Over the next few weeks, we’ll be profiling every player currently on the Sixers’ roster ahead of training camp, which begins on Sept. 28.
Contract status: Two years, $3,300,602 remaining under contract
Isaiah Joe was selected with the 49th pick in last year’s NBA Draft, and as you’d expect for a rookie on a No. 1 seeded team coached by Doc Rivers (who has always typically favored his veterans), Joe didn’t get too much playing time with the Sixers in 2020-21. He appeared in 41 games and averaged 9.3 minutes a night, tallying 3.7 points, 0.9 rebounds, 0.5 assists (0.3 turnovers) and 0.3 steals.
Due to some strong play early in the year and various roster shortages due to injuries and COVID-19 health and safety protocols, Joe had spells where he was even in the Sixers’ rotation — primarily in January when he averaged 19.1 minutes a night over nine games.
The main statistical takeaway from Joe’s small sample of 383 total minutes is his shooting volume. He showed immense confidence from three-point range from day one. He fires without hesitation, has range a couple of feet beyond the arc, relocates well off the ball, and shoots comfortably off movement. While his 36.8 three-point percentage for the year is solid, it’s those skills and his impressive volume of 10 attempts per 36 minutes (!) that are the biggest takeaways for the Sixers. On a team that needed more shooting off movement and wants players with quick triggers to compliment Joel Embiid operating inside, Joe’s skillset fits right in.
It’s clear why the Sixers had their sights set on Joe. And beyond just his shooting prowess (which was to be expected), it was Joe’s defense that stood out most in his rookie season. When Doc Rivers talked about Joe’s performances after games, he mentioned several times how impressed he was with the rookie’s defense, especially his IQ for someone who’d only just entered the NBA.
Despite having a slender frame, Joe was competitive on the ball. He shifts his feet fairly well laterally, competes and stays physical, and uses his length to bother opponents’ shots or handle where possible. When it comes to off-ball defense, Rivers was right to be impressed. Joe’s rotations were generally on time, he has good awareness, he can help break up passing lanes with his instincts and reach, and he made a number of crisp help rotations to cover for teammates or help around the rim.
Season outlook: It’s still so hard to project what the Sixers’ roster will look like in 2021-22 when we don’t know when a Ben Simmons trade is happening and what the return will be. It could be anything from a pick-heavy package with some role players to a return built around one star-level player further down the line. Depending on what the Sixers land in return for Simmons, Joe’s amount of competition for minutes on the wing could change.
The Sixers have upgraded their backup 4 spot with Georges Niang, giving their forward rotation a welcome boost of size and reliable shooting. But after that, the Sixers’ wing rotation is currently the same. For now, that leaves Joe fighting for minutes. It’s unlikely he’ll hold a spot at the end of the primary rotation. That said, he can still compete with the Furkan Korkmaz-level of the rotation and at least make a case for spot minutes. And if Joe can build on what he showed as a rookie, he could strengthen that case to contribute a little more often.
In addition to his shooting expertise and defensive tools, there are a couple of ways Joe can earn more reps. For starters, if he can add any scoring inside the arc. Last season, 79.7 percent of Joe’s field goal attempts were three-pointers. Just 11 of his field goal attempts came within 10 feet of the basket, including only 4 at the rim (seriously). Of course, it’s not fair to expect Joe to suddenly become a dynamic driver. His specialty coming into the NBA was always his perimeter play and that’s still the case. But if he can develop his handle at all, beat a few more closeouts, and build his confidence and ability to get to the rim with a few more straight-line drives, it will help round out his scoring and let him create more advantages when defenders try to rush him off the three-point line.
Adding a touch of extra playmaking would help Joe beat rotating defenses, too. He displayed solid complementary playmaking in college, so it’s reasonable to expect more growth from him in this area moving forward. He also flashed more crafty passing in Summer League this year with his reads downhill and out of pick-and-rolls.
This behind-the-back pocket pass popped the most:
Did not expect a behind-the-back pocket pass like this from Isaiah Joe.— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) August 13, 2021
Offering more playmaking and driving alongside his 3-point shooting would be the ideal development for him in year 2. pic.twitter.com/RkZ4zwtx5z
Adding a little strength could also help Joe at both ends of the floor, whether he’s driving through traffic or guarding a bigger wing.
If Joe can make any of these improvements and the Sixers find themselves needing more wing depth for one reason or another, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him take on slightly more minutes and deliver.