In the last 14 years, the Razorbacks have produced only one NBA first round draft pick (Bobby Portis in 2015).
On Wednesday, Isaiah Joe will look to join Portis as the second to signify Arkansas is back to producing the elite talent it more often did in the late 1970s through 1990s.
Joe, a Fort Smith native, averaged 15 points, three rebounds and two assists over the course of his Razorback career, leading the SEC in three-point shooting in both seasons as a Hog while vying for a title that year in and year out had always including Kentucky as a favorite, according to Smarkets review. Joe was up and down in his sophomore season because of an injury, and that inconsistency is reflected in how he’s rated across major mock NBA drafts.
NBA scouts are high on Joe due his ability to consistently hit the three, despite the high volume of attempts. During his Razorback career, he attempted 718 shots and 548 of those came from behind the arc. However, Joe was able to knock down the 3-point shot at a 38% clip, despite it making up 76% of his shot selection.
“While he was injured for a chunk of the season and didn’t shoot as well due to massive three-point volume, it doesn’t take much to see that he’s one of the best pure shooters in the draft,” said draft analyst Jeremy Woo (Sports Illustrated) who has Joe going No. 34 to the 76ers in his most recent mock draft. “Given the leaguewide premium on players who can space the floor, it’s a reasonable bet that Joe can carve out an NBA role.”
Others also think Philadelphia, which has picks No. 34 and No. 36 and needs long-distance shooters to complement Ben Simmons, is a likely landing spot for Joe.
“According to sources, he was high on the Sixers’ radar before Daryl Morey was hired as the president of basketball operations two weeks ago,” beat writer Keith Pompey recently wrote. “One source said the expectation was that the Sixers intended to select the sharpshooter in the draft. While picking him at 21 might be considered a reach, the belief is it would happen early in the second round.”
Despite having the necessary tools that today’s NBA is looking for, he hasn’t risen above the late first round-early second round projection in most mock drafts. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor has Joe going at 26 to the Boston Celtics, which is the earliest that any NBA analyst has him going. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony has him going at No. 46 while the Athletic’s Sam Vencenie has Joe at No. 36.
Here’s where the latest mock drafts have @zai_joe1 going in the #NBADraft.— Arkansas Razorbacks Basketball ? (@RazorbackMBB) November 15, 2020
Who do you think will land Joe? pic.twitter.com/er6bwxiCQt
A lot of the reason for these inconsistent ratings comes back to Joe not showing the development many analysts expected from him in his sophomore season. That’s mostly due to the injury, but there were some signs even before that point.
Draft analyst Adam Spinella, who has Joe going No. 39 to the New Orleans Pelicans in his latest mock draft, highlighted some inconsistencies in his game earlier this summer.
“I think the problem with Isaiah is that he just didn’t get a whole lot better this year,” The Athletic’s Sam Vencenie told “Hit That Line.” “I was hoping the 15 pounds of muscle he added in the offseason, in addition to improved skills as ball handler, would kind of round out his game.”
Here are five of the biggest flaws in Joe’s game, according to draft analyst Adam Spinella:
- Struggles defensively when guarding strong drivers. He does move his feet well, but gets knocked off balance easily
- Similarly, on offense, he still struggles to finish drives through contact, regularly getting knocked off balance by stronger defenders
- Weak overhead passer, especially on the left side of floor
- Slight tendency to drift while shooting on the move, leading to a drifting shot as well
The fifth weakness, related to the fourth one, is that overall, Isaiah Joe as a sophomore was a bad shooter off screens. This is surprising since his mechanics are so good, though more understandable when realizing that his knee injury was nagging him for many games before he sat out:
As Spinella points out, Joe was:
- Only 5-36 (13.9%) in scoring situations off screens
- Mere 2-14 when coming straight to his right. Struggles with curls.
- If this is a long-term trend, seriously limits his NBA usage
Joe’s entire sophomore campaign was marred with inconsistency. The first 15 games of the season, he picked up where he left off as a freshman, averaging 18.2 points a game, shooting 37.5% from the floor and 44% from three. The next four games hinted at how bad his knee was hurting him, as he averaged only 11.5 points a game, shooting 27.2% from the floor and a mere 28% from three. Then, after returning to the team following arthroscopic knee surgery, Joe averaged 20 points a game, shooting 36.8% from the floor and 33.4% from three.
Still, Joe has plenty of positives going for him besides shooting. His 6-foot-5 frame and reported 6-foot-10 wingspan are both things that will translate well in the NBA, if he’s able to add weight/strength to the 180 pounds he is now. As a Hog, one of his best attributes was using his length to disrupt passing lanes and contest shots, while his quick hands generated steals. Joe isn’t a terrible defender by any means; however, he will need to continue to add weight to better stay on balance and handle aggressive drives by NBA guards. If Joe does this, expect him to become a very serviceable wing like the Nuggets’ Will Barton, Magic’s Terrance Ross or Lakers’ Danny Green.
In any other year, Joe would be able to prove himself against others in his draft class, potentially raising his stock through the NBA Draft Combine or individual team workouts. But due to COVID-19, the NBA made the unprecedented decision to have prospects work out individually at the NBA market closest to their hometown (Memphis for Joe) for this year’s Draft Combine. Joe also revealed on 103.7 the Buzz that NBA teams are actually coming to watch him work out in his hometown of Fort Smith.
“Initially there was no working out for teams,” said Joe. “But now a select few teams can come and watch you work out. Still minimal contact with them and they’re just going out watching players whenever they can.”
While he won’t have the opportunity to show what he has before the draft, Joe will hear his name called on draft night. After that, one lucky franchise should expect to see him lighting up opposing teams from deep night-in night-out for years to come.
Here’s a good breakdown of how Joe stacks up against other elite shooting draft prospects like
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The below originally published on April 20, 2020:
A key question is whether Isaiah Joe would be drafted in the first round or not. Only draft picks going in the first round are guaranteed rookie contracts with guaranteed money.
But an increasingly high number of high are are negotiating and getting at least two years of guaranteed money in their rookie deals, as Hogville’s Kevin McPherson points out.
For instance, look at Daniel Gafford, who went as the eighth pick in the second round in the 2019 NBA Draft. He signed his rookie contract with guaranteed money in the middle of his productive run with the Bulls in the Las Vegas Summer League last July. Gafford also benefitted from the NBA Draft Combine before the draft.
But now, in the coronavirus pandemic, it’s unclear if the NBA Draft Combine and Las Vegas Summer League will even occur. They may be postponed or cancelled altogether.
Either way, that would be bad news for picks in the high second-round, which is the range (i.e. between picks number 30 and 40) in which a few NBA draft analysts believe Isaiah Joe will go.
Below is where Joe was pegged to go in early April, according to research by HawgBeat.com:
Many of these draft analysts are talking to NBA scouts on conditions of anonymity, but Hogville’s Kevin McPherson decided to reach out to two NBA scouts himself.
Here’s what they told him:
“Two NBA scouts who recently spoke with Hogville.net on the condition of anonymity were split on whether or not Joe should come out. One scout said Joe should return to school for his junior season, while the other said the feedback he had gotten while talking with other scouts and draft decision-makers pointed to Joe being selected “somewhere from 25 to 40″ — the latter equating to a late-first-round-to-early-second-round projection.”
What did Isaiah Joe do in 2019-2020?
Isaiah Joe, Arkansas’ star sophomore shooting guard, seems on every level like a humble young man. That humility belies a deep, burning competitiveness.
The latest 2020 NBA Draft projections should only add fuel to that fire. The major outlets that publish mock drafts, including NBADraft.net, Bleacher Report, CBS or Sports Illustrated, have not listed Joe as a first-round candidate in the 2020 draft despite elite shooting skills which are highly craved by NBA executives in the modern game. The folks behind NBADraft.net haven’t yet bothered to give him any ratings at all:
However, not all mock NBA draft writers are disrespecting Isaiah Joe, who has averaged 23 points and three rebounds in three games since returning from a knee injury. He and Mason Jones lead the Razorbacks basketball team at home tonight against LSU in a game in which the Hogs are slightly favored, according to upcoming college basketball odds.
Through much of this season Sports Illustrated’s NBA Draft writer, Jeremy Woo, has been high on Isaiah Joe, who came off a freshman season on par with Steph Curry’s when it came to shooting prowess.
In fact, in January 2020, Woo predicted Isaiah Joe would go as the No. 28 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Then a knee injury hobbled Joe, playing a big role in him averaging only 9.2 points per game over a 5-game stretch and making just 13 of 47 attempts from 3-point range (27.7 percent).
That ultimately led to arthroscopic knee surgery which sidelined Joe for six games. (Arkansas went 1-5 in those contests.)
Although Joe has looked strong since his return, the jury’s still out on whether he can play his way back into a borderline first-round pick or not. “There was hope around the industry that Joe might break out in a major way this season after quietly establishing himself as one of the top shooters in the country as a freshman,” Woo wrote.
“Injuries and the emergence of backcourt-mate Mason Jones as a trigger-happy scorer have tabled that a bit, although Joe returned last week with a pair of 20-point performances, and remains very much the same player, even if his three-point percentage has regressed.”
Isaiah Joe’s three-point shooting through early March
Woo notes that Joe has added 10-15 pounds of muscle since last season, which has helped him turn into a better defender this season. For sure, it’s helped him up his rebounding average to around four a game.
“Barring a massive late-season explosion, Joe seems more likely to end up in the second round right now, but he’s the type of potentially elite catch-and-shoot player that shouldn’t slip too far,” Woo concludes.
The question of whether Isaiah Joe should or shouldn’t enter the 2020 NBA Draft will only get bigger in the coming months. Scouts will run tape of him post-injury and see some things that will give them pause, such as a lack of explosiveness when driving to the basket that led one of his shot attempts being blocked down the stretch of the Arkansas-Georgia game.
Packing more muscle to his now 180-pound frame, as well as developing more explosiveness through plyometric training, are two things he could continue to add with another year in college. Indeed, players who have provided what is likely the best-case scenario for Joe on an NBA level — guys like J.J. Redick (whom Joe told me he strives to emulate), C.J. McCollum, Kyle Korver — all stayed four seasons in college.
Those three shooting phenoms decided to stay on campus to mature physically and mentally. They were’t blessed with freakish athleticism and needed to maximize their physical abilities before heading into the pros. For these three, sticking around paid off in terms of college achievements and long-lasting, highly productive NBA careers.