Phoenix Suns Draft Watch: Jonathan Issac

Feb 28, 2017; Durham, NC, USA; Florida State Seminoles forward Jonathan Isaac (1) dunks in the first half against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 28, 2017; Durham, NC, USA; Florida State Seminoles forward Jonathan Isaac (1) dunks in the first half against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports /

The draft watch continues this week with one of the most dangerous picks in this draft: Jonathan Issac.

Player Comparison

The Florida State freshman forward is compared by to former Seattle SuperSonics legend Rashard Lewis. Lewis came into the 1998 NBA draft directly from high school after shunning a heavy recruiting effort by Florida State. The unprepared Lewis fell from lottery expectations all the way to the 32nd overall pick where Seattle mercifully rescued him from the green room.

Unfortunately jump straight to the NBA makes it impossible to compare Issac with Lewis statistically, but there are physical similarities in both height and weight. Both are 6’10” and  Lewis ended his career at 235 lbs while Issac is currently around 210 lbs. However their true comparison lies mostly in their skill set. Like Lewis, Issac is a solid spot up shooter who has the ability to put the ball on the floor and can dish when doubled. On the defensive side, Issac can guard multiple positions at a high level.

Watching Issac play, you do see shades of a better shooting Maurice Harkless or a slightly better built version of last year’s second-overall pick, Brandon Ingram – tall, athletic, skilled, although too slender to compete against elite NBA athletes like LeBron or Kawhi.

Why the Suns Would Want Him

The Suns could look to target Issac if they pick outside of the top-three. Phoenix doesn’t need safe picks who are locks for the rotation if they want to become potential championship contenders. They need elite stars. The second tier of this draft (picks 4-14) is full of safe picks who will be rotation players for a long time. The Suns need to take a chance on a boom or bust pick. Issac has the highest upside of any player in that second tier. At worse he looks like Harkless or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. At best, he is the second coming of Lewis, a player who can often led his team is points, rebounds, and assists in the same game. As a versatile defender who can shoot threes over the top of most defenders (37%) and can drive to the bucket when defenders close out. There are few comparable players in the NBA today.

If Issac can add some weight, he could become a perfect small forward to compliment Booker and Chriss. He does not demand the ball, can facilitate well, and plays solid defense (1.5 blocks, 1.1 steals) against multiple positions. That would allow a coach to use interesting lineups where Issac can play SG, SF, or PF. On a team with other versatile players in Booker, Chriss, and Bender that could be a huge asset with the ability for everyone but Booker to switch against any pick and roll set.

Unlike the other stars of this draft, Issac hasn’t been the primary focal point of his team. That can be viewed as complacency or a lack of competitiveness, but on a Suns team that already has primary scorers, the willingness to defer to others could be an asset and a boost to team chemistry.

Why the Suns Would Not Want Him

The Suns are stocked with power forwards who can play small forward, which means that Issac’s versatility won’t be valued as much by Phoenix unless they move someone. Add in the fact that the Suns have clear needs for a young point guard and center and it makes the selection of a small forward seem like an unwise decision.

Issac has a lot of skills, but he has not shown the mentality of an elite competitor. Almost 45% of

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his shots are spot up jumpers. That means that despite his play making abilities, he’s been content to simply play a role and not take control and make himself elite. That might be a good fit alongside Booker, but having someone with elite competitiveness would take the pressure off of Book, help distribute the ball better, and keep defenses honest.

The primary concern with every unproven but high-potential prospect is that they have the potential to be a big bust. Unlike Smith, Fultz, Jackson, or Ball, each who have proven abilities to play with consistency at a high volume, Issac is primarily being targeted this high in the draft based mostly on potential. His high shooting percentages may not be sustainable against high-level competition, and the Suns could end up walking away with faded dreams of the star they should have drafted. That’s a painful potential outcome for a team on the upswing.


Drafting Jonathan Issac feels dangerous, but sometimes you have to play with fire to survive. Issac could develop into a poor man’s version of Kevin Durant – a tall and athletic ball-handler with elite shooting abilities and plays above average defense. If Bender, Booker, and Chriss reach their potential as well that would make the Suns an extremely versatile, athletic, and hard to defend team, although that young core would still be missing a center and point guard.

Issac’s slight frame would mean that the Suns have to wait for 2-4 years for him to develop, which would be helpful in finding those missing pieces, but it might drive the fanbase crazy. Will Sarver and the fanbase endure another two years of losing teams?  It seems unlikely.

There are safer picks and better fits for this young Suns core. However, the Suns don’t need tweaking on the margins, they need big time talent. Issac has the potential to be that kind of player. If the Suns’ pick is the 4th or 5th overall, they would be wise to pull Issac from the green room early in the evening.