James Harden and Chris Paul have been a terrific together in the Houston Rockets’ backcourt, and they’ve also been the best isolation players in the NBA this season.
Outside of Houston’s stars, there are some other players near the top of the isolation rankings who may surprise you. When looking at who else makes the list, we’ve also explained what makes them so dominant. All stats are courtesy of Synergy Sports.
James Harden, Houston Rockets — 1.24 PPP
Harden has averaged over 3.1 more isolation possessions per game than any other player in the league.
He has also averaged 11.9 points per game as an iso-based scorer, while Cleveland’s LeBron James is next with 6.3 PPG. Harden, who has run isos on one-third of his offensive opportunities, has had nearly double the scoring rate as James on this type of play.
The MVP frontrunner has shot 45-of-96 (47.9 percent) on his right side isolations for the Rockets. He has averaged 1.37 points per possession on this play type, which is the second-best in the league among players with a minimum of 20 possessions, per Synergy Sports. (Harden trails only his backcourt mate CP3).
Chris Paul, Houston Rockets — 1.13 PPP
The Rockets have run more one-on-one plays (14.2 percent) than any other team. But it still seems incomprehensible that Harden’s teammate is the second-best iso scorer in the league.
However, it’s true. Paul is shooting 35-of-62 (56.7 percent) when he is running isos on the right side. His efficiency (1.48 PPP) is the best among those who have had at least 20 possessions, per Synergy Sports.
Most of those possessions for the point guard have been shooting without driving.
Dennis Schroeder, Atlanta Hawks — 1.06 PPP
Atlanta’s Dennis Schroeder is particularly impressive when he has a chance to take a jump shot without driving on isolation plays, with 1.29 PPP.
Among those with at least 100 isolation possessions, he has the second-best overall field goal percentage (46.8 percent) this year. Overall, he is one of the most improved players in the league when it comes to one-on-one offense overall, as his efficiency jumped from 0.93 PPP last year to 1.06 PPP this season.
Adam Fromal wrote about what makes him succeed (via Bleacher Report):
“Speed, speed and more speed. [His] isolation possessions don’t contain much nuance. Once he gets a matchup he likes, he’s going to put his head down and the ball on the floor, then explode toward the hoop with all the acceleration he can muster. The German point guard is one of the league’s quickest players in the half-court set, and this is where he truly shines.”
Only five teams run isos less often than the Hawks (5.5 percent frequency) but when they do decide to commit, Schroeder has been a pleasant surprise.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers — 1.05 PPP
Portland’s Damian Lillard was one of the most efficient overall iso scorers in the NBA for the last two seasons and has since maintained his presence as a leader again this year.
He has been one of the most efficient iso scorers at the top of the key among those with at least 40 possessions on this play type. He is currently averaging 1.16 points per possession there, per Synergy Sports.
His team presumably knows this, too, as only five players have been given more opportunities like this than Lillard.
Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers — 1.05 PPP
The veteran earned a contract extension with the Clippers and his ability to create opportunities when playing one-on-one against defenders has made him a very valuable addition to their roster.
Williams ranks second overall behind only Harden (minimum: 25 possessions) on left side isolations this season. The 31-year-old trails just Harden when shooting jumpers without a drive (same qualification) as well.
It would have been fascinating to watch him play one-on-one against Jimmy Butler had the Minnesota Timberwolves star not gotten injured.
Austin Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers — 1.04 PPP
While Los Angeles Clippers guard Austin Rivers is predominantly used as a ballhandler in a pick-and-roll offense, head coach Doc Rivers is not hesitant to unleash him as a one-on-one threat.
He is actually at his best when the clock is expiring, shooting 14-for-29 (48.3 percent) when the shot clock has four seconds or less left when he is running an isolation play. Among those with at least 15 possessions, his efficiency on these types of opportunities (1.24 PPP) ranks as the best in the NBA.
There is no more efficient player in the league when driving to the basket on the left side during isolation possessions.
Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics — 1.04 PPP
Irving is a diverse scorer and can put the ball in the basket in various ways. But one of the most exciting things in the league is watching him play iso ball.
He can drive extraordinarily well to the right side of the baseline, now shooting 19-of-34 (55.9 percent) this year. His efficiency on this play type ranks No. 3 overall among those with at least 15 possessions as well.
Scott Rafferty once observed this exact sensation (via Sporting News):
“There’s a lot Irving can do to play off his ability to pull-up and drive once he puts the ball on the floor, one of his favorites being the side step. He can do it going both ways, but he seems to prefer stepping to his right more than he does to his left.”
When he is shooting but not driving on isolations, he is now 12-for-24 (50.0 percent) so far this season. This ranks No. 2 overall in the NBA (minimum: 15 possessions) among all players.
Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans — 1.03 PPP
Among those with at least 100 isolation possessions, New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday has the second-best overall field goal percentage (46.8 percent) this year.
Holiday has been the most efficient player in the league (minimum: 10 possessions) on isolations from pick-and-rolls with defensive switches.
Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors — 1.02 PPP
Kevin O’Connor wrote about Golden State’s Kevin Durant in isolation (via The Ringer):
“Over the past five seasons, Durant has never finished below the 90th percentile in points per possession scored via isolations. [Last] season, the Warriors scored 1.1 points per possession when Durant shot, passed, drew a foul, or turned the ball over in an isolation possession. Though they didn’t utilize it very frequently, the time will come when they’ll need it.”
This year, he ranks in the 81st percentile — but still has impressed all season long.
Tyreke Evans, Memphis Grizzlies — 1.01 PPP
Fromal also analyzed the improvements that Tyreke Evans has showed on this play type:
“In 2015-16, Evans suited up in 25 games for the New Orleans Pelicans, and his 0.77 points per possession in isolation left him in the 44th percentile. While splitting time between the Pelicans the Grizzlies last year, those numbers plunged to 0.52 and 10th, respectively. But defenders have to respect the shot now.”
Among those who have driven to the right side of the baseline on isolations at least 10 times this season, no one has had a better field goal percentage (72.7%) than Evans.
CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers
Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers
Jeff Teague, Minnesota Timberwolves
DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn Nets