mechanics, still managed to shoot 35% from three and demonstrates an even better mid-range game.
Finally, let’s examine Isaac’s intangibles and potential fit with the current Mavericks roster. A big knock on Isaac is that, on offense especially, he is too passive and at times is not vocal enough. Many question if he has the alpha-dog mentality necessary to be a star and whether this passivity translates to his work ethic. The first point is valid; Isaac was a passive player at FSU at times and he may not be a strong vocal guy just yet. However, I see this as understandable for a kid his age and I think leadership skills can be developed overtime (remember Dirk struggled with some of the same issues coming into the league). The questions about his work-ethic are ludicrous in my mind. Isaac frequently stood out as one of the best “hustlers” in this class and has been praised by his coaches and teammates for his focus and commitment to maximizing his game.
Check out this play from Isaac. Notice how little time is on the clock and how the score is out-of-reach for the opponent. Isaac demonstrated his competitiveness and determination to finish the game through the final whistle regardless of the score in a lot of plays this season just like this one:
Isaac would be an ideal fit for the Mavericks in my mind. When it comes to tweaking shot mechanics, Rick Carlisle is a savant. Additionally, new ball-handling coach God Shammgod worked wonders with Harrison Barnes over the course of a single season. Also, the concerns about him being too passive on offense wouldn’t hurt Dallas all that much at first. This is because Dirk and Barnes, the two guys starting in front of him, are anything but passive on that end. The Mavs will soon have a hole at the PF position when Dirk retires and would prefer an athletic floor-stretcher next to Noel. Defensively, it would give the team the potential to be really special since Barnes, Issac, and Noel are all unusually quick for their size (especially the latter two) and it would allow us to get away with switching most screens on the perimeter if need be. That is an incredibly great asset to have as a team and is a big, if not the biggest, reason the Golden State Warriors are currently the best defensive team in the NBA. Remember how horribly the Mavs defense struggled when the slow-footed Bogut and Dirk were on the court at the same time last year? Those issues would be a distant memory with Isaac and Noel. Dirk’s presence for the next one, two, or three (we can dream) seasons would take some burden off Isaac before he’s had a chance to fully develop. This is important for Isaac as his focus in Year One needs to be to continue to add strength to his frame and to develop as an offensive threat. Dirk, of course, would be an invaluable mentor to him especially for his offensive game in particular.
Jonathan Isaac may ultimately be off the board by the time the Dallas Mavericks are on the clock with the ninth pick. If he isn’t, he would be an ideal pick for Cuban, Carlisle, the city of Dallas, and you, its loyal and awesome fans.