Why Isaiah Joe is poised for a breakout season

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

The Philadelphia 76ers waived Isaiah Joe in mid-October, just before the 2022-23 season started. Sam Presti took a chance and signed Joe to a three-year deal worth $6 million. If Joe can take another step in 2024, he may own the claim for the most team-friendly contract in the league.

Isaiah Joe began to raise the eyebrows of OKC Thunder fans after he saved the Thunder in an early season game in Dallas. He nailed three 3-pointers, including one to tie the game at the end of regulation. The Thunder won in overtime, and Joe started creeping into the rotation.

OKC Thunder guard Isaiah Joe is poised to sustain his breakout season in 2023-24.

With a star backcourt of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey already established, playing time for Joe took a lot of work to come by early in the season. The emergence of rookie phenom Jalen Williams made those minutes more difficult to spread around.

Joe’s confidence never wavered as his role constantly did. Finally, after about a quarter of the Thunder’s season, Joe’s ability to space the floor by shooting over 40 percent from deep could not be ignored. Bench Boss Mark Daigneault had no choice but to put him in the rotation for good.

Joe quickly turned into a fan favorite with his quick trigger from beyond the arc, adding another dimension to OKC’s offense when he was on the floor. However, his impact on the Thunder surpasses his three-point shooting.

After being inserted into the rotation, Joe averaged double digits the rest of the season. He continued shooting over 40 percent from deep, proving his ability to contribute defensively. Joe finished seventh in the league in charges drawn behind Thunder teammates Jaylin Williams and Kenrich Williams.

Maybe most importantly for the Thunder and Joe’s future, he showed that an expanded role led to more production. Joe started ten games during the season, averaging nearly 16 points per game in 27 minutes in those contests.

Joe’s efficiency stayed the same despite his higher usage. In games he started, Joe shot 61 percent inside the arc and 39 percent from beyond the arc. Albeit a small sample size, Joe showed he could be a consistent and effective scorer everywhere on the floor, given the opportunity.

While the Arkansas product will still have to earn his minutes, lucky enough for Joe, shooting is a delicacy in the NBA world, and he has more to offer there than anyone else on the roster. So although there is a near-zero chance Joe makes his way into the starting lineup next season, he may work his way into the sixth man of the year conversation.

Isaiah Joe fits the stereotypical build for a sixth man of the year. Guards who can handle the ball and score at every level on the floor are almost always the guys who win it. Joe’s elite shooting helps him shed any concerns about guys in that role being inefficient.

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Another thing that makes Joe unique is that he doesn’t need the ball in his hands to contribute. Instead, most of Joe’s shots come from passes, with 88 percent of his field goals being assisted, including 94 percent of his 3-pointers. Joe’s versatility is even more critical, with Giddey and Gilgeous-Alexander as the primary ball handlers.

The Thunder’s play-in appearance signaled they are ready to compete. However, Mark Daigneault will stay the course and expand his rotations during the regular season to explore the roster. That is how he found Isaiah Joe, after all. So when it comes time to tighten the hold on minutes, Joe should fit comfortably into that framework.

Any significant trade would have to include Lu Dort to make salaries, and depending on what OKC gets back, that could open up a slot for Joe to take some more shots. Ideally, the Thunder will be able to decrease SGA’s usage while not sacrificing offensive production. Joe should be the perfect player to aid in that mission.

Though, it is not expected that the OKC Thunder will make any dramatic moves this offseason. The organization continues to rave about Lu Dort’s ability.

Progression is not linear, and the Thunder are depending on the progression of most of their core to take the next step. However, in small sample sizes, Joe looked ready for a more prominent role.

If given the opportunity, Joe could become the perfect sixth man for this era of the Thunder. With an increased role, he could easily catch the rest of the league by surprise and make a run at the Most Improved Player award.

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