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Situational Analysis: Jonathan Isaac

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 3:02pm

"Situational Analysis" is a series of articles that seeks to examine the circumstances that most often influence an NBA prospect's success. Each player will be scored on a scale from 1-10 in four different categories: NBA-specific skill(s), fatal flaw(s), collegiate/overseas/pre-NBA environment, and ideal NBA ecosystem.

Jonathan Isaac is a 19-year-old forward (maybe center?) who averaged 12 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 1.2 steals, and 1.2 assists during his freshman season for Florida State University. He has spent the entire year listed as a lottery-level prospect on every mock draft, but his range could conceivably stretch anywhere between picks 3-through-9. NBADraft.net currently has him going No. 6 overall.

NBA-Specific Skills

Jonathan IsaacJonathan IsaacIsaac has the potential to deliver one of the most valuable commodities to an NBA franchise: positional versatility.

Even though Isaac played only 32 college basketball games, he showed flashes of developing into a Swiss Army Knife-style big man who can create mismatches on either end of the floor.

The majority of scouts tend to focus on his shooting ability, which is unquestionably advanced for a 6-11 prospect. He hit nearly 35-percent of his 3-pointers on almost 3 attempts per game and showed a knack for finishing at the rim on the receiving end of high screen-and-rolls.

However, it's his shot-blocking and activity on defense that stand out to me. Playing in just 26 minutes per game, Isaac swatted away 1.5 shots and tallied another 1.2 steals. He can protect the rim and switch screens against cat-quick guards — something very few players at 6-11 can do.

Even though Isaac's body hasn't filled out yet (he's generously listed at 210 pounds on FSU's official website), he anchored an excellent Seminole defense that ranked 14th in blocks (180) and 33rd in steals (259) in all of college basketball.

It's rare to see a prospect with a combination of lottery-level upside and a fill-in-the-blanks mentality on the floor, but Isaac always found ways to impact a game, even if wasn't scoring.

On a scale from 1 (Jamal Crawford having only one job — shoot) to 10 (LeBron James doing literally everything), Isaac's potential positional versatility ranks at a 7.5.

Fatal Flaws

Positional versatility is only valuable when the player commits to it. Isaac needs to hit the weight room yesterday.

To be fair, it's impossible to expect teenagers to arrive fully formed, especially ones such as Isaac that experience dramatic growth spurts in high school. He tipped the scales at only 185 pounds at the Nike Skills Academy in 2015, but has already put on at least 20 pounds since then. He'll need at least 20 more in order to reach his potential, but perhaps even more important is Isaac's ability to develop a "big" mentality.

Like many lanky near-7-footers who came through the AAU circuit in the post-Kevin Durant era, Isaac is eager to show off his guard-like skillset and shooting range. It would likely be his preference to play small forward and avoid as much interior punishment as possible, but that preference undermines his value.

The NBA is becoming increasingly smaller, but not necessarily less physical. Guards careen into the paint at full speed, and unorthodox bruisers such as Draymond Green can still out-muscle skinny 7-footers who have no interest in contact.

Take, for example, Florida State's embarrassing 91-66 loss to Xavier in the NCAA Tournament. Isaac did end up with 12 rebounds, but he fouled out and took only 7 shots. He was soundly outplayed by Trevon Bluiett, as he failed to assert himself on either end.

On a scale from 1 (Nikoloz Tskitishvili) to 10 (Kevin Durant's defensive transformation the last 2-3 seasons), Isaac's lack of strength and toughness at this stage of his development rates at a 4.

Pre-NBA Setting

Florida State ended up being a solid spot for Isaac to develop his professional skillset, as Leonard Hamilton's squad had a dynamic playmaker in Dwayne Bacon and NBA-level athletes throughout the roster.

Isaac didn't have the pressure to create his own offense and he wasn't required to do all of the dirty work on the inside, with enormous centers such as Michael Ojo and Christ Koumadje as part of FSU's rotation.

This allowed Isaac to develop at his own pace and find ways to contribute that suited his athletic gifts. With a standing reach of 9-1 and tremendous lateral quickness, Isaac was a major reason why Florida State finished with 26 wins, second in the ACC to eventual champs North Carolina.

On a scale from 1 (Cheick Diallo) to 10 (Anthony Davis), Isaac's time at Florida State rates at a 7. I'm not sure even Isaac knew how good of a shot-blocker or perimeter defender he could be until this season.

Ideal NBA Ecosystem


If Isaac believes he is a small forward, he's worth a top-25 pick. If he believes he's a power forward, he should be a lottery pick. But if he commits to the idea that he's a floor-stretching center, Isaac belongs in the top five.

As recently as 3-4 years ago, Isaac would have been scouted exclusively as a 3, with some teams considering Isaac a part-time small-ball 4. Things have changed. Floor spacing at all five positions is the ideal offensive setup. If you can achieve that without sacrificing rim protection and switchability on defense, you can contend for a championship.

Isaac won't play full-time center right away. He simply isn't strong enough. But that is his destiny. Imagine Nerlens Noel with 3-point range. That's how an NBA franchise needs to approach Isaac's development.

If Isaac can't leverage his combination of length and shooting ability properly, a team will need to slot him next to a prototypically physical center and sacrifice spacing, or it'll risk getting crushed on the glass. But that setup reduces a team's offensive efficiency ceiling.

Essentially, Isaac needs to find himself in a spot that is the polar opposite of the 2016-17 Orlando Magic squad that forced Aaron Gordon to play small forward to accommodate their ill-fated acquisitions of Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo to surround Nikola Vucevic. He also can't end up in New York, where the Knicks are already hellbent on squandering the ideal stretch-center.

Isaac's ceiling is among the highest of any player's in this draft, but his floor is quite low, as well. It's easy to imagine a scenario where he's a key contributor to a title contender. It's equally easy to imagine his tantalizing potential being squandered due to either a lack of organizational foresight or a lack of weight-room commitment on Isaac's part.

His ideal landing spot is in Minnesota, where he can play alongside Karl Anthony-Towns in a floor-spreading offensive setup with maximum defensive versatility under Tom Thibodeau, giving Isaac the ability to switch between both frontcourt spots without having the sole burden of guarding opposing centers every night.

On a scale from 1 (Anthony Randolph) to 10 (the aforementioned Towns), Isaac's need to find the right fit to hone his skills is at an 8. There is a lot to like with Isaac, but it will take a great deal of strength — physical and mental — for him to achieve his full potential.

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