What does ISO mean in basketball? The ultimate guide to understanding ISO ball

What does ISO mean in basketball? The ultimate guide to understanding ISO ball

Samuel Lisubila
January 24, 2023 at 5:30 PM

ISO in basketball means isolation. It is a unique style of play in basketball that features only two athletes on the court. During the last five minutes of a basketball match, it is common to see some old-fashioned ISO ball. Here is the ultimate guide to understanding ISO in basketball.

What does iso mean in basketball?
Stephen Curry, #30 of the Golden State Warriors plays defence on Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets on 29 January 2022 at Chase Center in San Francisco, California. Photo: Noah Graham
Source: Getty Images

Isolation is an offensive strategy in basketball where the opponents leave out one of their best men to go one-on-one with one of the defenders. In this attempt, the player plays 'hero ball' as he does not involve the rest of the team in the regular flow of the game. A more detailed explanation is given below.

ISO dates back to the boom of streetball in the mid-2000s. Iconic streetball legends like The Professor and Hot Sauce from the And1 Mixtape Tour led to the rise of the popularity of ISO ball coupled with clips from playgrounds like Rucker Park. With this influence, the style grew slowly but surely into the NBA, with athletes like James Harden and Kyrie Irving using the most out of the modern era.

What does ISO mean, and what does it stand for in basketball?

Isolation (ISO) is when a player battles against a defender in an attempt to score. In simple terms, the two go one-on-one. Usually, the team's superstar, who is also the best handler, will be facing off the defender, trying to use the hole in the opposition's defence.

What it means to call ISO in basketball

What it means to call iso in basketball
Kevin Durant #7 of the Brooklyn Nets looks to pass the ball during the game against the New York Knicks on 9 November 2022 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Photo: Nathaniel S. Butler
Source: Getty Images

To call ISO is a tactic used to create the chance for a one-on-one scoring opportunity. It might be intentional, but sometimes it is because of desperation to score during the clutch. This play is perfectly implemented in a team if there is a skilled isolation scorer or a mismatch. There are factors to consider while calling Iso. Some are highlighted below:

1. Choose the right offensive payer

The athlete who runs the play should have the necessary tools to make it to the hoop. Most of the time, the team's best handler and star player is the one to shine. Some of the athletes in the NBA who have shown individual skills in such situations are James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.

2. Go for mismatch options

The best mismatch options in basketball are between a big man and a small man. This occurs when a small man gets the ISO on top of the key to the three-point position or the big man posts up the small guard.

3. Position on the court

Isolation should occur at the best position for the offensive man to score. This increases his chances as he can either shoot or drive to the basket after beating the defender.

4. Develop team signals

Only the team understands team signals, which will help call the play easier and faster. The opponents will not understand the signal, building up the situation without them noticing, leading to making easy baskets.

Best ISO players in the NBA

The famous ISO athletes are considered some of the best as they make big-time baskets at a critical time. These athletes are praised for their composure and amazing display of skill during a time full of pressure from the game, coach, other athletes and most importantly, fans. Some of the athletes are highlighted below:

1. James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers

best iso players in the NBA
James Harden #1 of the 76ers warms ahead of Game Four of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Raptors at Scotiabank Arena on 23 April 2022 in Toronto, Canada. Photo: Cole Burston
Source: Getty Images

Popularly known as 'The Beard', James Harden is a left-handed beast. He is an NBA veteran famously known for his incredible stepback threes. He is also an excellent ball handler, and standing at 6 foot 5 inches, he can do anything humanly possible on the court. Currently playing for the Philadelphia 76ers, he is the league's best 'isolation player' for the seventh consecutive season (as of 2023).

2. Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets

What is an iso in basketball?
Kyrie Irving, #11 of the Brooklyn Nets handles the ball against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena on 18 December 2022 in Detroit, Michigan. Photo: Nic Antaya
Source: Getty Images

Basketball star Kyrie Irving has been considered the best ball-handler since the inception of the NBA. He is playing for the Brooklyn Nets as their starting point guard. While he might use his handling abilities to his advantage, his shooting is the icing on the cake. He accounts for most of the team's points and is the go-to player whenever things get tough.

3. Lebron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Iso basketball meaning
LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts after dunking against the Atlanta Hawks during the fourth quarter at State Farm Arena on 30 December 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo: Kevin C. Cox
Source: Getty Images

LeBron Raymone James Sr. is the face of the NBA, famously referred to as 'King James'. Currently, in the 2022-23 campaign, he is in his 20th season in the league as he strides to win his fifth championship. He has been an incredible athlete throughout his career, hitting game-winners that became a norm. His title as the best basketball player after Michael Jordan is significant thanks to his big-time plays in some of the most important games.

Who is the best ISO player in the NBA?

who is the best iso plyer in the NBA?
James Harden, #1 of the 76ers shoots the ball against Jaylin Williams, #6 of the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Wells Fargo Center on 12 January 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo: Mitchell Leff
Source: Getty Images

James Harden has been the league's best 'isolation player' for seven consecutive seasons as of 2023. Nicknamed The Beard, he is good in one-on-one plays and handles, shooting, shot creation, and his IQ is also in his bag of skill. He also uses his signature stepback and is great at drawing fouls. With all these traits, it is right to consider him the 'ISO King'.

Is ISO the best play in basketball?

Isolation might not be the best play in basketball as it draws attention, and all the pressure is on the one athlete with the ball. However, it also creates chances for other teammates to find open shots if one more defender decides to help during the play. Also, once a team manages to switch to mismatches, it creates an easier option to score.

The shortened term ISO, which means Isolation in basketball, is an offensive style that tends to feature the best athletes in the team. It was introduced in street ball basketball to entertain the crowd and hype the game, but it grew to be inducted into the NBA.

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Samuel Lisubila photo
Samuel Lisubila