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Before breaking down what Jonathan Isaac does well and struggles with there is one very important aspect about selecting Isaac that has to be understood. He will not fall to the 13th pick and there is virtually no way he falls past the Minnesota Timberwolves, who own the seventh pick.
That means that Denver will have to trade into the top-six picks if they want to have a chance to select Isaac. With how active the trade market has been in the top half of the lottery, there seems to be more of an opportunity to sneak into the top-six picks even though it is historically difficult to jump that high in the draft.
The only two teams who may be willing to trade their pick with Isaac still available would be the Sacramento Kings, with the fifth pick, and the Orlando Magic, with the sixth pick. Neither team necessarily is looking to draft another big, unless the Magic see Isaac as a small forward, as they did with Aaron Gordon.
Now for the elephant in the room; how much would it really take to move up to the fifth or sixth pick from the 13th selection and what would be too much to move up for Isaac?
At the minimum, it would take Denver’s seventh pick from the draft last year, Jamal Murray, and the 13th pick this season, and even that might not be enough. With the level of talent in the projected top-seven picks of the draft, it will take a lot to convince a team that what they are receiving back in trade is worthy of the potential of whoever they would select.
Athleticism and Length
Isaac is a physical freak. He stands 6-foot-11, possessing a wingspan over 7-foot-1 and a standing reach over 9-feet while acting as a fluid, above-the-rim athlete. But he was not always built that way.
What makes Isaac’s length and athleticism so special is that it came late. Isaac did not dunk a basketball until he was a junior in high school and he was a smaller wing player his entire career until he grew seven inches from the latter part of his high school career until now.
Isaac had to work to develop the skills he has. He never had the luxury of relying on superior athletic ability or a freakish frame up until he made it to the college level. Instead, he worked endlessly to make himself good enough fundamentally and then was blessed with a seven-inch growth spurt. Now he has the mindset and skills of a player much smaller and less imposing but the frame of a modern-day NBA power forward.
Isaac’s athleticism shines in many different ways. He is an above-average leaper in space who can jump off of one or both feet with surprising bounce. Isaac also adds quick-twitch athleticism to his explosive vertical leaping ability. Isaac moves just as well, if not better, laterally compared to vertically.
This makes Isaac lethal in transition or the half court as a lob target and as an offensive rebounder. Regardless of if he is playing the short corner as a power forward or more perimeter-oriented, Isaac can use his athleticism to produce offensively.
On defense, the late development of his length means that Isaac has already had to work on his hand quickness and foot speed to be able to keep up with faster players. Now that those developed skills have meshed with his engulfing length, he has become a smothering defender anywhere on the floor using his hand speed to grab steals and his length to block shots.
On offense, Isaac’s length helps raise his overall ceiling. His jump shot is nearly impossible to block thanks to his ridiculously high release point and he can rise up over defenders in the post whenever he feels like thanks to his combination of quickness and leaping ability.
Isaac has a long ways to go on the offensive end but his physical tools give him the benefit of the doubt that he can find a way to be a positive contributor on the offensive end of the floor, especially when showing the ability to finish creativity off the dribble.
Isaac’s athletic ability and length are what make him a tantalizing prospect but it’s more the journey than the outcome that has made him such a well-rounded basketball player. Whichever team selects him is not just getting a blank canvas of length and athleticism, but a player who has had to work for everything he has and has been blessed with a late-blooming physical frame.
Isaac will make most of his money on the defensive end of the floor. He has footwork beyond his years, an intense desire to shut down whoever he is guarding, length to swallow up smaller guards, and quickness to stymie bigger power forwards to go along with his surprisingly elite instincts protecting the rim. He can guard four positions from the second he is drafted and if he is able to pack on muscle and girth, he could potentially guard small-ball centers as well.
He is not a finished product as a post defender but the way Isaac uses his length and IQ to still hold his own on the block is impressive. He does not leave his feet when defending, due to him trusting his length, and changes directions very well but his lack of strength is what really hurts him down low.
On the perimeter is where Isaac is special. When watching his film, Isaac has an obsession with getting into a defensive stance and staying there and, when that is combined with his elite lateral quickness, it drastically increases his ability to cover ground. Isaac is always up on his toes, rarely crosses his feet when moving side to side, and also trusts his length and timing to block shots on the perimeter and when opponents get to the rim.
Isaac’s ability to cover ground also gives him a chance to be a menace when defending off-ball. Isaac has already shown the ability to stunt off of his man to provide help and recover to contest shooters as well as come off of his man to block shots from the weakside. His tenacity, which is covered in more detail below, when combined with his understanding of how to play defense off-ball makes for an impact defender in all facets of the game.
What makes Isaac’s defensive upside so high is that he brings legitimate rim protection as a forward. Regardless of if he is playing one-on-one defense and blocking shots on the perimeter or at the rim, coming off of his man to sky for the weak side block, or simply a chase-down block in transition, Isaac has it all in his repertoire.
Isaac does everything on the defensive end of the floor and wants to do so. He takes pride in shutting down his man and blatantly outworks the opposition. From day one Isaac is going to be a defensive maestro.
Without a doubt, the overall tenacious style of play that Isaac harnesses on both offense and defense will convey at the next level. The combination of a never-ending motor, immense wingspan and overall quickness makes him a defensive demon and an off-ball nightmare for opponents.
Defensively, Isaac never stops moving. That high-level motor combined with his elite foot speed and length makes it feel like he is everywhere at once.
Look at how many roles Isaac fills in one singular play. He doubles twice, recovered onto a shooter twice, rotated down onto a big and boxed them out of the play, and then contested the driving wing at the rim by staying straight up and down. All without fouling.
Isaac’s tenacity leaks into his offensive game as well and does not waver. While he struggles with an overall assertiveness on the offensive end of the ball, he never stops working for position and for good looks.
Isaac, who finds great position in the short corner and ends up wide open, gets missed by his teammates three separate times. Even though the ball does not come his way look at his feet; he never becomes flat-footed and stays ready. He rotates out to the corner and continues rotating to the wing until his teammates finally get him the ball and he drills a catch-and-shoot three to start the game.
Isaac’s motor and tenacious approach are what gives him validity as a solid rebounder at the NBA-level. Isaac is a quick-twitch athlete which allows him to get off the ground quicker than almost anyone on the floor when fighting for rebounds.
Even though he checks in at a frail 205 pounds, Isaac still averaged 12 total rebounds per 40 minutes. He would get bullied down low but he never stopped fighting for position and trying to out-jump the competition. There are questions about his strength greatly affecting his rebounding ability but his motor, instincts, and tenacity will hopefully be enough to overcome his issues with power.
Defensively, Isaac is able to contest shots at the rim and use his motor and athleticism to finish the defensive position with a rebound, even among the trees. His rebounding instincts, while not elite, are beyond his years and help him quite a bit.
Those same rebounding skills also translate to the offensive end of the floor. His ability to get off the floor quickly as a leaper and his undying fight make him lethal following layups with thunderous put-back slams at the rim.
Isaac’s tenacity is what gives his upside so much merit. He never stops working and works himself into good situations, even if his tools are still somewhat raw. If he can fine-tune the rest of his game and keep his tenaciousness then he could be an absolute two-way monster at the NBA-level.
Everything about Isaac’s offensive game is all based on flashes, but flashes shine bright and disappear seconds later. He has the tools but has not quite developed any consistency to any portion of his offensive repertoire and he will not be able to be an impact player at the NBA-level out of the gates without an elite facilitator playing with him.
For every three-pointer that Isaac hits coming off a curl screen, he would also jab step out of panic and air-ball a long two-pointer. For every creative finish Isaac had when attacking a closeout, he would also have an unnecessary live-ball turnover out of carelessness. For every put-back dunk off of an offensive rebound, Isaac gets muscled out of his spot in the post.
There are multiple ways that Isaac could develop into a plus-offensive player but it is going to take time. His upside is high and the tools all exist but his skill-set is raw. Whichever team drafts him will have to be willing to wait for him to not just get comfortable with NBA-caliber offensive systems, but also grow into his body after his insane growth spurt. There is a dynamic offensive player hiding within Isaac. He just needs to tune and refine his game quite a bit to get there.
The one gaping hole in Isaac’s game is his complete lack of girth, which is to be expected from a player who went through a seven-inch growth spurt. He is rail thin and will likely struggle defending more power-oriented big men at the NBA-level and may never project as a defender who can switch onto centers at any point in his career. Isaac is just 205 pounds, which is the same weight Emmanuel Mudiay was when he was drafted. To say that Isaac is thin would be a vast understatement. His lack of strength leads to different issues on both ends of the ball.
On offense, Isaac’s lack of strength limits him drastically. His ability to play with a live dribble is going to take a beating at the NBA-level with the extra pressure and strength from his opponent. Isaac’s handle is already rudimentary at best and can be exposed at the next level with added pressure and quickness. Isaac will have loads of difficulty turning a corner against an NBA-caliber wing player.
Isaac’s scoring at the rim will also take a substantial hit, as many rookies experience. He has shown some creativity finishing at the rim but, overall, Isaac was getting moved and bumped out of the way at an alarming rate in college. Without advancing his handles and creativity with a live dribble then his strength will always be something opposing teams can attack.
Defensively, Isaac will need to learn to defend more powerful front court players and stronger guards. He has the length, aggression, and quickness to be a pest against bigger players but does not have the strength to depend on him to get you a stop each time down the court. He can get bullied in the post and stronger guards can finish through him at the rim from time to time. Isaac will need to add quite a bit of muscle to grow into the elite defender he can be.
Isaac’s lack of offensive assertiveness is one of the more interesting debates when analyzing his game. Florida State did not play through Isaac offensively, so his skill-set, as it stands, is not prepared to be a focal point on the offensive end of the floor, and will not be ready for quite some time.
Isaac struggled to shoot off of the catch confidently, is average at finishing at the rim due to his lack of strength, has very elementary handles, and settles for pull-ups when contested far too often. Isaac does not operate in the pick and roll as a ball-handler well and struggles in isolation as well. He has tools on the offensive end, there is no doubt about that, but they fade quickly and for long periods.
Isaac uses an average handle to drive without a plan into the teeth of the defense. He gets to the high post, panics, and kills his dribble. If he played less anxious he would be able to calmly reset the play to the top of the key, where he has an open teammate, or wait for the defense to over-rotate and hit the open shooter in the right corner. Instead, he rushes a bad shot and misses.
That means that Isaac’s upside as a star player can be seriously questioned; more so than the majority of prospects that have the potential be selected in the top-seven picks in the draft. If he cannot learn to create offense for himself, or others, consistently then it drastically limits his overall impact.
While that argument is sound and widely accepted, allow me to make another.
When you take into account Isaac’s potential role on the defensive end of the floor; switching everything, guarding bigger players in the post and smaller players, not the perimeter, playing rover defense off-ball, you have to account for fatigue and energy expenditure from the role he is supposed to fill. If he can, instead of learning to create his own offense, accept a role of an off-ball menace and tweak his game to attacking closeouts with vicious force, hitting catch-and-shoot three-pointers, and cutting off-ball for easy baskets at the rim, he could build himself into a highly efficient offensive player.
For that to happen Isaac would need to be playing with elite level facilitating within an offensive system that would allow him to grow into that role, which is easier said than done. If he can model himself after the role that players like Klay Thompson took on, being a super role player with elite defense, he could be the difference maker between a playoff team and a contender.
Isaac may not ever be the No.1 option on a contender but he can be the difference between a good team and a great team. While his offense still has a long ways to go his offensive upside may depend more on his efficiency than his assertiveness.
It is hard to pick up your jaw off the floor when you think about how impactful Isaac could be on the Nuggets’ roster.
Isaac is the ideal power forward to pair with Nikola Jokic due to his defensive versatility, athleticism, and offensive upside. Isaac is the remedy for what ails the Nuggets at the power forward position. He has the skill-set to be Faried-esque in the short corner, defend every position outside of center, can stretch out to three-point distance, and has even shown an ability to hunt buckets off-ball. And he does all of that while standing at 6-foot-10 and moving like a guard.
Isaac is the ideal fit for the roster as it currently stands and for the future of the franchise alongside Jokic. Isaac arguably has the highest upside in the draft and he is overall the perfect prospect for the Nuggets to get their hands on. The real question is if Denver and their reshuffled front office is willing to pay the price to move up to select him.