Shooting ability is distinct from the willingness to let it fly and capacity to do so under pressure.
It’s an important distinction for the Sixers, who finished the 2019-20 season ninth in three-point percentage but 22nd in attempts.
Isaiah Joe, the 49th pick in Wednesday’s NBA draft, has no qualms about firing jumpers, and he had no trouble doing so at the University of Arkansas. He took 9.1 threes per game over two college seasons. In the NBA, don’t expect any major changes to his approach.
“Of course I probably won’t have the green light I had at U of A, but the team is bringing me on for a reason and that’s to shoot the ball,” Joe said Thursday. “They’re not going to bring a shooter on a team to not shoot the ball. That’s what I’m going to do.
“If they tell me otherwise, then I have to cater to that. But coming on, I really believe that they are getting me for shooting ability, and so I’ve gotta do that to the best of my ability.”
Joe’s confidence in his jumper is justified. Though he shot 34.2 percent from long range as a sophomore, his effectiveness was diminished by a stretch when he played through a knee injury. The 21-year-old made 41.4 percent of his threes the year prior. It’s a soft and pure stroke that he trusts is going in, and the Sixers believe in it.
“Yeah, Isaiah Joe’s not too complicated,” Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey said early Thursday morning. “He’s just one of these elite shooters coming out of college. A little more defensive potential, in our minds, than people give him credit for. That’s not what he’s going to hang his hat on, but the shooting is truly elite and we felt like it was a great bet.”
Joe shares Morey’s assessment of his defense. He averaged 1.5 steals per game at Arkansas and seems to value the details more than many high-scoring college players.
“I feel like my defense is something that’s overlooked in my game,” he said. “I take a lot of pride on the defensive end because all the teams that I’ve played for, you can’t have offensive freedom if you don’t play defense. Defense wins games and so I take pride in doing the little things. I’m always in the right spot when it comes to defensive positioning, willing to sacrifice my body — I take a lot of charges — and I feel like I have a great IQ, being able to use my length to my advantage.”
One potential concern for Joe defensively is his size. He measured at 6-foot-3 without shoes and 170 pounds at the NBA Draft Combine. As he alluded to, his wingspan (6-7.5) is an asset that helps with corralling ball handlers, recovering when he’s a step behind and creating steals and deflections. Joe said he worked this summer to add strength and is making progress on that front.
Hours before free agency, Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz and Zhaire Smith are among the guards on the Sixers’ bench. Minutes aren’t typically handed out to rookies picked in the back half of the second round, and yet Joe had some interesting insight on the Sixers’ plan with him.
“… The 76ers as a team, we’ve had a lot of contact,” he said. “They’re willing to give me a shot. Nothing is given, so I’ve gotta go in there and work my tail off, beat out the next man. This is a team that doesn’t have any G-League aspirations for me. But if it came down to it, I would rather play in the G League. I feel like that’s how you get your game better; you don’t get your game better by sitting on the bench. That’ll be a way that I can better my game and hopefully get called up to the next level.
“But the 76ers, like I said earlier, I feel like it’s going to be a great fit because they really stress the need for shooters.”
Milton, the 54th pick in the 2018 draft, played 33 games with the Delaware Blue Coats over his first two professional seasons and benefited from the experience, developing skills at both guard spots and running the Sixers’ offensive system. It’s possible time in Delaware could also help Joe at some stage.
The jumpers would probably be more open in the G League. Wherever he is, Joe won’t hesitate to take them.