Even a year ago, Jonathan Isaac would have said he viewed himself in the image of Kevin Durant.
Isaac, a native of Naples, considered himself a wing at Barron Collier High School — a guard throughout his childhood who had just kept growing until he was 6 feet, 10 inches and too big to consistently put the ball on the floor from the perimeter. His journey took him to International School of Broward in Hollywood before IMG Academy.
He attended Florida State for one season as one of the most sought after recruits in the nation, but he was not the next Durant.
He turned the ball over more often than he dished out assists and settled into a complementary role for a Seminoles team that failed to get out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. Despite falling short as a team, he shot better than 50 percent from the field and nearly 35 percent from 3-point range. He finished in the top 10 in the Atlantic Coast Conference in rebounds and posted the ACC’s sixth-best player efficiency rating. On defense, he terrorized opponents.
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“They had more of a team balance there, I believe. He scored 12 points a game and that was fine for Jon,” said John Mahoney, the post-graduate head coach at IMG Academy who worked with Isaac for his final year and a half of high school. “Some other kids it may have bothered them, but that was Jon’s way: Just-as-long-as-we-win mentality.”
Isaac’s willingness to maximize his skills as a complementary player for FSU will almost certainly make him the highest drafted IMG alumnus in the brief history of the academy’s basketball program. Most mock drafts list Isaac as a lottery pick just outside a relatively clear-cut top 5. He could go as early as No. 6 to the Magic on Thursday when the 2017 NBA draft gets underway at 7 p.m. in Brooklyn.
20The pick with which Renaldo Balkman was selected in the 2006 NBA draft out of South Carolina. Balkman is currently the IMG Academy alumnus who was taken earliest during the NBA draft. Jonathan Isaac could be taken more than 10 spots higher this year.
Isaac’s reputation has evolved as much as any top prospect in this year’s draft during the past 12 or so months. The Durant comparisons have faded — at least offensively.
“Jon was a rim-protector, shot-blocker, but he could defend on the perimeter, too,” Mahoney said. “He’s really long and he’s agile for a big man his size. He can get down low and stay low. He’s not going to get beat too often. Because he would get down and he’d just get so long and wide, they’d have to be really good to get by him.”
The first skill that stood out to Mahoney when Isaac arrived in Bradenton in March of 2015 was a shooting ability that doesn’t usually come from a player of his size.
“This kid had 3-point range and he was good at it,” Mahoney said.
Protecting the rim, though, came naturally. He was big enough and athletic enough to swat shots away near the basket while still able to switch on to guards thanks to his days when he matched up with perimeter players full time.
He has added a bit of weight, growing from 185 pounds during his high school days to 210 now, but bulking up more will be critical if he is to succeed as a rangy power forward in the NBA.
“I think the main thing for me is I’ve got to gain weight, right?” Isaac said during a pre-draft media day session in New York on Wednesday.
Offensively, Isaac will probably never be an individual creator like Durant, which is fine. His value will instead come from the floor spacing he can provide as a 3-point marksman with post-player size.
And a complementary role on offense was always something Isaac was content with, even as Mahoney pushed him as the focal point of the offense with IMG’s post-grad team.
Most pre-draft projections predict Jonathan Isaac, a Florida-raised prospect, will stay in his home state. Both NBADraft.net and DraftExpress.com slot the forward as the No. 6 pick to the Magic. The former Florida State player seems destined for the latter half of the top 10. Some of his potential new homes:
Orlando Magic: Without any clear foundation players, the Magic need to target the best available player. Isaac, a 6-foot-10 forward who models his game around Kevin Durant, fills the role as a potential long-term starter at forward next to Aaron Gordon and Terrence Ross.
Minnesota Timberwolves: The Timberwolves have young offensive talent. Isaac, whose future is probably as an exceptional role player, would complement Karl-Anthony Towns in the post. Isaac is viewed as one of the best potential defenders in this draft class.
New York Knicks: Carmelo Anthony’s days in New York seem limited, and Isaac is the sort of high-upside young player the Knicks have spent the past few drafts targeting. A frontcourt trio of Isaac, Kristaps Porzingis and Wily Hernangomez has massive potential.
Dallas Mavericks: With Dirk Nowitzki nearing retirement, the Mavericks are about to face a rebuild, which means potentially taking the highest upside player available regardless of position. That could be Isaac at this point in the draft.
Sacramento Kings: After shipping Demarcus Cousins to the Pelicans, the Kings are rebuilding. Isaac may be a work in progress, but Sacramento isn’t in any rush to contend.