The interesting case of Isaiah Joe and his future with OKC

Isaiah Joe #11 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)
Isaiah Joe #11 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images) /

The Oklahoma City Thunder made an eyebrow-raising move just days before the start of the 2022-23 NBA season. Isaiah Joe was inked to a multi-year deal on October 15th to finalize the OKC Thunder roster before the season tipped off four days later.

After being selected with the 49th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft out of the University of Arkansas to the Philadelphia 76ers, Joe just could not find rotational minutes on the Eastern Conference contender despite showing some flashes.

When the Oklahoma City Thunder brought in former-longtime 76ers executive Vince Rozman over the summer, Isaiah Joe credited their relationship for the sharpshooter landing in Bricktown.

Entering this season Joe had only logged 96 NBA games but showed positive rim finishing (64 percent), short-mid-range finishing (57 percent), and corner threes (40 percent) according to cleaning the glass on hardly any minutes. But that was enough to make NBA teams interested in the 23-year-old.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have an interesting decision to make on the future of Isaiah Joe who continues to blitz the nets and thrives in Bricktown

All of that prompted Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager Sam Presti to give Isaiah Joe a multi-year contract just before the season started. However, this is a Presti special. While it is a multi-year deal, the 2023-24 season is non-guaranteed with a club option for the 2024-25 season, giving OKC an out of this contract at any time.

Though, Isaiah Joe is earning his spot in the NBA with each passing game this season, which leads to some tough decisions and conversations around Oklahoma City.

For the Oklahoma City Thunder this year, Isaiah Joe has played in 20 games, averaging six points, two rebounds, and an assist per contest while shooting 50 percent from three which ranks him in the 98th percentile in the NBA for his position. Joe ranks in the 100th percentile in the NBA for his ability to shoot non-corner triples, stroking it at a 51 percent clip in that category. On corner threes, which he has only attempted 13 of, Joe is shooting 46 percent.

According to cleaning the glass, the Oklahoma City Thunder are a +25.6 efficiency differential when Isaiah Joe is on the floor which ranks him in the 100th percentile in the NBA, points per possession is sitting at a +20 which is in the same percentile, and the expected wins on/off sit at +49.

Per 36, Isaiah Joe is averaging 21 points, grabbing six rebounds, dishing out three assists, and nearly swiping two steals a game. Those are by far his best marks to this point in his career, and Mark Daigneault is trying to find more minutes for Joe while also balancing the player development aspect of this roster.

However, that is the crux of the issue. Isaiah Joe is not old, he is not out of the realm of possible long-term players for this organization. At just 24 years old with his skillset and being on a team-friendly deal if OKC chooses for the next two seasons, Joe could be exactly what this team needs to help tie together this roster as they continue to try to find the end of this rebuild.

Still, this is a business and no one wants to give up on former-first-round pick Tre Mann, the team just paid Lu Dort, first-round pick Jalen Williams has been fantastic as a rookie, and on the wing there will still be moments where Aaron Wiggins, Ousmane Dieng, and Kenrich Williams need minutes. You can see Mark Daigneault’s predicament.

That roster crunch also applies to the offseason. The Oklahoma City Thunder own their first-round pick as well as Washington’s second-round pick in a loaded 2023 NBA Draft. So that is two roster spots the team has to create before even dipping their toe into the trade market or free agency.

So who are the odd players out?

Contractually, Darius Bazley is a restricted Free Agent and easy to let walk. Past that, Mike Muscala is on a 3.5-million dollar club option, while Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Isaiah Joe, and Aaron Wiggins are on a non-guaranteed deal,

So of that group, who are you taking out to keep Isaiah Joe? Darius Bazley and who? Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is safe. Mike Muscala provides veteran leadership, Aaron Wiggins has shown promise on both ends of the floor, and we have seen how well the Thunder play when they surround their stars with shooters like Isaiah Joe.

While it will be a difficult decision to make for Sam Presti no matter who he decides to let go, can you give up on a player with Isaiah Joe’s skillset? Elite shooting is hard to find, as Oklahoma City found out during their entire last run of contention that spanned over a decade they were always missing an Isaiah Joe-level shooter.

With Chet Holmgren, who shot 40 percent from three in college being added back into the fold next year after a season-ending injury, a plethora of quality shooting options in the upcoming NBA Draft, and Joe’s ability to stroke the three ball, it can open the offense up next year for the Thunder. Is that a luxury OKC can afford to turn down?

Speaking of the minute crunch earlier though, only five guys can play at a time, and with those other names mentioned, Chet Holmgren and next year’s first-round pick will eat upwards of 25 minutes per game next year. However, Isaiah Joe keeping up this trend can force the hand of Mark Daigneault and company to play him over those players the organization has invested more into.

The encouraging part for Isaiah Joe is, this long runway in Bricktown will earn him an NBA future no matter if it is in Oklahoma City or elsewhere. I hope Isaiah has more than just a cup of Joe in OKC.

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