LITTLE ROCK — Former Arkansas shooting guard and Fort Smith native Isaiah Joe zig-zagged his way in and out of the 2020 NBA Draft pool back in August, but on Wednesday his decision to jump back in the draft paid off as the Philadelphia 76ers selected Joe with the 49th overall pick (second round).
Joe — he declared for the draft in late April, withdrew in early August to return to school, only to re-enter the draft in mid-August — told Hogville.net on Tuesday night that he could sense his dreams of playing in the NBA were close to becoming a reality.
“I’ve been getting mentally prepared for what’s going to happen next, my next steps in life,” Joe said. “I feel like I’m going to get drafted, so now it’s just about the opportunity presenting itself. I’m just really excited to be in this type of situation. A lot of players don’t end up in this situation that they’ve dreamt of, so I’m excited to know my dream is slowly coming true. It’s just a blessing.
“I have no doubt there will be a lot of emotions come out (when Joe’s name is called on draft night), because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. There will be some emotions in the air, definitely some excitement and a lot of celebration going on.”
Former Hog Isaiah Joe at his 2020 NBA Draft watch party in Fayetteville on Wednesday
Joe finished his Arkansas career as arguably the best three-point shooter in the SEC, plus his impact on the defensive end was a pleasant and underrated positive spanning his two seasons in college. He now enters the NBA at a time when the league covets “3-and-D” players. That is, players who can provide volume and efficiency in three-point shooting while spacing the floor on the offensive end combined with being able to defend their position effectively on the other end of the floor.
Joe was not only the SEC’s top three-point shooter the past two seasons — both in makes (207) and takes (548) — he was one of the top per-game volume three-point shooters in the nation at 3.45 makes and 9.13 takes per contest while at Arkansas. His effieciency from NBA three-point shooting distance as a sophomore exceded 44%. His shot creation off the dribble was among the best in the nation as he registered 97th and 89th percentile in two seasons. Joe economizes dribbling with a less-is-more approach that suits the pro game, and he excels in moving off the ball (running to spots both in halfcourt and transition, settling into gaps in the defense, offsetting and relocating, etc.). Those attributes promote good offensive flow and spacing, and thus helps draw out defenders to create opportunities for others to drive and score. Joe was also a plus-defender in college due to his length, quick leteral movement, instincts, and understanding of positioning, footwork, and taking angles.
“First and foremost teams had been stressing a need for shooters,” Joe said of what NBA clubs told him during pre-draft interviews regarding what he’d bring to the league. “They really value the shooting skillset that I have. They also notice I do the other things, like I do all the little things on defense. I’m in the right spots, I take a lot of charges, I’m willing to sacrifice my body in that way.
“They said my IQ on the offensive and defensive ends are tremendous, so they see I use my IQ, my length, and my lateral quickness to my advantage. And then they also see things like I’m a capable ball-handler, that I can bring the ball down the court when needed. They like the fact I can score off the catch and off the dribble, with a limited amount of dribbles.”
Joe becomes only the fourth former Razorback to get drafted immediately following his sophomore season at Arkansas as he joins Portis, Joe Johnson (10th overall pick in 2001), and Daniel Gafford (38th pick overall in 2019) in doing so. He also becomes only the seventh Hog drafted this century, joining Johnson, Portis, Gafford, Ronnie Brewer, Jr. (14th overall in 2006), Sonny Weems (39th overall in 2008), and Patrick Beverley (42nd overall in 2009).
With Joe and Gafford both hearing their names called on draft night in the past two years, the Razorbacks now boast draft picks in back-to-back seasons who were former teammates. The program can add a third draftee in the same span in Mason Jones — he played with Joe and Gafford at Arkansas in 2018-19 — who could also be selected in Wednesday’s draft.
Joe is the second former Hog from Fort Smith to be drafted as he joins legendary Triplet, All American, and former NBA first-round draft pick Ron Brewer, Sr. (1978).
Joe flew back to Fayetteville on Tuesday afternoon after spending the past week working out in Ohio with NBA veteran and Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley, Jr., the son of Hogs’ track-and-field legend and Joe’s agent, Mike Conley, Sr. Joe was with his family, agent, and a few other supporters on Wednesday at a draft watch party in Fayetteville (linked here is a brief highlight reel of Joe and his entourage taking in the NBA Draft on ESPN at his watch party … https://twitter.com/ARHoopScoop/status/1329249092443271168?s=20).
Beginning in late April, Joe interviewed via Zoom virtual meetings with most of the league’s teams, and he had his NBA Draft Combine workout in late October in Memphis.
Joe earned SEC All Freshman honors in ’18-19 when he was the first Hog rookie to start every game since Portis (’13-14) while averaging 13.9 points and setting the school record for made three-pointers (113 at a 41.4% clip). Joe was a preseason All SEC pick as a sophomore and through the mid-point of the season he was named 1 of 10 finalists for the postseason Jerry West Award, which honors the top shooting guard in the nation.
But he was hampered by a mid-season injury in ’19-20, affecting his play in five games and causing him to miss six more. In the end, Joe played in 26 games in ’19-20 and finished the season as the team’s second-leading scorer at 16.9 points per game (7th in the SEC) and the league’s leader in made triples (94) despite missing those six games due to the injury. He also averaged 4.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.4 steals, and 36.2 minutes. He led the team in charges for a second straight season, and he was 81-of-91 from the free throw line for 89.0% (the efficiency led the team and was top 3 in the SEC). He was once named SEC Player of the Week.
In the nine SEC games that Joe played in while healthy (three prior to injury and six after returning from injury), the Hogs went 6-3 as he averaged 20.4 points while shooting a collective 36-of-97 from 3 (37.1%) and 42-of-43 from the free throw line (97.7%). Arkansas finished the season 20-12, but the Hogs were 17-4 with a healthy Joe in the lineup.