If the 2017 NBA Draft has taught us anything, it’s that stars can emerge from anywhere on the draft board. Guys like Jayson Tatum (#3), Donovan Mitchell (#13), and Bam Adebayo (#14) have already blasted off into the NBA’s elite atmosphere. Not to mention numerous others from this draft class who have helped their respective teams grow. But one name has seen little mention since his debut in the NBA three seasons ago. A name that should be on everyone’s “breakout” list. His name is Jonathan Isaac. A man set back by injury but destined for an even larger comeback.
Why Jonathan Isaac Is the Next Big Thing
Who is Jonathan Isaac?
Before his arrival in the NBA, Issac played just one season at Florida State, averaging 12 points and eight rebounds per game. He also helped lead the Seminoles to a three seed in the March Madness tournament.
Isaac was generally ranked as a top-five prospect in his class, many believing his physical attributes were freakish, but that he may need some fine-tuning to get him to the next level.
Jonathan Isaac was drafted sixth overall by the Orlando Magic back in 2017. He has now played with the Magic for two full seasons, while his third year in Orlando was ended early by a knee injury.
He has without a doubt seen enough time in the NBA to make some reasonable judgments, so let’s dig deeper into why I think Jonathan Isaac could be the diamond in the rough that many are overlooking.
Unique Physical Attributes
There are very few players in the NBA that have the size and speed that Isaac possesses. Isaac measures in at 6’11”/210 lbs, with a wingspan of 7’1”. Not only does he have the size, but he has the quickness to guard nearly every position on the court. Aside from Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons, I can’t name many players with that type of size that can guard 1-4. It’s some pretty good company to fall into.
There are numerous players that come to mind when Jonathan Isaac takes the court. But, Brandon Ingram is certainly the most comparable for me. The wingspan mixed with the speed of a guard is something that obviously isn’t teachable, but is valued so greatly in today’s game. Many were hesitant to see Ingram’s potential as a player, especially after his rookie year where he averaged just nine points on 40% from the field. But, he’s blossomed in the past six months and has now become a cornerstone piece to the New Orleans Pelicans future. I think Jonathan Isaac can have that same story.
Certainly, size with no skill means nothing. But Isaac doesn’t lack either. If you were to construct the perfect NBA player, I think many would mimic Isaac’s build. He’s got the size, he’s got the length, and most importantly he has the speed to match up with any player you may choose to throw at him. He’s already got a headstart with those measures.
Unmatched Defensive Ability
We already reviewed how his physical attributes translate perfectly on the court, but his ability to match those attributes with elite defensive ability is insane.
In Isaac’s sophomore season, he finished the year with a 1.0 defensive box +/- (DBPM). Defensive box +/- looks at how many more points a team received, due to someone’s contributions on the defensive end. 1.0 may seem a bit low, but let’s look at who he’s surrounded by. Chris Paul (1.1), Jimmy Butler (0.9), Joel Embiid (0.9), and Kawhi Leonard (1.1), all had very similar numbers at the end of the year.
This past season, Isaac made a huge jump on the defensive end, ending his season with a 2.9 DBPM. Now, many will claim his shortened season is the reason behind such a high number. However, the cut off for DBPM looks to be around 40 games at the season cut off. So theoretically, Isaac missed the cut off by just 8-10 games, which wouldn’t drastically change his numbers. So let’s drop Isaac’s DBPM to 2.5 as a means for making up those games. Isaac would slot in somewhere around the eight/nine spot for DBPM rankings this season. Ahead of Draymond Green, Paul George, and Joel Embiid who all hadn’t played significantly more games than Isaac.
He has already started to mold into one of the game’s better defenders, just a couple years into his career. Not to mention, Isaac averaged 2.4 blocks per game, an astounding number for any NBA player.
Isaac certainly has some room to grow on the defensive end, but nearly every single defensive metric and meaningful stat have seen exponential growth since his rookie season. He’s now starting to polish those defensive skills even more, which should be a scary sight for every single player in the league.
Offensive Game Is Becoming More Refined
Coming into the league, scouts were hesitant on Isaac. His defense was very raw, but the product was there. His offense, on the other hand, was a bit streaky. In his three years in the NBA, Isaac has averaged just nine points on 43% from the field. Not ideal. However, let’s look at this past season and dig a little deeper into how his offensive game has improved.
Isaac shot 46.3% from the field this past season. When looking at the league average, his shooting doesn’t look too bad. The league average sits at 46%, which has been consistent for the past few years. Not to mention, Isaac has drastically improved his shooting over the years, jumping from 43 to 46 last season. Now his season was cut short because of injury, but he had significant stretches of play that showed his offensive capabilities.
Isaac’s improvement on the offensive end doesn’t stop at just shooting. He’s become far more aware in many ways. In points generated by assists, Isaac totaled 183 in 2018-19. That means, he was responsible for 183 points from assists. In 2019-20, although his season was cut short, Isaac was on pace to total well over 225 points from his assists. Not to mention, his minutes played were on pace for roughly 2000 on the season, not too far off from last season. So he’s become far more involved in the offensive game and has helped the Magic continue to improve year after year.
Isaac has also seen his position switch from last season. This switch should benefit him greatly for the future. Isaac played nearly every game in 2018-19 at power forward. This season, he’s averaged more time at small forward. It should give him a bit more versatility, helping him focus more on spreading the floor and less on crashing the glass.
Overall, Isaac hasn’t wowed anyone with his offensive game. It’s one of the biggest reasons many don’t see his potential. But, he’s steadily improved over the past few seasons and I think next year a fully healthy season will do wonders for his game.
Jonathan Isaac’s Talent Is Starting to Develop
Jonathan Isaac has become extremely underrated. Has he wowed the league with his offensive prowess? No. But, he has so many traits in his game that scream star player. His freakish build, elite defense, and the consistently improved offensive game should give nearly every NBA fan and player pause in their criticism. Issac will become an elite talent in the NBA, and we are already starting to see flashes of his greatness.
Main Image: Embed from Getty Images