In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Dozens of prospects will be profiled in this space and, this time around, we take a look at Arkansas sharpshooter Isaiah Joe.
Isaiah Joe was one-third of a potent three-headed guard attack this past season for Arkansas, partnering in the backcourt with Mason Jones and Jimmy Whitt Jr. All three guards between 6’3” and 6’5” in height scored at least 14 points per game in 2019-20, and together comprised 65% of the scoring output for the Razorbacks.
Joe has notably zigzagged in his decision whether to stay in school or head for the NBA for two offseasons in a row. He went through this process after his freshman year in 2019, and decided to stay in Fayetteville. This time around, Joe tested the waters then declared he was staying for his junior year, only to reverse course in early August and put his name back in the NBA draft in wake of the uncertainty of the upcoming NCAA basketball season.
Joe was an über high volume three-point shooter, logging a career mark of 10 three point attempts per 36 minutes. This propelled him to marks of 16.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per 36 minutes across his two college seasons.
His career shooting split of 42.9/37.8/82.7 from two, three, and the free throw line respectively was a welcome sight for a couple of middling Arkansas teams. Joe’s bread and butter is his ability to rise and fire off the dribble from deep, as he ranks near the top of this draft class with his pull up shooting with a mark of 1.01 PPP (points per possession).
Isaiah Joe has a lean frame at 6’5” and 180-pounds, but he carries the swagger of a much taller and stronger figure. His live dribble shooting was as feared as anyone’s in the NCAA over the past two seasons. If he has an inch of space, he can bury a shot from distance from anywhere above the break.
Joe has a smooth and compact outside shooting motion. He uses this to rain down shots even in the opponent’s grill, in a manner that approaches disrespectful territory.
His limited playmaking, especially in the pick-and-roll, will have to be a work in progress, but his isolation game was one of the best in the country in 2019-20 at 1.4 PPP (points per possession) including passes out of those situations.
Joe has some serious moves in his bag, like this filthy step back after subtly using his off hand to give the defender a little love tap.
Over his college career, Arkansas had a number of talented players cutting into the usage pie, like the aforementioned Whitt, draft hopeful Jones and current Chicago Bulls big man Daniel Gafford — for Joe’s freshman year in Gafford’s case. This begins to explain the lowish point totals for someone with his skill set. Still, if he was on a college team that desperately needed an offensive punch, I have no doubt he would have been a high output scorer.
“Shy shot taker” is not a title that has ever described Joe, and he’s someone who can find a rhythm at any point in the game and from any distance. When he’s feeling his shot, he’s one of the most unstoppable forces in this class. His range extends to the NBA distance and beyond with ease. He definitely gets buckets in bunches, using a variety of crossover dribbles and confident stroke to unleash fire from downtown.
Similarly, he finishes around the rim well, even though he chooses his spots carefully as to when to slash. For this reason among many, he recorded a lower frequency of attempts near the hoop than his athleticism would suggest. Joe only finished 21 possessions at the rim, but for a solid 1.29 PPP.
Joe moves well on offense without the ball, even though his catch-and-shoot numbers weren’t quite there. Many players have made NBA careers out of running around back screens to free themselves for these opportunities, so I have to imagine tape of guys like Klay Thompson and Kyle Korver is at the top of his watch list.
He’s an unselfish screener too, and can operate within the flow of an offense even when not the primary focus of a play. Here, witness a good screen that affects three defenders trying to close out on a teammate’s three point attempt.
Defensively, he uses his mental acuity and awareness to swipe lazy passes, which led to 1.61 steals per 36 minutes in college. He operates as a smooth off ball or wing defender in space, where he can roam and double team when the need arises.
Joe has a lot of defensive upside with his lateral agility and extended 6’10” wingspan. He’s already a solid team defender, using his sideline-to-sideline quickness to rotate with purpose. He can cover most 1’s, 2’s and 3’s if necessary off switched screens.
If he can hone down the fundamentals of where he needs to be within passing lanes and show some more fight through screens, he can be a fierce disrupter on the defensive end.
Isaiah Joe can be erratic at times — both with the ball in his hands and on defense — although this did not lead to too many turnovers at just 1.6 per 36 minutes. Below after his pass is picked off, his gamble to win the ball back in transition leads to a layup.
Mostly just a gunner on offense, Joe recorded just 1.8 assists per 36 minutes. He typically looks for his shot and his shot only, and loves to isolate even when the situation doesn’t call for it. Occasionally he’ll break the rhythm of the offense to pound his dribble trying to create for himself for too long.
When there were chances to get to the rim or drive and outlet to shooters, Joe too often turned them down for more difficult mid range attempts.
Joe is simply a decent but not great passer, tending to alternate between forcing panic passes when nothing is there and missing easy opportunities due to tunnel vision. This becomes magnified when he’s a ball handler in the pick-and-roll, and often he’ll simply fade away from the screen into a low percentage shot without looking for the roll man.
When Joe does look to pass the ball, he generally only functions with his more comfortable right hand. His penetration and kicking at the next level will be key to keeping defenses honest about closing to far down on his outside shot.
Joe wasn’t a proficient shooter from the corners — just 20 for 72 for 27.8% across his career — and he’ll have to prove his worth catching and shooting from such an efficient area of the court to stick in the league. Overall, he logged just 0.98 PPP as a spot up shooter this past season, suggesting he’s better on the move catching and shooting than at a standstill.
Joe simply isn’t a lock-down defender when contesting the point of attack. Bull rushing slashers can take it to Joe and force him to cede ground, as his lower body strength isn’t particularly impressive. In addition, he only averaged 0.22 blocks per 36 minutes so he’ll never be mistaken for a rim protector.
Occasionally, Joe will get caught sleeping as either the primary defender or as the tagger, and he’ll fail to fight through a screen with full effort or strength. This has resulted in more than a few lazy and dispassionate closeouts. Below is the result of a late recognition of the developing back and down screen combination.
He’s merely a good but not great off ball or help defender at this stage in his career, but with the tools to be very good. Despite his quickness, he sometimes can fail to cut off opponents from getting to favorable spots on the floor, especially in the lane.
The biggest worry here is his lack of strength at just 180 pounds, as he can be pushed around in close spaces and provide little resistance. Big athletic wings can brute force their way through him on their way to the rim.
There are some injury concerns as well. His sophomore season was brought to a halt after an MRI revealed inflammation in his right knee. Subsequent arthroscopic surgery on that same knee ended his season in early February after just 26 games.
Frankly this is a hard evaluation to make, as there is a lot of variance in his outcome at the next level. Joe’s shooting numbers regressed a bit from year one to two, while at the same time he gained a greater grasp of a lot of the nuances of the game. But there are still a lot of details that need addressing for Joe to become a well-rounded basketball player.
Possible fit with the Hawks
Joe profiles as a medium to high usage off guard who specializes in spacing the floor. If Joe somehow fell all the way to the No. 50 pick, the Hawks should snatch him up without thinking twice despite some risks. He can be an immediate firecracker scorer and floor spacer off the bench, with decent team defense potential. As a higher end outcome, it is easy to see him developing into a starter as a two-way wing.
His vision to see the whole floor is limited when the ball is in his hands, so he’ll be a risk to take some ugly shots and miss some easy passes from time to time, but it’s possible these issues can be coached out of him. To me, his streaky shooting has some shades of a lower usage Nick Young or J.R. Smith with higher defensive basketball IQ.
Ultimately, Joe is an incredibly tools-y player who looks to play with more consistency and urgency going forward. There’s a chance for him to become a lethal scorer while being solidly efficient at the same time, as well as legitimately a force on defense, but there’s also a chance he can chuck his way out of the league. I think he’s a guy you take a risk on as soon as the late first round, which may say more about the quality of this draft class than anything else. But as we all know, the draft is more guesswork than science and an NBA team may just strike it rich investing in Joe.