Isaac Could Evolve Into NBA's Best Perimeter Defender

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO – Josh Richardson, Miami’s sharpshooting swingman who has a fairly quick first step when he drives to the basket, normally breezes past 7-footers.

Watch him fly by Atlanta’s John Collins, a very athletic big man, from last season:

When the former second round draft pick tried doing the same thing against Jonathan Isaac in the closing seconds of the Magic’s opening night win over the Heat, a very different result ensued.

The nearly 7-foot Isaac – he’s listed at 6-10 – is not your average big man, though. It’s hard to find anyone around his height who slides his feet as well as the recently-turned 21-year-old, nor do many players this tall have such remarkably good instincts and anticipation when pressuring ball handlers.

Unable to elude Isaac off the dribble, J-Rich stepped out of bounds as he tried squeezing through a small gap along the baseline. The turnover, essentially, sealed Orlando’s victory.

Throughout his 18 minutes of action, the former Florida State standout was, as usual, sensational on the defensive side of the floor. The Heat missed six of their eight shot attempts when Isaac was the closest defender, though one of those shots made by Derrick Jones Jr. came when Orlando’s versatile forward helped double team Richardson and was too far away from Jones to truly contest the 3-pointer.

Although he’s still in the infantile stages of his development, Isaac has a chance to be special defensively, special as in a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate and someone who changes the complexion of games just by stopping the best players on other teams.

Right now, and he himself has admitted this to be true, Isaac is a far better perimeter defender than he is a post defender. While he did bulk up some in the offseason, Isaac still has a long way to go before he can physically challenge low-post bruisers.

When he was in college and NBA scouts were just starting to assess his potential, the scoop on Isaac was that he could blossom into a transformational defender. Now a year and a half since he was drafted sixth overall by the Magic, that feeling hasn’t changed a bit.