By: Zach Flener
It was assumed that there was a clear top tier of talent on draft night that consisted of Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, and Jayson Tatum. The order of those four was debatable, especially at 3rd and 4th with wings, Jackson and Tatum. Jonathan Isaac was rarely mentioned in the conversation with those wings, and he was the maybe the least discussed prospect in the top 10 (except Zach Collins, but that was for a reason, Blazers). After watching his 3 summer league games, both Florida State NCAA tournament games, 3 highlight mixes on YouTube, and following him on Instagram, I’m here to tell you Jonathan Isaac is really, really good.
Most scouts looked at Isaac as an athletic freak who would require a multi-year development project to become a solid NBA starter. His lean 6’10” frame and his smooth shooting stroke caused casual fans to inaccurately (and unfairly) compare him to NBA finals MVP Kevin Durant. He was drafted on his potential, but after a strong showing in the Orlando Summer League, it’s obvious that Isaac is going to be a max contract NBA player someday, but he’s also a starter-level, defensive game-changer right now.
Some may wonder what can really be judged from three scrimmage type games in a practice gym in July, but if you watch a game with Isaac on the court, you can’t help but notice his immediate impact on both ends. The first thing noticed about Isaac is his activity level on the court. He is extremely mobile for a 6’10” guy and he uses his mobility, length, and activity level to be a problem for opposing teams. His knack for finding offensive rebounds and loose balls is a skill you can’t teach, and a skill that is visibly valuable for a 6’10” wing in the NBA. He averaged 8 rebs/game in the summer league, in only 18 mpg. That’s 16 reb/36 mins to compare to NBA starters minutes, which he will surely earn on a bad Magic team this season. He uses his height and athleticism to sky over smaller player to get some rebounds. He also uses his activity level and knack for the ball to get boards like this, which are instincts that can’t be taught, but are extremely rare for a 19-year-old. Offensive rebounds are a staple of Isaac’s game, and his height and mobility make it an easily translatable skill to the NBA level.
Offensively, Isaac’s best asset is his shooting stroke. It’s high (tends to be the case with 6’10” players), quick enough, and doesn’t have a hitch. At FSU, he shot 35% from 3 on 3 attempts a game, while shooting 78% from the line, both projections for a good NBA shooter. He also averaged 12 points per game on an astounding 61.4 true shooting percentage, and only 20% usage.
His relatively small usage combined with his lack of ball screen experience at FSU caused most scouts to worry about his ability to score with the ball at the NBA level. He had very few possessions as the pick and roll ball handler for the Magic this week, but it’s something I think the Magic will, and should, explore this season to get Isaac some experience in that role. His height and shooting ability would be a problem for defenders attempting to guard him in the pick and roll, as they will be forced to go over the screen or switch when he’s handling.
He did, however, get several looks as the screener in the pick and pop, and results like this should make Elfrid Payton excited for this season.
His footwork in that clip is advanced, but that was not a common sight from Isaac in his games this summer. His footwork and ball handling will need to improve for Isaac to become a dominant 1 on 1 scorer, as his height and athleticism have allowed him to score at lower levels. He did have flashes of ball handling prowess, and his mobility suggests that he will be able to become a capable NBA iso-wing.
Overall, Isaac has the potential to be an efficient scorer at the NBA level. His shooting stroke will be effective from the jump, and I believe he can be a weapon in the pick and roll if he is able to develop his ball handling, footwork, and change of pace.
On the other end of the court, Isaac is already a menace. He has the effect of being everywhere on the court at once, and has the potential and build of being a defensive anchor for a contender in the future.
His instincts and timing for blocks are incredible. In this clip, he flies across the lane to help and meets Jarnell Stokes way above the rim. He averaged 1.5 blocks per game at Florida State, good for 5th in the conference, and 1.7 blocks a game in Orlando, good for 3.4/36 mins.
His athleticism allows him to move so quickly to help, but his outstanding feel for when to help combined with that athleticism make for a scary weak-side defender. Rotations like this one against the Mavericks show that Isaac thinks the game at an NBA level, and he can be the anchor for a good defense.
He also has outstanding lateral quickness for his size, making him a perfect candidate for a switching defense, something the NBA is quickly adopting league-wide. He also has the height and quickness to be able to guard slimmer 5’s, which would allow the Magic to have lineups of extreme spacing with Isaac at the 5.
Defensively, he is very similar to KD, who was a top 5 defender in the league this season. His ability to be everywhere at once in a 6’10’ frame is extremely rare and will make Isaac an all-NBA level defender for years to come.
Isaac has skills and a frame possessed by no one else in this draft. He is somewhat of a project on the offensive end, but he has an immediate asset in his shooting ability that will make him a formidable spacer right away. Defensively, he’s a one-of-a-kind combination of skills, length, and intelligence that can wreak havoc for opposing offenses throughout his career.