2016-17 Season Stats:
50.8 % from the field
34.8% from three
78% from the free-throw line
Weight: 205 pounds. Height w/shoes: 6′11″. Wingspan: 7’1.3″. Max Vert: N/A
Skinnier, faster Kelly Olynyk.
The NBA has a great history of Very Athletic String Beans. These are long, spindly players with frames that look like they might blow away in the breeze who also have the startling ability to do all the fast-twitching, high-flying things that make NBA games so viscerally thrilling.
You know some of these Very Athletic String Beans well; these are players like Kevin Durant and Kevin Garnett, players who broke new ground for the game and redefined the limits of what we thought was possible within it. Others you might not know as well; these are players like Shawn Bradley, guys who had tantalizing potential coming into the league but ultimately carved out pedestrian and uninteresting careers. Still others you’re just getting to know; this last group includes players like Kristaps Porzingis and Brandon Ingram, youngsters whose combination of lanky size and top-flight athleticism keeps us up at night imaging the possibilities their yet-untapped potential could hold.
Soon a new Very Athletic String Bean will join the ranks of the NBA: Florida State University forward Jonathan Isaac. Isaac has all the classic traits of a Very Athletic String Bean prospect. At 6-foot-11 and 205 pounds, he’s long like a textbook and skinny like a french fry (or a string bean). He moves with all the agility and vertical explosiveness of a particularly fit house cat. And, like all typical Very Athletic String Bean prospects, he also has the staggering potential to be either very good in the NBA or very, very bad.
The best case scenario for Isaac is frightening. As a player with the size of a center and the perimeter skills of a guard, he already looks a lot like the ideal modern power forward. On offense he has the shooting ability to be a threat spotting up around pick and rolls, an off-the-bounce game confident enough to attack closeouts, a healthy amount of post-up savvy, and enough court vision to hit the open man when a double team comes his way. Combine that with his sheer height and smooth athleticism and you have the outlines of a borderline unguardable offensive player.
Switch smaller players onto him and he’ll shoot right over their arms. Leave your bigs on him and he’ll drag them out to the perimeter. Show him a double or triple-team and he’ll look right over the defense and whip an easy pass to the open man. If he reaches his ceiling on offense, he will be the kind of player that forces opposing head coaches to throw out their defensive schemes and tell their players, “Stop everyone else and let Isaac beat us, because there’s no way we’re stopping him.”
Isaac’s ceiling on defense is just as high. He has the length and quickness to hold his own guarding any perimeter player and the height and reach to smother big guys in the post. He can rim protect in a pinch if your center gets pulled away from the basket. If need be, he’s even quick enough to chase down a block from the weak side. It’s easy to imagine him operating as a poor man’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, the sort of versatile defender who unlocks a frantic, suffocating switch-everything scheme.
The concerning thing about Jonathan Isaac is that those same things that could make him special also have the potential to make him awful. After all, Isaac may be Very Athletic, but he’s still a String Bean. He needs to get stronger, if not quite bigger. If he doesn’t gain lower body and core strength fast, his defensive potential will be for naught. He’ll be bullied in the post and battered on the perimeter. Guys will go straight into his body, knowing full well that in spite of all that length and quickness, he can’t hold his ground when push comes to shove (literally). Without greater strength, his burgeoning offensive game will suffer too, as he’ll be pushed out to the perimeter and relegated to jacking long jump shots and trying to force his way into the barricaded paint.
If he doesn’t get stronger, Jonathan Isaac’s only hope will be to try to become a much smarter player. In college he’s often gotten by on his size and athleticism and has been helped dramatically by being a mid-tier player on a deep FSU team. He still doesn’t have great defensive fundamentals. He isn’t a quick enough decision maker on either end of the floor to make up for it if teams nullify his physical gifts. He’s not decisive enough in making his first move when the ball comes to him, and when he decides to pass, he usually waits a moment too long to get rid of the ball. That sort of indecisiveness can be okay at the college level, but in the lightning-fast NBA game, even the slightest moment of hesitation can mean death.
Even with his not-insignificant potential for failure, Jonathan Isaac provides a lot of reasons to hope that he’ll ultimately work out in the NBA and rank among the great Very Athletic String Beans to ever grace the league. He has the superior physical tools that can’t be taught and the basketball skills that can take years to learn. The draft is all about potential, and Jonathan Isaac might have some of the greatest potential in this loaded draft class. He’s now projected to be a late lottery pick, but don’t be surprised if some team with a top selection looks at this Very Athletic String Bean and decides to take a shot on his future.