Why Isaiah Joe means all the pieces to the Thunder


Key Highlights:

  • Isaiah Joe is wildly vital to the Thunder due to his capturing and synergy with Gilgeous-Alexander
  • Joe could must be part of the Thunder’s greatest 5 man lineup if they will make a deep playoff run
  • There are questions on how Joe’s protection will translate to a playoff setting

As a 23-10 staff sitting at second within the Western Convention and brimming with younger expertise, the Oklahoma City Thunder are a fun team to talk about.

In reality, the Thunder are so tantalizing that some championship prediction models see them as a frontrunner to be the final staff standing.

However the figuring out issue for whether or not or not this staff is able to compete proper now or nonetheless one 12 months away is probably not Shai Gilgeous-AlexanderJalen Williams, or rookie sensation Chet Holmgren. As a substitute, their title odds (barring any important trades) could hinge on the play of former late second-round decide Isaiah Joe.

The Plus-Minus King

Take a peak at Basketball Reference’s on-court plus-minus, and also you’ll see acquainted faces like Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Kawhi Leonard, and Gilgeous-Alexander occupying the highest of the listing. However are you aware who’s sixth in the complete NBA in on-court plus-minus? Isaiah Joe, in fact.

In line with their database, the Thunder are +12.3 per 100 possessions higher than their opponent when Joe is on the ground. So, the Thunder are mainly taking part in at a 70-win tempo when he’s on the ground. Another mind-blowing Joe plus-minus statistics (per Cleansing the Glass and PBP Stats):

  • The Thunder’s offense is within the 98th percentile league extensive when Joe is on the ground (offensive score of 126.5)
  • The Thunder’s total web score is within the 99th percentile league extensive when Joe is on the ground (+14.8)
  • Within the final two years, the Thunder have a web score of +11.3 within the 1,270 minutes that Joe and Gilgeous-Alexander have shared the ground collectively. That’s larger than Gilgeous-Alexander’s web score with Josh Giddey, Lu Dort, and Jalen Williams throughout that point.

What Does He Even Do?

Pay attention, we’re not attempting to persuade you that Joe is likely one of the greatest gamers within the NBA. However he’s good on the position that the Thunder want him to play.

The Thunder’s offense is closely centered on the drive-and-kick recreation, which is sensible since Oklahoma Metropolis sports activities so many gifted drivers. Because it stands, the Thunder are first within the NBA in drives by a reasonably extensive margin (practically six drives per recreation forward of the staff in second place, per NBA.com). However these drivers want a launch valve to kick the ball out to when defenses collapse on these drives. That’s the place Joe is available in.

Over the past two years, Joe is changing on 41.2% of his triples. When he’s on the court docket, Joe forces groups to assume twice about sending additional assist at ball handlers as a result of they don’t wish to be burned by his marksmanship. In any case, shooting makes you dangerous!

Joe can also be nice for all of the guard screening actions that the Thunder wish to run. In these performs, Oklahoma Metropolis has Joe run to set a display after which instantly come out for a 3 earlier than making contact with the point-of-attack defender. Until the protection is ideal with their execution, that interplay often results in an open shot for the Thunder.

Groups have grow to be so terrified of this play that generally they overreact to the specter of it, which additionally creates open pictures for the Thunder! Man, does having capturing make all the pieces a lot simpler.

Within the clip beneath, Joe fakes like he’s going to ghost the display (that’s what they name this motion), which tips Chris Paul into switching onto Gilgeous-Alexander. Sadly for the Golden State Warriors, Andrew Wiggins didn’t get the memo, and Joe is left extensive open for a high-value shot.

Extra Than Simply A Shooter

In a variety of methods, the Thunder are the Western Convention model of the Miami Heat. They’re well-coached, versatile, and play with a ton of effort and physicality. They’re additionally nice at figuring out expertise, however that’s a unique article for a unique day. And if the Thunder are the Warmth, Joe is nearly definitely their Duncan Robinson. And identical to Robinson has labored onerous to show himself into more than just a sharpshooter, Joe has executed the identical this season.

Being an elite shooter is nice. But when it’s the one form of bow you have got in your quiver, modern-day defenses will have the ability to nullify that projectile fairly shortly within the playoffs. The most straightforward strategy to accomplish that is to instruct defenders to make use of the fly-by closeout. This system requires defenders to aggressively closeout to shooters on the 3-point line in a fashion that forces them to dribble the basketball and assault from the inside.

To counter this, shooters want to have the ability to put the ball on the ground and drive the closeout for a end on the rim (first clip within the montage beneath) or a midrange jumper (second clip).

Together with the power to assault closeouts, Joe has proven some worth as a cutter and passer in quick-hitting actions. So, Joe has methods to battle towards the techniques that defenses may attempt to deploy towards him within the postseason.

Why Do The Thunder Want Him To Compete?

As we talked about in our recent Max Christie breakdown, an enormous a part of a staff’s postseason success is tied to how good their greatest five-man unit is. Clearly, Gilgeous-Alexander, Williams, and Holmgren shall be part of that lineup for Oklahoma Metropolis towards most matchups. However what concerning the different two spots?

Regardless of a sizzling begin to the 2023-24 season (41.8% from three), Dort is a traditionally below-average shooter (34.1% for his profession). Having an off-ball participant who isn’t an enormous man be a poor shooter can pose spacing considerations within the playoffs. However because of Dort’s defensive affect, and the added spacing enhance Holmgren gives for his place (40.7% from three), the Thunder can most likely chunk the bullet on Dort’s capturing.

What about that fifth spot? Giddey is the Thunder’s fifth starter. However he’s additionally a poor shooter, and he doesn’t present the identical degree of protection that Dort does, so taking part in him huge minutes within the postseason shall be rather a lot harder.  That’s why Joe is so vital. Joe provides the Thunder the capturing/spacing that they should survive highly-contested playoff matchups.

Okay And?

So, Joe is the proper fifth man to shut playoff video games for the Thunder. Why did we’d like a complete article about that? Nicely, Joe isn’t an excellent clear match both.

Relying on who you ask, Joe stands at about 6’3/6’4, and he’s not practically as muscular as somebody like Dort. Smaller/frailer gamers like this usually get focused within the playoffs. Can Joe do sufficient on that finish of the court docket to remain on the ground in order that the Thunder can reap the advantages of his offense?

To his credit score, Joe is an extremely keen defender. He’s within the 98th percentile in costs drawn per 36 minutes (per NBA.com), and he strikes his toes nicely laterally. He’s a greater defender than a variety of the gamers in his archetype (like, say, Seth Curry). And the Thunder additionally do a superb job of hiding him from unfavorable matchups by having him hedge screening actions as an alternative of switching them (like this).

Nonetheless, we’ve seen loads of good common season staff defenders wrestle to maintain up with the large canines in a seven-game collection. Will that be the case with Joe? Solely time will inform. For now, make sure to regulate Joe as a result of he could find yourself being the distinction between the Thunder being enjoyable and them being fierce.

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