In the NBA’s latest trend of pace and space, defensive versatility is becoming more important than ever.
Take a peek at the two best teams in the NBA right now and see what they do best. The Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers are all about versatility on both ends. There are countless reasons they are so good offensively but a lot of this has to do with matchups.
If your team has a bad defensive player on the perimeter, those two teams are going to be relentless in the ways they attack him.
Golden State is the best example. The Warriors have four different players who can be their primary initiators of the offense in Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. Odds are the opponent doesn’t have a good defensive player guarding all three players, so the worst one will be picked apart.
Cleveland has three completely different world-beating offensive players in LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Have a weak player at power forward? Love will destroy him in the post. Have a strong but slower player at power forward? Love can open up his shooting and attacking off the dribble, or James can play the four in a pinch. Have no one who can come close to stopping James and don’t want to double-team? Look at what happened to the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
All the problems those four forwards cause also brings us to Curry and Irving, who will annihilate teams that try and switch with slower bigs.
Younger, newer versions of this concept are growing as well in Minnesota, Philadelphia and Milwaukee.
You need options defensively with the length and foot speed to deal with matchup problems.
The Phoenix Suns already have Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss in the frontcourt and could form a deadly, versatile defensive trio if they drafted Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac.
On paper, Isaac is similar in a lot of ways to last year’s No. 4 pick, Bender. Bender is mobile for his size and can do a lot of things defensively. He also has the potential to work off the dribble on offense and make open jumpers.
Isaac fits into those categories as well. He shot 50.8 percent from the field, scoring 12 points a game with an additional 7.8 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals.
The differences between Isaac and Bender? Isaac has more potential as a scorer. At 6-foot-11 with nearly a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Isaac is a little bit smaller, but that benefits him on the perimeter because he has more overall speed and fluidity. This makes small forward a realistic position for him to play.
His handle is going to need to tighten up against NBA perimeter defenders, but one can’t help to get excited by him shooting off the dribble.
A look at him in transition reveals the problems in him developing this game further. His ball-handling is something aggressive defenders will take advantage of and while he shows some nice touch finishing at the rim, he lacks enough of a combination of explosiveness and physicality at this stage in his development.
Where these two together become a problem is attacking in the halfcourt. The following is a great play for the and-one, but note how low to the ground and out of control Isaac is after that first dribble.
It’s easy to see a play like this being a charge drawn by a defender or rejected at the rim in the NBA.
This puts a cap on his offensive potential until it improves, especially his handle, but it’s one of the easier skills to grow.not quite the advanced passer Bender is, but even if he struggles with his handle like Bender has, Isaac can still be a grab-and-go threat to put defenses in awkward spots.
Isaac’s not quite the advanced passer Bender is, but even if he struggles with his ball-handling like Bender has, Isaac can still be a grab-and-go threat to put defenses in awkward spots. He’s a heady player who can make the right pass.
He also wasn’t a consistent scorer as the third option on Florida State. Certain games Isaac was absolutely electing to take a backseat. Now, building your own narrative with that in mind is dangerous, but his skill and talent, opposed to his lack of a “go-to scorer’s mentality,” is what’s more important given his complete outlook as a prospect.
Where he has more of a chance to become special, however, is on the other end of the floor. That starts on the glass.
His rebounding for the Seminoles was strong and in a lot of cases, will open up some semi-transition opportunities for him. Like many guys with a wiry frame, he has to put on more weight and muscle to maximize his potential here as the North Carolina offensive rebound shows, but he has the athleticism and feel to be a solid rebounder at power forward and a great one at small forward.
Some of the bigger forwards in today’s game are fast, but what makes them good on defense is being agile enough to change angles consistently and maintain that burst. Bender is great at this and so is Isaac, which the latter showed several times in his matchup with future top-10 pick Jayson Tatum out of Duke.
Where the appeal goes through the roof for a trio of Chriss, Bender and Isaac playing together is having three bigs who can not only switch onto smaller players and keep up with them, but protect the rim as well.
Isaac’s defensive ability along with his quickness and his shooting are three factors that make him this draft’s “high floor” prospect, meaning there’s a very high probability he will be at least a good player in the NBA.
Among the three small forwards who could be available at No. 4 — Isaac, Tatum and Josh Jackson — I’d bet on Isaac being the best shooter. He has the smoothest and quickest release.
His efficiency on both ends him has him looked upon very favorably by the advanced statistics.
With the likelihood of Jackson being off the board, there’s no clear selection for the Suns at No. 4.
For all that Isaac does well, his player archetype is best played on the interior. This is the same dilemma the Suns found themselves in with Bender last year, as he played one-fourth of his minutes at small forward.
Next season, the Suns have Tyson Chandler, Chriss, Jared Dudley, Bender and T.J. Warren back. Potentially, Alex Len and Alan Williams could return after they hit restricted free agency.
In a world where Isaac is selected by Phoenix, the Suns would either need to play one of Chriss, Bender or Isaac a lot of minutes at center or small forward. That’s far less of an issue for Isaac at small forward than it is for Bender, but now where does Bender play? Does the team bench Dudley again to get him time?
If the Suns have an answer to all those questions, though, a long-term rotation of Chriss, Bender and Isaac has all the inside-outside aforementioned versatility required. Like the Bucks have in the past couple of drafts by building their freakish length across the roster, the Suns would have a clear identity with an offense centered around their guards and a defense built around three 6-foot-10-plus freak athletes who could switch onto guards while also protecting the rim.
That can’t be said for any other selection if the top 3 in the draft goes the chalk route of Markelle Fultz to Boston, Lonzo Ball to the Lakers and Jackson to Philadelphia, which is why Isaac could very well be the best pick for Phoenix to make.
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