There are a select few players in the NBA that can consistently create scoring opportunities using only their individual offensive skills. These players have one or multiple moves in their bag, that enable them to be lethal in one-on-one situations. When plays break down in end of clock situations, or if their squad just needs a bucket, these players can be counted on to go one-on-one and get it done.
In the NBA, there are tons of guys whose scoring capabilities are conditionally based on how well they can score the ball within a team’s offensive system. Every team needs a spot up jump shooter, garbage man, and facilitator. However, whether off the dribble, triple threat, or in the post, players that can create scoring opportunities via their isolation play come at a premium.
If you had to choose one player in the NBA to come through in an isolation situation, who would it be? Curry, Durant, James, and Westbrook come to mind. You couldn’t go wrong choosing any one of these players, but none of these guys rank within the top ten in isolation scoring efficiency this year. So it begs the question, who have been the most effective isolation players thus far?
Let’s take a look at some of the NBA’s deadliest offensive threats who have had at least 45 isolation possessions this season.
(*All statistics are courtesy of Synergy and Basketball-Reference.com and are current as of March 1, 2017.)
Will Barton, Denver Nuggets
Average Points Per Iso Possession: 1.44
Will “The Thrill” Barton may be the most intriguing player listed. He has basically been a walking bucket in isolation situations this season. Since coming over from Portland two seasons ago, Barton has established himself in Denver as a scorer. In many ways, Barton’s ball handling ability looks like the second coming of Jamaal Crawford’s handle, as he combines an unorthodox, herky-jerky game with a long wiry frame.
So far this season, Barton’s 1.44 points per possession leads the league by a long shot in isolation scoring efficiency. This being said, Barton has not had as many ISO repetitions as have some of his counterparts. His 51 isolation possessions make up a fraction of the isolation volume of some of the other players listed. However, nothing can change the fact that Barton has been deadly in ISOs. His array of moves includes crossovers and step back jumpers, which allow Barton to essentially score it at will. Barton also employs a silky smooth spin move, which has gotten him a lot of mileage and a bunch of buckets this year. Take a look at the move that he puts on the Sacramento Kings’ rookie, Buddy Hield.
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Average Points Per Iso Possession: 1.16
As the elder statesman on this list, one can never go wrong with Paul going one-on-one. Currently, Paul is the league’s second-most efficient scorer in isolation situations this season. He uses cerebral play to probe and kill opposing defenses. There is not much that Paul can’t do, but he tends to like driving it hard and backing it off to his mid-range game, or catching defenders sleeping from the perimeter and shooting over top. Watch out if a big gets switched onto him, because Paul turns into a malnourished wolf and generally goes right at the mismatch, as he does versus Portland’s Mason Plumlee, and Pelicans’ Cheick Diallo, below.
Courtney Lee, New York Knicks
Average Points Per Iso Possession: 1.15
Lee and the Knicks have had a tumultuous season thus far, with controversy surrounding the team from all angles. However, one of the constants for the Knicks has been Lee’s high-level one-on-one play. Lee ranks as the third-most efficient isolation player in the league, recording 53 points on 47 possessions. Unlike the other “drive first” players on this list, Lee is primarily looking to create space for pull-ups and perimeter shots as opposed to getting all the way to the basket. Lee has a quick release on his shot, and loves to rock his defender to sleep with through the leg crossovers until he feels comfortable rising up over top for his jumper. Both Harden and the Celtics’ Gerald Green get a dose of how it feels to be caught leaning right, as Lee drives left for his pull-up.
With the Knicks’ waiving offensive minded Brandon Jennings, Lee may have the chance to score the ball even more this season, which could put his one-on-one game to the test.
Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
Average Points Per Iso Possession: 1.12
Irving is staking his claim as arguably the best point guard in the league, and doing so while playing alongside arguably the best player in the world, LeBron James. Irving has used a plethora of one-on-one skills to scorch would-be defenders this season, and has done so while also setting up James and the rest of the Cavs’ supporting cast. Not only does Irving rank fifth in the league in overall isolation scoring efficiency, the Cavs’ point guard has been highly efficient on high volume. Irving’s 246 isolation attempts far exceed the next closet player, Isaiah Thomas, with 144. One of the most gifted one-on-one players in the league, Irving appears to have every trick in the book, including this quadruple move he puts on helpless Thunder guard Alex Abrines.
When his team needs to beat the clock, oh yeah, he can do that too. Take a look at the sick step-back that he puts on the Bucks’ Jason Terry to close out the quarter. Pound for pound, Irving may be the best one-on-one player in the league.
Cory Joseph, Toronto Raptors
Average Points Per Iso Possession: 1.125
Joseph may not come to mind as one of the better ISO players in the league, but so far this season, the Toronto native has been a killer in one-on-one situations. Joseph, who has backed up Kyle Lowry at point guard most of the year, has scored 63 isolation points on 56 possessions, ranking him fifth in the league. Now that Lowry has gone down with a long term wrist injury, Joseph may have the chance to assume a much larger role within the Raptors’ offense. Not generally a “go to” scoring option for the Raptors, Joseph has been stellar in one-on-one situations, shooting 51 percent from the field. Joseph likes to use his speed and change of direction to get past defenders for finishes in the lane. Take a look at how he goes to work on the Rocket’s James Harden below.
Throughout the remainder of the season, it will be interesting to see if Joseph can maintain his high isolation scoring efficiency, especially as his minutes and ISO volume are set to increase now that Lowry is out.
Marcus Morris, Detroit Pistons
Average Points Per Iso Possession: 1.11
Morris has been laying waste to opposing defenders all season. Averaging a career high 14.6 points per game this year, Morris is a mismatch nightmare. The Pistons’ forward can drive smaller defenders to the basket in order to finish over top of them, as he does here to the Celtics’ Terry Rozier.
He can also keep bigger defenders off balance by making them defend his face up game out along the perimeter. This season, Morris ranks 6th in the league in isolation scoring efficiency and has been equally effective shooting and/or driving the ball to the basket. In the clip below, Morris’ dynamic one-on-one skill set is on full display as he takes the Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried to school by driving him to the high post area, finally losing him on a sweet fade-away.
If you are looking for a big guy who can score it without having to draw up a play, Morris is your guy.
As the season rolls on, it will be important for all of these players to maintain their isolation scoring effectiveness, especially as opposing defenses key on their team’s offensive schemes. For Barton, Paul, Irving, and Joseph, it will be even more important to remain sharp, considering each of their teams is firmly in the playoff hunt.
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