Philadelphia 76ers

Sixers' Isaiah Joe Adding to His Game in Search of Regular Minutes

What Sixers' Joe added to his game that caught Rivers' eye originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

With 6:50 left in the second quarter Thursday night in South Philly, Isaiah Joe had the basketball in his hands on the right wing behind the three-point arc. A prolific shooter who made his name as a rookie by burying triples, Joe likely would've let it fly last season - even as a Toronto defender left his feet to contest the impending shot.

But in the Sixers' second preseason game of October, Joe did something few expected of him:

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He pump-faked a shot. Then he dribbled in, about eight feet, until he was 15 feet away from the basket. And then he drained a mid-range jumper.

It was an uncharacteristic move from the sharpshooter, and one that's emblematic of the development the second-year Joe is trying to display as he fights for minutes in Doc Rivers' rotation this season. Joe finished Thursday night's game with 15 points on seven shots, three days after he scored 18 points on nine shots. It's been an impressive start to the preseason for the 22-year-old.

And if Joe was hoping Rivers would notice that he's diversified his game, the mid-range jumper worked.

"I mean, I look at him now compared to the same time last year, he made plays tonight getting into the paint that there's no way he could've done that last year," Rivers said after Thursday night's 123-115 win over the Raptors. 

"He wouldn't have [taken that shot] last year. He would've probably tried to get the three off. Instead of sometimes driving it, shot, or making another play."

The NBA is increasingly a three-point shooter's paradise, a league where a player like Duncan Robinson - someone who wouldn't have sat on the end of a bench 10 years ago - can land a five-year, $89 million contract by launching threes and draining them with regularity. So Joe would've been excused if he entered his first full NBA offseason and doubled down on the game's most valuable shot.

Instead, the Arkansas product decided to take another approach to his game: improve on everything else.

Joe said his ability to make more plays off the dribble, as he showed Thursday night, was a concerted effort.

"That's one thing I've always been working on," Joe explained. "Aside from my shooting I'm always working on my ball-handling, because you never know when you're gonna have to put the ball on the floor, you know? Either create for yourself or other teammates. Like Tobias said, we really predicate our game on moving the ball. That comes with attacking, getting to the lane, and spreading out to other people. So that's one thing I've really been working on."

It's not the only thing, though.

Joe also logged two steals and a block against the Raptors, and occasionally showed on defense the kind of determination normally reserved for high-stakes regular season games.

He wasn't a blanket awful defender last season, but Joe's on/off defensive stats left something to be desired.

Rivers said Thursday night that he's noticed Joe bulked up during the offseason, and while he still weighs "a buck 20" according to the Sixers head coach, Joe is clearly making strides defensively - which makes him eminently more playable for longer stretches during the season.

"I thought, overall, he held his own," Rivers said. "He's crafty, he's tough, he'll fight."

Nine players are basically guaranteed regular minutes in Rivers' rotation this year:

  • Embiid
  • Harris
  • Green
  • Curry
  • Maxey
  • Milton
  • Korkmaz
  • Niang
  • Drummond

After those guys, it's up to the individual players to convince Rivers that they belong on the floor, whether in minutes-eating second quarter stints or in high-leverage situations if other guys are in foul trouble.

Joe is making his push right now, and he's caught the eye of one seasoned vet: Tobias Harris, who took the podium next to Joe on Thursday night.

"[Joe]'s done a great job," Harris said. "I know he's sitting right next to me, but he's very humble with the way that he works, comes in every day, probably gets up the most shots of anybody on the team. I think if you ask everybody in the room about Isaiah, they have nothing but positive things to say. He just goes out there and plays his game, solid as ever, offensively and defensively, as you're seeing. As he continues to play and gain confidence, more things are going to come on the horizon."

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