The Oklahoma City Thunder are bursting with young talent.
Headlined by emerging superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, OKC’s general manager Sam Presti has constructed a highly impressive roster since the franchise began its rebuild before the 2020-21 season. He’s amassed an enormous collection of draft capital and has already hit on lottery selections like Josh Giddey in 2021 and Jalen Williams in 2022 who both look like long-term running mates for Gilgeous-Alexander. Chet Holmgren, the second-overall pick this past summer, hasn’t even touched the court yet.
While winning hasn’t been a priority for this squad, it’s exactly what they’ve been doing as of late. They’re 7-3 in the month of January and have propelled themselves into the tight Western Conference playoff race behind big-time play from Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey. They have also received significant contribution during this streak from Isaiah Joe.
Joe, a third-year guard from Arkansas, was released by the Philadelphia 76ers in the off-season and snagged off waivers by the Thunder. He earned his first real minutes in December and has since earned a consistent spot in Mark Daigneault’s rotation. How? The simple answer is that he shoots the heck outta the ball.
Joe has connected on over 45% of his long-range tries this season, a success rate that ranks top five in the association. He’s an absolutely lethal shooter off the catch. He ranks in the 95th percentile in catch-and-shoot percentage from deep (via BBall Index) and gets open in a variety of ways.
Besides being automatic on spot-up attempts (93rd percentile in spot-up points per possession via BBall Index), Joe knows how to move and find space off the ball. Here, as Williams beings to drive, Joe sees his defender collapsing and drifts to the corner. Williams threads the needle to Joe who squares up and strokes it (side note- Jalen Williams is going to be a star).
Here, all-world finisher Gilgeous-Alexander slashes to the rim which attracts the attention of Joe’s man. Mann smartly sets a pin-down screen that traps the defender. Joe sees this and raises to the high corner which creates a shorter pass for Gilgeous-Alexander. It doesn’t look like much but if Joe didn’t relocate, the pass likely would have been intercepted.
As Joe continues to scorch the net he will inevitably be added to the scouting report and receive a lot more attention from the defense. When that happens, he’ll be ready to send them flying by with pump fakes.
Additionally, having a legitimate three-point threat alongside him will make getting to the bucket a lot easier for Gilgeous-Alexander. The defense will be forced to stick to Joe on the perimeter or risk giving up three points, which will leave one less man in the way of SGA.
Isaiah Joe is a certified three-point sniper. However, specialists like Duncan Robinson and Davis Bertans have struggled to stay on the court because they can’t guard. You have to be able to hold up defensively in order to get burn in the playoffs. While Joe doesn’t stand out on that end, he’s a decent enough positional defender and even decent can go a long way.
After rotting on the bench with the 76ers, Joe has gotten an opportunity in Oklahoma City and ran away with it. He’s proof that the best way to develop a player is to give them real playing time. Whether it’s with the Thunder or not, Isaiah Joe has proven that he belongs in this league. Expect to see his name atop three-point leaderboards for seasons to come.