How the Thunder are Maximizing Isaiah Joe

Isaiah Joe
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There are a myriad of ways to describe Arkansas native Isaiah Joe. He’s a flamethrower. A walking bucket. A sniper. The slim 6’4″ guard epitomizes the shooting specialist archetype. His game synergizes seamlessly with superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. In year four Strokin’ Joe is having a career season off the bench.

Basic Math

At first glance, Isaiah’s counting stats may not jump off the page. In 20 minutes per game, he’s contributing 10 PPG / 2.4 TRB / 1.1 AST. Good production for a bench player but nothing too special, right? But if you take a look at his field goal attempts, something interesting stands out. Joe is attempting 7.2 shots per game. Out of those 7 attempts 5.7 are threes!

The second Isaiah checks into a game he’s looking to bomb from deep. Rightfully so, as he’s shooting a scorching 44% from three. That mark is good for 15th in the league this season. This is on high volume too. Among players that have taken over 100 threes he’s fifth in 3p%. For the Thunder, his game meshes perfectly with the litany of downhill drivers on the team.

Stressing the Defense

Anytime a team’s offense is structured around a primarily downhill player, it’s necessary to surround them with shooting. This is especially important for the Thunder. Three of their starters – SGA, Jalen Williams, and Josh Giddey – are most effective when they have open driving lanes and can attack the paint.

Joe’s shooting threat creates space for his teammates with him simply being on the court. But if he were to only spot up behind the arc, this would be a waste of Joe’s talent. The Thunder’s head coach Mark Daigneault maximizes the effectiveness of Isaiah’s minutes by using him as a screener and movement shooter.

Daigneault leverages the driving threat of his ball handlers to spring Joe free on the perimeter. One of their go-to actions for him is a ghost screen. This is where Joe will pretend to set a screen for the ball handler, then slip out and pop to the perimeter.

They generally run this from the middle of the floor. But there are some variations to throw the defense off balance. For example, they’ll have Joe set a ghost screen for the ball handler on one side, then receive an off-ball flare screen on the other side.

Even when Joe isn’t directly involved in an action, he’s constantly analyzing the floor and relocating to advantageous positions. You’ll often see him sprinting into open spots around the perimeter. The Thunder mix in off-ball screens to give him more room to shoot. He’ll also stand near the paint then sprint out once a drive starts. This forces his defender to either help on the drive or defend the three.

Through 22 games this season, Isaiah Joe is playing the best basketball of his young career. The combination of his elite shooting ability and his teammates’ rim pressure is the perfect fit. These complimentary skillsets put immense pressure on opposing defenses. Paint attacks pull the defense in while Joe’s movement stretches them out. Simple yet effective actions like ghost and flare screens bend the defense. And when Joe’s shots are falling, that defense just might break.

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