By Kevin McPherson
LITTLE ROCK — No player’s path to the 2020 NBA Draft has likely been more complicated and winding than former Arkansas Razorback Isaiah Joe‘s has been, but with the draft now just 24 days out Joe has one more signifcant step in his journey to hearing his name called on Nov. 18.
Joe (6-5 shooting guard, Fort Smith native) arrived in Memphis on Saturday for his 2020 NBA Draft Combine individual workout that takes place this afternoon (Monday, Oct. 26) as he’ll go through a battery of shooting drills, performance testing, and measurements.
The process is unprecedented in that the annual combine that is held in one location where the top 60 or so draft-eligible players converge with the entire throng of NBA teams present to evaluate has been scrapped due to the coronavirus pandemic in favor of regional, individual workouts that will be recorded and sent out to each team in lieu of in-person evaluation. The 2020 process also spread out the medical examinations and player media events that typically would have been held at the combine. Joe had his media day on Sept. 30 in Fayetteville (entire youtube video of his Zoom virtual media session is linked below) and his medical exam on Oct. 15 in Memphis.
“The draft process, it’s new,” Joe said during his media event on Sept. 30. “It’s brand new, so I didn’t know what to expect coming into this draft process. I know that it was a lot different before covid times, but now that we’re limited to doing Zoom meetings (with NBA teams) I’ve been getting the most out of that. So it’s definitely been a good experience.”
For Joe, the trek to where he is today is more complex than any other potential draft prospect in that he is the only underclassman to declare for the draft, withdraw his name to return to college, only to make a U-turn back into the draft. Joe originally declared in late April and withdrew on Aug. 1 with intentions to return to Arkansas for his junior season, but 15 days later he re-entered the draft just a day ahead of the NBA’s Aug. 17 deadline for college underclassmen to declare, forfeiting the remaining two seasons of his collegiate eligibility.
Almost immediately upon re-entering the draft, Joe began to rise in various mock drafts and prospect big boards, an escalation that has Joe currently viewed as a likely early-second-round pick. In the past two weeks, Joe appeared in the Nos. 34-38 projected selection range in four mock drafts — No. 34 to the Philadelphia 76ers in USA Today’s Rookie Wire mock draft, No. 36 to the Philadelphia 76ers according to both Sports Illustrated’s and Sam Vecenie’s (The Athletic) mock drafts, and No. 38 to the New York Knicks in NBADraft.net’s mock draft.
Some draft analysts view Joe as a mid-to-late-first-round value with a chance to be selected among the first 30 picks, a perspective that likely would have been widely held if not for a mid-season right knee injury that affected Joe’s production and efficiency as a volume three-point shooter last season.
Until now, Joe’s draft preparations have been daily workouts (shooting and ball-handling drills plus strength-and-conditioning) in Northwest Arkansas with a trainer set up through his agent, Mike Conley, Sr. (recent workout video released by Joe via Twitter is linked here.
Joe’s had Zoom virtual interviews with the majority of NBA teams, a process that began before and resumed after Joe’s 15-day return to the Hogs.
But today, Joe gets into the meat-and-potatoes portion of his pre-draft eval with his first on-court shooting that will eventually be seen by every NBA team. Considered one of the top shooters in the draft, Joe will go through a pre-determined workout of drills put together by the NBA. Here is a look at which drills can be part of the workout: warm up (50 free throws), spot-up shooting (50 shots), shooting off the dribble (30 shots), mid-range star drill (20 shots), three-point star drill (20 shots), side-mid-side drill (2 minutes of repeated cycle of 4 NBA three-point jump shots on the move), three-point endurance (5 minutes of game-speed three-point shooting from any spots), and cool down (50 free throws).
Additionally, Joe will go through the NBA’s performance testing and measuring aspects of the combine. Examples of performance testing are dynamic warmup, no-step vertical jump, maximum vertical jump, pro lane drill, 3/4-court sprint, and lane shuttle drill. Examples of measuring are standing reach, height (with and without shoes), wingspan, body weight, body composition, and hand length / width.
Joe’s teammate the past two seasons at Arkansas — 6-5 guard Mason Jones, the SEC Co-Player of the Year in 2019-20 after leading the league in scoring — also left school early for the 2020 draft and is also having his pro day today.
Joe is looking to become only the fourth former Razorback to be drafted after leaving school following his sophomore season (Joe Johnson in 2001, Bobby Portis in 2015, and Daniel Gafford in 2019), and if he’s selected before the 38th pick (same goes for Jones) he has a chance to be the fourth-highest-drafted Razorback this century (Johnson went No. 10 to Boston in 2001, Ronnie Brewer, Jr. went No. 14 to Utah in 2006, and Portis went No. 22 to Chicago in 2015; Gafford was selected No. 38 by Chicago in 2019 and Sonny Weems was selected No. 39 by Chicago in 2008).
With the dynastic NBA run of the Golden State Warriors whose recent 3 NBA titles in a span of playing in 5 consecutive Finals series came when the club changed the landscape of the pro game with multiple perimeter shooters in a 5-out floor-spacing offense; the three-point trigger-happy Houston Rockets and their 60-plus attempts in multiple games; and even teams still employing more traditional offensive play needing shooters to create cleaner opportunities for inside-the-arc scoring — all of it makes a gravity floor-spacer like Joe a hot commodity in the draft.
Joe was not only the SEC’s top three-point shooter the past two seasons — both in makes (207) and takes (548) — he was one of the top per-game volume three-point shooters in the nation at 3.45 makes and 9.13 takes per contest while at Arkansas. His effieciency from NBA three-point shooting distance as a sophomore exceded 44%. His shot creation off the dribble was among the best in the nation as he registered 97th and 89th percentile in two seasons. Joe economizes dribbling with a less-is-more approach that suits the pro game, and he excels in moving off the ball (running to spots both in halfcourt and transition, settling into gaps in the defense, offsetting and relocating, etc.). Those attributes promote good offensive flow and spacing, and thus helps draw out defenders to create opportunities for others to drive and score. Joe was also a plus-defender in college due to his length, quick leteral movement, instincts, and understanding of positioning, footwork, and taking angles.
“I think right off the bat my shooting will bring a lot to a team,” Joe said during his media day. “Being able to stretch the floor and keep movement, keep spaced out, occupy a defender, things like that right off the bat is something that teams can utilize from me. And something that’s very underrated is my defensive IQ. I feel like I’m in the right spot at all times, I step in and take charges and get steals with my length. Those are things that I think teams can use from me right off the bat.”
Joe talked about what he has been working on to improve for the NBA game.
“Right now I think one of the biggest things is putting on weight and muscle, which I am and that’s going really good through this little off time that we’re having,” he said. “I’m continually working on my ball-handling. Right now I’m a capable ball-handler so if a team needs me to bring the ball up the court at any time I can do that, and I’m going to continue working on that. But at the end of the day I’m going to keep the main thing the main thing: I want to be the best shooter at all times.”
Joe finished his Arkansas career as arguably the best three-point shooter in the SEC spanning his two seasons.
He earned SEC All Freshman honors in ’18-19 when he was the first Hog rookie to start every game since Portis (’13-14) while averaging 13.9 points and setting the school record for made three-pointers (113 at a 41.4% clip). Joe was a preseason All SEC pick as a sophomore and through the mid-point of the season he was named 1 of 10 finalists for the postseason Jerry West Award, which honors the top shooting guard in the nation.
But he was hampered by a mid-season injury in ’19-20, affecting his play in five games and causing him to miss six more. In the end, Joe played in 26 games in ’19-20 and finished the season as the team’s second-leading scorer at 16.9 points per game (7th in the SEC) and the league’s leader in made triples (94) despite missing those six games due to the injury. He also averaged 4.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.4 steals, and 36.2 minutes. He led the team in charges for a second straight season, and he was 81-of-91 from the free throw line for 89.0% (the efficiency led the team and was top 3 in the SEC). He was once named SEC Player of the Week.
In the nine SEC games that Joe played in while healthy (three prior to injury and six after returning from injury), the Hogs went 6-3 as he averaged 20.4 points while shooting a collective 36-of-97 from 3 (37.1%) and 42-of-43 from the free throw line (97.7%). Arkansas finished the season 20-12, but the Hogs were 17-4 with a healthy Joe in the lineup.
“Some of the (NBA) teams, they knew about the injury and they mentioned the injury in the interview,” Joe said. “But some people I had to explain the games that I played healthy versus the games that I was injured. So I think after explaining that to some teams they got a better eye on things.”
In his two seasons at Arkansas, Joe registered 910 career points and 207 career made 3-pointers (7th most in school history) at a 37.8% clip in 60 career games (he started all but once in the games he played in as a Hog).