Man of the Future: Jonathan Isaac and his Stretch-four Potential

Jonathan Isaac already has a solid all-around game, but is still a project in many ways. His ceiling will depend on whether he can develop from solid to elite in key areas.

When Jonathan Isaac put his name in for the 2017 NBA Draft after one season at Florida State, he was a bit of a project player. At 6'10" with a 7'4" wingspan and solid lateral mobility, he had incredible defensive upside. His future on the offensive end was slightly less obvious, but the upside was quite intriguing.

Most project players have one or two truly spectacular skills and a ton of weaknesses. They might be spectacular athletes with no feel for the game, or passing savants with no concept of defense, or dead-eye shooters with defensive chops and a complete inability to dribble.

Jonathan Isaac is not a typical project player. His game is more remarkable for the wide variety of things that he does decently well. He's a solid defender who makes up for his skinny frame with good instincts and good lateral mobility. He doesn't have a go-to shot or a primary scorer's mentality, but he's a decent 3-point shooter who can put the ball on the floor when opponents close out on him too aggressively.

Isaac struggled through injuries in his rookie season but is back on track after a solid sophomore season that saw him grab a starting spot for Orlando in their first playoff appearance since 2012. While he is questionable for their opening game against the Toronto Raptors due to a concussion, Isaac has the best chance of anyone to be the X-factor in an improbable, but not completely impossible, Toronto upset. Even if Isaac can't carry his team out of the first round of the playoffs, his all-around game makes him a key piece of the future for a team on the rise in central Florida.

Offense: Primary Stretch-Four

Jonathan Isaac was not a primary scoring option in college, and he almost certainly will never be one in the NBA. He can fill a number of holes for a team offensively depending on the talent around him, but that "depending on the talent around him" phrase is really the most important part for a jack-of-all-trades player like Isaac. He may never even ascend to secondary option status, and in many ways profiles as a role player on that end of the floor.

The key variable in his future will be his three-point shooting. Isaac only made 32.3% of his triples this season, but he did cast up a healthy percentage of his looks from beyond the arc--43.5% of his shots this season came from long range. His solid free throw shooting (at 81.5% this year) and mechanically sound jumper make it seem like Isaac can continue to boost those numbers from deep as he adjusts to the NBA game, especially if he can be more than a catch-and-shoot threat:

Isaac doesn't need to be a spectacular shooter to stick around in the NBA. As with much of his skill set, he's already reached a baseline level of shooting that will allow him to carve out a long NBA career. He's also an excellent transition player, ranking in the 87th percentile on the break per Synergy Sports.

However, a healthy jump in 3-point percentage could mean the difference between solid starter and All-Star level talent. If Isaac can get to above-average from range (say 37% or 38% from deep), that will open up more driving lanes as teams are forced to commit more aggressively to keep him inside the arc. From there, Isaac can work on his handle or try to improve his passing vision to take advantage of more scrambled defensive looks.

Defense: Switching Paradise

Even though he did show promise as a stretch-four while in college, Jonathan Isaac was drafted for his defensive impact. While he still needs to bulk up to be an effective defender down low, Isaac has the size to contest shots near the rim and the quick feet to stick with smaller players on the perimeter. Isaac finished 20th in the league in blocks this season and 17th in Block Percentage per Basketball-Reference. He was also effective as a weak-side shot blocker in addition to keeping his own man's shots away from the rim. He excels at recovering to his man, and tempting them into searching for looks that aren't as open as his opponents might believe:

Isaac finished the season with a Defensive Real Plus-Minus of 1.02 this season per ESPN--well above average for his position and a solid showing for a very skinny second-year big man. He was even more impressive in the limited sample size of his rookie season, ranking 14th among 83 qualified power forwards with a DRPM of 1.78. With two seasons of great defense under his belt and a defensive-minded head coach in Steve Clifford at the helm, it stands to reason that Isaac will continue to improve on his already-solid defense.

Future Outlook: Playoffs and Year Three

Jonathan Isaac will have an excellent role model across the floor from him if he does end up clearing concussion protocol in time for Game 1 against the Raptors. Pascal Siakam is another do-everything forward with good defensive instincts and the ability to make teams pay in transition. Siakam didn't start with a jump shot like Isaac but grew into it this year as he was more frequently asked to run plays with the ball in his hands. Isaac's first priority this offseason should be to shore up his jump shot, but he could learn a lot from how Siakam has developed into a steadier ball-handler who can be trusted to make the right passing reads on offense.

Even if this playoff series does not go in Orlando's favor, the Magic are already arguably ahead of schedule after making the playoffs this year. That being said, the Magic might look like a completely different team next year. Nikola Vucevic's odds of sticking around seem much higher now than they were at the start of the season, but his new contract will also reflect his All-Star status after making it to Charlotte this year.

The Magic might decide that Vooch is out of their price range--especially with 2018 sixth overall pick Mo Bamba waiting in the wings. Bamba had a tough rookie season, but he also missed a lot of time due to injury and is still just 20 years old.

Dumping Vucevic would also give the Magic more time to play Aaron Gordon and Isaac together at power forward and center. Isaac and Gordon started next to each other in the frontcourt, but both players profile more like power forwards than small forwards. Positional designations matter less and less in a league that is going away from those strict roles, and both Isaac and Gordon have the athleticism to cover essentially every forward. The key factor in terms of their long-term ceiling as a pairing probably depends on Isaac improving his jump shot.

Jonathan Isaac already has all the tools that he needs to stick around in the NBA. He also has all the tools that he would need to become a perennial All-Star. The question is not which new skills he can add, but rather how much better he can get at all of the things that he already does pretty well.

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