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Isaiah Joe praises Doc Rivers, relishing opportunity with OKC

Isaiah Joe made his return to Philadelphia for the first time since being waived by the Sixers and then signed by the Thunder.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Miami Heat Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

The Sixers came out of the 2020 NBA Draft feeling pretty good.

Tyrese Maxey, who looks like a star in the making, fell into their laps at the 21st pick. Paul Reed, who’s shown flashes of being a solid rotational player, was one of the last picks of the draft.

And with the 49th overall pick, they took Arkansas sharpshooter Isaiah Joe. For what’s felt like forever the Sixers have tried to develop a 3-and-D player. Joe seemed like he had the traits to fit that bill.

But alas, Joe was waived by the Sixers right before the start of the regular season. Just like that Joe went from seemingly a big part of the Sixers’ future to the past. While Joe was surprised to be let go by the team, he did sense something was coming.

“It kind of came quick, for sure,” Joe said. “Leading up to it, you can kind of feel that there was something in the works, but my job was to regardless of the noise that was going on outside, it was still to be ... in the moment.”

Going up against his former team, Joe said he was careful to keep his emotions in check. He knows how intense Sixers fans can be — something he enjoyed while with the team and was ready to enjoy as the opponent.

“Coming in here I really tried to calm myself, treat it like any other game because at the end of the day each basketball game is the same,” Joe said. “But ... Philly’s environment is always great. They always have intense fans, and I love that, even being on the opposite side. I love being immersed in the game, and I think here’s a really good spot to be immersed in the game.”

There’s an argument to be made that Joe didn’t get enough of an opportunity as a Sixer to show his worth. Shooters need to find a rhythm and it proved to be difficult for Joe to find with sporadic minutes in Doc Rivers’ rotation.

The other side of that is when Joe did get extended looks, he didn’t cash in. Over the course of 96 games, he hit just 34.9 percent of his threes and shot below 40 percent from the field overall. While he showed excellent lateral quickness and instincts defensively, there was concern from the Sixers that he lacked the requisite strength to fight through screens and hold up over an 82-game season.

Still, Rivers heaped praise on his former player and is glad to see Joe thriving.

“I’m happy,” Rivers said. “Unfortunately, I don’t see him a lot of games. I don’t watch him a lot of games, but there’s spikes — he plays a lot of minutes some nights, and some nights he doesn’t play a lot. But when he does get his opportunity, he looks great. He’s making shots. He’s always competed defensively overall. I’m just happy for him. Our roster is so deep. It’s just good to see him play.”

While many Sixers fans likely harbor negative feelings towards Doc for Joe’s usage, the 23-year-old was nothing but complimentary of his former coach.

“Doc’s always been wanting to be on my side,” Joe said. “A lot of people probably don’t know that, but he’s always been wanting to be on my side. He actually made some phone calls of his own afterwards. He talked me up, gave me words of encouragement and just saying he’ll always be there for me if I ever need him. Definitely a great coach, an even better person. So just my years playing for him were really good and he even supports me when I’m on opposite side.”

With the Thunder, Joe is finding a role in providing the team instant offense. He’s hit over 42 percent of his threes while jacking up over 10 treys per 36 minutes. He’s fit in nicely to a young and hungry OKC squad which features only two players over the age of 26.

But it wasn’t exactly the easiest situation for Joe to slide into. He spent training camp and the preseason with the Sixers. Sure, he then had the ability to sign with any team he chose, but he was behind the eight ball when it came to the team’s playbook and personnel.

According to head coach Marc Daigneault, Joe assimilated himself quickly and is earning more opportunities as the season goes on.

“I give him a lot of credit, because he got waived after training camp,” Daigneault said, “and training camp is critical in terms of your team coming together, and the players kind of declaring themselves on that team in that season. He missed that opportunity with us. So he had limited opportunity to kind of show what he could do, and he was kind of at the back of the line.”

In the NBA, 3-and-D wings are an extraordinarily valuable commodity.

Joe had a rare 0-for-4 night but was a game-high +24. Perhaps he could’ve helped slow down the rampant dribble penetration the Thunder were getting.

Daryl Morey and company decided to waive Joe to give the team more optionality to pull off a move for a missing piece ahead of the trade deadline. With Feb. 9 looming, we’ll see if the Sixers strike a deal that makes missing out on Joe’s development worthwhile.

“Early on, every time we threw him out there, it was like he was ready to play. He was ready to make shots,” Daigneault said. “And he’s also a hard playing guy. He plays defense and competes, he plays inside the team structure. And the more opportunity he got, the more he kind of rose to it and he’s emerged as a regular rotation player for us, and he’s earned that in tough circumstances, which I give him a lot of credit for.”

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