ISO Basketball: 15 Amazing Past And Present NBA ISO Players

Isolation basketball, commonly referred to as ISO basketball, has rapidly grown in popularity in the United States and around the world. Previously relegated to 2nd tier status on playgrounds in pickup games, ISO basketball has now become a fixture at all levels from AAU to the NBA. Many of the best players in the NBA excel in ISO situations, using it to elevate both their team and themselves.

What does “ISO” mean in Basketball?

ISO is an abbreviation for isolation or isolate and occurs when an offensive player specifically handles the ball by himself apart from his teammates. The four other members of the team on offense will move away from the player handling the ball and typically spread out in the half court, giving the lone offensive player plenty of room to operate.

The purpose of playing ISO provides the isolated teammate greater leeway to move around and score on his defender, without the threat of help defense. Because the other offensive players are typically spread out evenly in the half court, their respective defenders risk giving up an open shot if they try to provide help defense or double team the isolated player.

1-4 Flat

Many ISO basketball plays revolve around the 1-4 flat setup, where 4 players position themselves in a line across the half court near the baseline and another player handles the ball at the top of the key or behind the 3-point line. Two of the players typically stand near the 3-point line in the respective corners, while the other two stand just outside the paint on opposite ends. This offensive setup gives the isolated player maximum room to break down his defender to get to the basket or shoot a jump shot.

Although ISO basketball is often geared toward allowing an individual player to score, 1-4 ISO basketball also presents opportunities for other teammates in the backcourt to get involved. Players in the line can set screens and picks for each other, allowing the lone isolated player to pass them the ball for open shots.

The 1-4 flat ISO basketball setup can also run separate isolations apart from the original play. For example, after the initial 1-4 setup, 3 of the 4 players can move to one side of the half court, isolating the remaining player by themself. The originally isolated player can then pass the ball to the 2nd isolated player, who will have plenty of room to operate in the half court.

The Four Corners

The four corners offense, popularized by Dean Smith at the University of North Carolina, is another form of ISO basketball. Unlike the 1-4 flat, where players initially position themselves in a flat line across the baseline, the four corners positioned four players in each corner of the offensive backcourt with a lone ball handler, usually the point guard, in the middle.

Although often used as a form of stalling, the four corners offensive was also effective at allowing elite point guards to get to the basket and score. Future NBA point guard Phil Ford ran this type of offense to perfection under Dean Smith at North Carolina, so much so, that several rule changes were made, including a 5-second closely guarded rule.

Elite NBA ISO Players, Past and Present

MICHAEL JORDAN

Undoubtedly the best NBA ISO player ever, Michael Jordan possessed a plethora of moves to terrorize helpless defenders during his career. Jordan had an incredibly explosive first step, which combined with his superhuman athleticism, allowed him to get to the basket and score at will. He also possessed an incredibly accurate turnaround jump shot, which allowed him to repeatedly back down smaller defenders in the post and shoot over them.

The Bulls would routinely ISO Jordan at the end of games, which resulted in some of the most memorable game-winning shots in NBA history, including Game 1 of the 1997 NBA Finals and Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals.

KOBE BRYANT

Probably the closest thing to Michael Jordan at the shooting guard position, Kobe Bryant also excelled in many ISO situations. In addition to possessing a killer quick first step, Bryant also excelled at hitting some of the most difficult, contested shots in NBA history.

Like Jordan, he also possessed a great turnaround jumper, and could also back defenders down in the post, though not quite as effective as Jordan’s. Bryant routinely hit clutch shots in ISO situations, most famously against Phoenix in the 1st Round of the 2006 NBA Playoffs.

LEBRON JAMES

Lebron James has dominated the NBA for nearly 2 decades, establishing himself as one of the best ISO players of all time. Although he doesn’t dominate the ball in ISO situations quite as much as he used to, Lebron James has established his offensive reputation as a player who could get to the basket at will.

Combined with a respectable outside shot, Lebron James is one of the most gifted offensive players in league history. Although many recognize his devastating power and quickness, James possesses an innate understanding of defensive assignments, which has allowed him to perfectly time his drives to the basket.

CARMELO ANTHONY

Although he doesn’t get the love of some of the other members of the legendary 2003 NBA draft class, Carmelo Anthony was still a terrific offensive ISO player. With a large selection of spin moves and jab steps, Anthony was able to routinely maneuver defenders out of position to get open jump shots. Although he could get to the basket, Anthony’s strength was his ability as a quick, spot-up shooter.

GILBERT ARENAS

Forever known as Agent Zero, Gilbert Arenas was the epitome of a heat check offensive basketball player. His streaky offensive play could border on erratic at times, but when he was on his game, few could stop him. Arenas excelled at hitting difficult jump shots and would routinely use his strength and shifty footwork to throw off his defender, giving himself just enough space to get off a shot.

ALLEN IVERSON

Arguably no other player in the history of the NBA possessed the pound-for-pound fearless tenacity of Allen Iverson. Iverson had a killer crossover dribble, which most famously faked out even Michael Jordan during a regular season game on March 12, 1997. Although he was a very streaky, high-volume shooter, when Iverson was clicking, he was an unstoppable offensive player.

TRACY MCGRADY

Like his 2nd cousin, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady had freakish athleticism that allowed him to drive to the basket and finish with ferocious intensity. His overall shooting could be inconsistent at times but was still good enough to make him a legitimate dual threat from inside and outside when he was on.

SHAQUILLE O’NEAL

Shaquille O’Neal is the most dominant player in the modern NBA, and at his peak was simply unstoppable. O’Neal’s performances during the 2000 and 2001 NBA finals are some of the most impressive in league history. Although he is best known for simply backing down and dunking on opponents, O’Neal also possessed a very effective mini hook/jump shot.

GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO

While most of the previous players excelled at ISO play in the half-court setting, Giannis Antetokounmpo became the best fast break finisher in the league. He routinely showcases an impressive ability to dribble from coast to coast and dunk at the other end regardless of any defender’s attempts to stop him. In the past few seasons, he has also recently developed an ability to ISO in the half court and finish as well, which has lifted his game and his team to the top of the NBA.

STEPH CURRY

Steph Curry is the best long-range shooter in the history of the NBA and has completely redefined the landscape of the NBA. He is a great ball handler whose most effective ISO basketball moves keep defenders off guard to provide open shot attempts. He has a lightning-quick release on his jump shot which makes it almost indefensible, even when his defenders can stick with him.

LUKA DONCIC

Probably the best ISO basketball player in the world right now, Luka Doncic is an expert at cleverly using his body to move defenders out of position to finish at the rim. His incredible body control and high basketball IQ make up for the fact that he doesn’t have the speed of other NBA guards. His step-back jumper is also equally deadly, enabling him to get off shots anywhere on the court.

KEVIN DURANT

Other than Kareem Abdul-Jabarr’s skyhook, Kevin Durant’s jump shot is probably the most unstoppable shot in the history of the NBA. Although he also possesses solid moves and a quick first step, Durant’s 6-foot, 10-inch height makes his ultra-accurate jump shot the most heralded weapon in his offensive arsenal. The best ISO option with Durant is simply giving him the ball and letting him shoot over any defender from long-range or mid-range.

JAMES HARDEN

Averaging about 7.5 ISO possessions a game, James Harden is by far the most heavily utilized isolation player in the NBA. He has perfected the step-back jump shot, which has allowed him to have great success shooting high numbers of 3-point shots. He has also had great success utilizing the euro step to get to the basket and draw fouls.

KYRIE IRVING

Kyrie Irving is one of the few ISO basketball players who has excelled playing both on and off the ball. With arguably the best handling skills in the NBA, Irving can get to the basket with ease. He has also shown an ability to hit clutch shots, most famously the game-clinching 3-pointer in game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.

DAMIAN LILLARD

Damian Lillard is probably the 2nd best long-range shooter in the NBA behind Steph Curry and excels at hitting incredibly difficult long-range shots. He has hit many clutch and game-winning shots in his career, most famously the series-clinching 3-point shot for the Portland Trail Blazers against the Houston Rockets in the 2014 NBA playoffs. Lillard tends to dominate the ball in ISO situations late in games, rather than throughout the game like other dominant players in the league.

ISO basketball has become a fixture at all levels of play

ISO ball has become a fixture of basketball at all levels of play, catalyzing individual and team success. Basketball isolation plays have developed significantly in the 21st century and are now one of the primary offensive sets used in the NBA. ISO basketball will continue to dominate the sport for many years to come as individual offensive talent is the biggest draw in professional basketball.

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