The Isolation Lie [ARTICLE]

The Isolation Lie

By: Kyle Ohman

Provided by: Basketball HQ

One of the biggest things that I see in today's game and all over social media with different "Instagram Trainers" is the desire to breakdown and use different NBA players moves. Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry, James Harden, or whoever else will make an exceptional isolation play, and then the next day everyone and their mother is breaking down the move and adding it to their workouts.

Don't get me wrong, there is a time and place for isolation moves and some of these moves that are broken down will come in handy during the course of a game. However, the trap that a lot of younger players fall into is spending the majority of their time working on these moves and neglect so many other important areas of their game.

Players buy into the lie that they need to be able to do everything off of the dribble and breakdown their defender to be great, and this leads to players that are streaky scorers who can shoot step back 3's and all other kinds of difficult shots, but ultimately at the end of the day are shooting a low percentage. They are unable to run offense or get high percentage shots because they spend all their time developing their one on one moves.

That is why I decided to write this article and give you 5 reasons why you should spend less time working on isolation moves and more time working on scoring within the offense.

Shot Clock

In the NBA there is a 24 second shot clock and in college there is a 30 second shot clock. However, in most high school games there is no shot clock. Most of the time when an NBA player gets into an isolation situation it has something to do with the shot clock running down. They have already run their set and it was guarded successfully by the defense, so they are left to try and isolate to create for themselves, or for a teammate if a help defender over commits.

If you are a high school player with no shot clock, your end of clock situations are going to be very rare with four quarters in a game. In college you will get more chances with a 30 second shot clock, but as we get into some more of the reasons why you shouldn't look to iso all the time, you will see that it still doesn't work the same as the NBA.

Designed Isolation Plays

NBA coaches do an amazing job of taking advantage of mismatches and putting offensive players in a position where they can play to their strengths. A lot of the isolation plays that you see in the NBA are designed by the coach or happen naturally when the defense is forced into a switch on some sort of screening action.

So unless your coach is specifically running plays to get you isolation looks against a mismatch that you may have, you are going to end up trying to force the action. This doesn't mean that you can't recognize a mismatch in a game, but if this your primary response every time you get the ball, you are going to end up forcing and taking bad shots.

Your immediate instinct shouldn't be to catch and isolate every time you get the ball. Keep the ball moving and learn to attack a poor closeout or bad defensive rotation and you will find a lot more success.

Help Defense and Spacing

This means that the offensive player has the option of shooting or attacking an open basket. In high school or college, if you are consistently looking to go one on one all the time the scouting report defense is going to load up in the help. The on ball defender will stay tight to you and force you right into the help.

Even if you end up hitting a couple of tough shots, overall the defense is happy to see you forcing shots because the percentages of those shots that you are taking are going to be so low that eventually it is going to favor the defense. Also, the other players on your team will not be able to get into a rhythm because the ball movement is so stagnant and will end up taking poor percentage shots as well.

Surrounded by Elite Shooters

Along with their being a defensive 3 seconds, when NBA player's make an isolation move they are usually surrounded with players that are elite level 3 point shooters. This means that if the defense helps on penetration, they are basically giving up an open 3 point shot to a player that is pretty much automatic from a catch and shoot position.

In high school and college there usually ends up being a couple of non shooters in every line up. If the defense is good, they know this and will play scouting report defense on those players. They will choose to over help on the ball if a player is always trying to isolate.

The player isolating will not have any space to make a move, so they will end up having to pass out of it to a low percentage shooter and the defense will live with the shot and just rotate out of it.

Best Players in the World

Some of the moves and shots that NBA players make are so amazing that it just seems unfair sometimes (actually the majority of Stephen Curry's shots). My point to this statement is that these players that are making ridiculous moves, shots, and finishes are the best players in the world. They have spent hours upon hours upon hours mastering their craft.

They didn't just start out launching 3's our making ridiculous finishes. They spent time developing their game with the basics and working up from there. So unless you have already spent hours and hours developing a certain move in workouts, you shouldn't be breaking it out in a game. You need to earn the right to take and make difficult shots.

That doesn't mean ignoring the other parts of your game though and only working on isolation moves. It means developing your game so that you are a complete player, and then also spending time fine tuning different more difficult shots.


The best time to attack is when you have an offensive advantage over the defense, and the best way to get an advantage over the defense is ball movement, player movement, and screening. If you can catch the ball and attack a closeout while the help defense is having to rotate and guard other actions (instead of sitting in the help), you are going to get a lot higher percentage look at the basket.

It is okay to spend some time working on isolation moves, but it shouldn't be primarily what you spend all of your time on. Spend the majority of your time working on high percentage moves that you are going to get within the course of running your team's offense. Really look to limit the number of dribbles that it takes you to score and how long the ball is in your hands for.

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20 Jun 2017

By Basketball HQ
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