Phil Jackson said the New York Knicks would consider wings as well as guards in the draft. Jonathan Isaac must be at the top of the list.The NBA is a point guard’s league, and the New York Knicks needs one — Derrick Rose isn’t the answer — so the 2017 NBA Draft is a logical area to address that need. However, the Knicks need to consider a different strategy, such as just choosing the player with the most upside. If he’s there, that will be Jonathan Isaac.
Isaac, a native of the Bronx, played high school basketball at the renowned IMG Academy in Florida before committing to one college season for the Florida State Seminoles. His extraordinary length (6-foot-10) and thin frame (210 pounds) invoked comparisons to Brandon Ingram.
That’s a pretty lofty comparison. Ingram was selected No. 2 overall by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2016 draft.
Isaac didn’t disappoint. He led Florida State to their best regular season record in over 40 years, and despite the Seminoles being upset in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Isaac made his mark on the national landscape.
On a per 40 minute basis, the 19-year-old averaged 18.3 points, 12.0 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 1.8 steals, and 1.8 assists with a slash line of .508/.348/.780.
On offense, Isaac showed he was a capable shooter who could stretch the floor, — 41.0 percent on two-point jumpers — run, and finish in transition. His athleticism and ability to run enabled him to pick up a lot of easy buckets.
Per Hoop-math.com, he was 69.8 percent on field goal attempts at the rim. 25.5 percent of his total attempts at the rim came on putbacks, and 29.7 percent of his total made baskets at the rim were via putbacks.
To put that into context, the guy was extremely active around the rim. He averaged 1.8 offensive rebounds per game. Not bad for the skinny guy.
He’ll have trouble hanging with the big boys in the NBA as a rookie. Brandon Ingram averaged 1.9 offensive rebounds per game in his one season at Duke. In his rookie year with the Lakers, he averaged less than one. Isaac is a superior athlete to Ingram, but he could be headed for a similar reality.
However, New York won’t be drafting Isaac for his offense. He has the potential to be one of the best defenders in the Association.
A lot of the buzz surrounding Isaac concerns his tremendous physical gifts. The youngster is 6’10” with a remarkable 7’1″ wingspan and a standing reach of slightly over 9′.
DraftExpress explains how Isaac used that length to make an impact on the defensive end.
He was also able to make use of those gifts to the tune of 2.2 blocks and 1.7 steals per 40 minutes, pace adjusted, showing off his ability to cover ground and the quick twitch reflexes which can make him such a versatile playmaker on that side of the court. That places Isaac with the top block rate among small forwards in our top-100 database, while also coming in the top-five in steals.
Isaac’s length gives him the defensive versatility that NBA scouts are drooling over right now. He’s being talked about as one of those rare types of players who can guard all five positions like Draymond Green. A guy like Isaac can help improve the defense in many ways.
The Knicks were one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA last season. They were 26th in defensive rating, 24th in opponent’s points in the paint, 21st in deflections, and dead last in opponent’s second chance points.
Isaac has potential to be the next 3-and-D star wing player in the NBA. That role has become so valuable that dudes like Kent Bazemore are getting paid upwards of $15 million per season. The defense is there; it’s just the three-point shooting that’s inconsistent.
Through the first ten games of the season, Isaac was 38.2 percent from downtown. After 15 games he had fallen off to 35.4 percent.
Five games later he was back up to 37.3 percent, and through 25 games Isaac was back to shooting it at a respectable 36.6 percent from three-point range. He went through a terrible shooting slump in the final seven games — 5 of 18 (27.8 percent) — and he dipped all the way to 34.8 percent on the season.
The point is that Isaac has it in him to be a good shooter. Right now, he’s just too damn streaky. Fortunately, he’s still a kid who doesn’t turn 20 until October.
There’s plenty of room for Isaac to grow alongside Carmelo Anthony — if Melo’s willing to be a mentor — because there’s no one better from him to learn fo whom to learn on offense.
DraftExpress has the combo forward ranked as the 9th best prospect in the draft. ESPN’s Chad Ford has him ranked 6th on his big board, but what stands out the most is Isaac’s ranking after an evaluation via ESPN’s Analytics’ draft model.
The model projects Isaac to have the highest statistical plus/minus (SPM) in years two through five in the league of any player in the 2017 draft. Per ESPN, “he has a 64 percent chance of becoming a bona fide NBA starter or better.”
When Phil Jackson selected Kristaps Porzingis, he showed he’s willing to take risks in the draft. New York can’t go wrong with Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. — the two point guards likely to be there when New York is on the clock — because they would be the safe picks.
If Jackson takes one of those kids and misses he can say that the team needed a point guard so he took one.
There probably isn’t a bigger combination of risk and potential for reward in the draft than Isaac, and for that reason, Jackson must consider the option.