It wasn't long ago that Isaiah Joe was a minor footnote signing before the start of the season. Joining the team three days before the season opener, his addition was swept under the rug by most Thunder fans. (His signing came as Daily Thunder finalized our 2022-23 player profiles...without him.) Some fans who are into the draft like myself still remember him as an exciting prospect coming out of Arkansas that was a potential selection for Sam Presti in the second round (I had him ranked 29th that year). He was passed over by the Thunder multiple times and eventually waived after two seasons with the Sixers, having failed to carve out a role for himself on a competitive Philadelphia team. Three days after he was waived, the Oklahoma City picked him up--perhaps on the recommendation from former VP of Scouting for the Sixers, Vince Rozman, whom they had hired a few months earlier.
Four months later, Joe looks to be like one of the best free agent signings in Thunder history (however sad that may be) and has been a huge catalyst in their surprising season thus far. If he keeps it up, could be one of the better value non-rookie or max contracts in the entire NBA.
Over the previous two seasons, the Thunder were the worst perimeter shooting team in the NBA. Their lack of spacing and any real threat from the outside cratered their offense, leading to being last in offensive rating in both seasons. This year, they have climbed up to 21st (with a very small gap between the few teams above them), and while that's still not great, it's been a massive improvement from what we have been accustomed to, and a huge reason for this is the play from Isaiah Joe.
Ever since the Thunder started to get good in the early 2010s, they cycled through shooters that they thought they could rely on and help the team win. They needed these guys to be able to play off ball dominant players like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and even a younger James Harden. Daequan Cook, Kevin Martin, Anthony Morrow, and Alex Abrines are players that come to mind OKC tried to use to fill this role. Now years later, Joe is putting up one of the better perimeter shooting seasons in Thunder history for a team that is punching above its own weight in talent level. His minutes keep steadily climbing, and his production isn't faltering as a result. He's only 23 years old, and for a young team like the Thunder, people should consider him a real asset and a member of this young core if he keeps playing as he has been.
Let's take a closer look at the numbers Joe is putting up this season in order to conceptualize his performance up to this point. At the time of this writing he's shooting an outstanding 44.7 percent (fifth in the NBA) on 4.4 attempts per game in only 14 minutes. Per 100 possessions, he is putting up 14.2 attempts, which is a ton. It's not quite Steph Curry volume (16.1 per 100), but he puts up shots in a hurry and demands attention from opposing defenses. This isn't a surprise from those who saw him in college, as Joe put up 10.6 attempts per game in his final season at Arkansas.
In fact, he's having a historical season in terms of percentages and sheer volume. While his shot difficulty isn't as hard as Curry, he's putting up a very similar season to 2019 Duncan Robinson.
Per 36 Numbers from Three:
- 2019-2020 Duncan Robinson: 10.1 attempts, 44.6 percent
- 2022-2023 Isaiah Joe: 10.8 attempts, 44.7 percent
Joe is currently sitting at 66.7% True Shooting, which ranks in the 94th percentile of all NBA players and third among all non bigs behind Josh Green and Kevin Durant, per DunksAndThrees.
According to CleaningTheGlass, which cuts out garbage time from its statistics, Isaiah Joe is currently in the 100th percentile in eFG% and points per shot attempt for his position. Most of his attempts come in the C&S variety, with NBA.com tracking 126/170 of his attempts coming in that variety. On those shots, he is shooting a blistering 48.4 percent from three and really benefits from the gravity that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander creates and the passing vision and height of Josh Giddey.
The Thunder have a good coaching staff and Mark Daigneault has found an exciting and nearly unstoppable way to spring Joe open for threes, and that is by using the slender guard as a screener. Whether he is setting an actual screen or being used as a ghost screener (a fake screen where the supposed screener sprints to open space instead) Joe is highly effective out of these actions and excels in finding open space to fire off a three pointer.
A lot of Joe's value as a shooter also comes in transition or semi-transition, sprinting to the wing while the defense is in scramble mode as he makes himself available for a shot. The Thunder are better in transition than they have been in the past couple of years, and Joe has a lot to do with it. He ranks in the 91st percentile in points per possession in transition (per Synergy) and is spreading the court well in those opportunities. He's a weapon on the break, shooting 18-34 on transition threes.
Joe doesn't have the self creation that Kevin Durant, James Harden, or Paul George did from behind the arc, but his overall accuracy thus far is launching him into one of the best perimeter shooting seasons in franchise history. Anthony Morrow shot 43.4% on 4.4 attempts per game in 2014-2015, lower volume than Joe. He's in such a great situation right now, being able to play with a run-and-gun team who gets out in transition with the aforementioned superstar in Gilgeous-Alexander, the tall and creative passer in Giddey, and a bunch of effective ball movers like Jalen Williams, Kenrich Williams, and Aaron Wiggins. There are plenty of teammates that can get Joe the ball in advantageous spots.
As I hinted at earlier, Isaiah Joe is having an absolutely massive impact on the Thunder and their success this season. That might seem hard to do considering he is only averaging 14 minutes per game, but magic tends to happen when he is on the floor. According to PBPStats, in the 567 minutes Joe has been on the floor this season, the Thunder have a +12.7 net rating compared to a -3.1 when he is off the floor. Their offense spikes significantly, going from a 111 offensive rating when he sits to a 121 offensive rating when he play (which would be by far the best in the NBA), and OKC's three point percentage rises from a poor 33 percent to an elite 43 percent when he's on the floor. Now, there is some statistical noise in there with the three point percentage disparity, but the value of even having one shooter that defenses are scared of on the court with players like SGA and Giddey raises the ceiling of the offense significantly.
In the 358 minutes that Shai and Joe share the floor, the Thunder have a 121.9 offensive rating and a +13.5 net rating. Diving into more stats from CleaningTheGlass, the difference in offensive production with Joe on the floor is astronomical.
On/Off Numbers Per 100 Possessions on Offense:
- Net Rating: +19.9 (99th percentile)
- Points Per Possession: +14.5 (100th percentile)
- eFG%: +5.1% (98th percentile)
- Free Throw Rate: +8.8 (98th percentile)
On/Off Numbers Per 100 Possessions on Defense:
- Points Per Possession: -5.4 (86th percentile)
- eFG%: -3% (90th percentile)
- Turnover Rate: +2.4% (92nd percentile)
As I said earlier, there is some inevitable statistical regression to come here with a likely increase in opponent three point shooting, but the numbers have been sensational. Beyond that, his individual advanced metrics really stand out amongst his fellow Thunder players.
As you can see, RAPTOR rates him extremely high. I moreso tend to find EPM as the more accurate and reliable all-in-one metric, however, it shows that Joe's impact is much more visible than just the surface level numbers. If the Thunder are interested in winning at all this season, Joe should continue to see at least 18 minutes per game on this team. It appears that he might have already passed Tre Mann in the pecking order, which I believe is for the better of the team. Like I said at the top, Joe is still only 23 years old. It's not like he's some mid 20s veteran that might have already capped out his potential. He's still a young prospect in his third season producing at an elite level in his role. Let's just say that if some other recent Thunder draft picks were putting up these numbers as a 23 year old, fans would be calling them future all-stars.
The Little Things
Despite all this praise above about Joe's shooting and shotmaking, he is much more than just a shooter. Joe does a lot of the little things well, as he moves the ball effectively, doesn't turn it over on offense, generates steals on defense, and just plays effective team basketball. While he's the second lightest player in the league according to the NBA's listed weight measurements, coming in at just 165 pounds, he fights on defense and battles with players much larger than him. Joe has super quick and active hands that generate steals at a high level--his 2.1% steal rate ranks in the 84th percentile in the NBA. His 6'8 wingspan is able to mitigate his lack of height and weight. Of course, he is no lockdown defender because he isn't very big, but he competes at a high level and has those quick hands. EPM and RAPTOR put his defense at a -0.4 and a +1.2 respectively, and I tend to read that as right in the middle of the road: a very neutral overall defender.
His turnover rate of 6.8% is in the 96th percentile in the NBA, meaning that he rarely turns the ball over. His usage isn't very high, which plays into this, but he generally makes good decisions with the basketball and recognizes his own strengths and weaknesses. Joe can attack a closeout or handle in the PnR on occasion, but he doesn't try to do anything he's incapable of. He fits in well with the Thunder's playstyle of making quick decisions with the basketball and getting up and down the floor (they rank thirrd in the NBA in pace) and is bringing the OKC offense to new heights with his dangerous perimeter jumper.
For years and for multiple iterations of contending teams, the Thunder have been looking for complementary role players to supplement their stars' abilities on the offensive end and hit the open shots that are created for them. Now, they have stumbled upon one of the more effective floor spacers in the NBA, and a player who is still very young and under a cheap contract. We'll see if he can keep this up for the entire duration of the season, but Isaiah Joe could be an integral part of the next contending Thunder team. And with every passing day, they must be thanking the Sixers that he fell right into their laps.