Listen to a lot of analysts, and they’ll tell you about what a horrible play iso is, and a lot of times, that’s the fair criticism. But the problem with most extreme positions is the reality doesn’t exist in the extremes. Which is a long-winded introduction to why Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder was defending his, his teammate Russell Westbrook’s use of the play, via ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz:
“When you have iso players and guys who can score as many points as Russ and me, you’ve got to live playing some iso ball,” Durant said on Monday night following the Thunder’s 100-99 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center. “What do you want? Just pass the ball around and around and not be aggressive? If they’re looking at me and Russ is open, he gets the ball. But if I’ve got it, I’m going to work. Iso. It’s pick your poison.”
Kevin Durant averages 1.14 points per play in isolation, which is a lot. It’s better than 90.8 percent of the NBA, which is impressive considering how often he runs it. Westbrook is less successful, but only on the surface. He averages just .73 points per play, but that’s what he scores out of it, not what his team scores when he runs it.
When a guy like Durant or Westbrook–who is also one of the league’s leading passers–sets up in iso, it draws extra defenders, and the ensuing drive opens up teammates who get hit with passes for points. The eye test says a lot of those iso sets that Westbrook runs results in an open shot for a teammate.
Iso can be bad, but we shouldn’t paint with too broad a brush.