What Does Iso Mean in Basketball? Explanation and Tips

When your team has the ball, you can employ various strategies to protect it from the defense and eventually drive it to the basket and score points.

One of the offensive strategies that you can try is iso. What does iso mean in basketball, and how can you take advantage of this technique?

Iso in basketball is short for what is known as isolation play. An isolation play looks like a one-on-one play between an offensive player and a defensive player while the rest of both teams watch and let the play happen.

What Does Iso Mean in Basketball?

The basketball jargon iso is the shortened version of an isolation play. Isolation plays occur when an offensive player handling the ball goes one-on-one with a player from the defense.

This is why an iso play is also known as a one-on-one play.

Perhaps, whenever you see that happen in a basketball game, you even unconsciously say, “Hey, Player X from the offense and Player Y from the defense seem to be doing a one-on-one now.”

Technically, one-on-one plays aren’t an official part of every game. There are no written rules specifying details on iso. It’s just that it looks that way because when it happens, both teams watch the match between two players and let them play happen without intervening.

But who’s given the spotlight in this game situation? It has always been the offensive team’s star player who gets the coach’s go-signal to create an iso play. They do this to create a wide space for the offensive player to take an open shot and try to score points.

Iso plays are also an offensive strategy to create a mismatch in the defense.

As a result, the team on the defense could be prone to errors that will be of benefit to the offense.

An iso play is not always planned. Sometimes, the offense allows the teammate who has just successfully thrown consecutive baskets in a row to have the ball attempt a heat check.

Most of the time, an iso play happens just a few seconds before the end of a quarter of the game itself. The offense employs a common technique to have the ball down to the last second. Usually, the goal is to either draw a tie or attempt a three-point shot to be in the lead and eventually win the game.

Now that we know what it means in basketball, what are the pros and cons of an iso play?

Strengths and Weaknesses of an Iso Play

Same as any other strategy in basketball, an iso play comes with its own set of strengths and weaknesses. It’s frowned upon by some commentators. Even so, it’s a popular strategy you can watch countless times in NBA.

Also, time and time again, it’s proven very empowering for the offense when done right. That being said, what are then the strengths and weaknesses of an iso play?

Top 3 Strengths of an Iso Play

An iso play should occur at the right timing to increase its chances of success. Second, the offense should entrust it to the right player.

Who qualifies is either someone who’s got a hot hand at the moment, the team’s best shooter or three-pointer, a remarkable dribbler who holds an excellent track record in bypassing the defense, or all of the above.

1. Make the Most of Short Clock Situations

If you only have a few seconds left, how will you make the most of it before a quarter or the game itself ends? The team in possession of the ball will find it nearly impossible to run their complete offensive set and advance the ball near the hoop before the buzzer goes off.

To secure their possession of the ball and increase their chances of scoring points, the best option is to give the ball to the team’s star player and let him do an iso play against the opposing team’s defensive player.

This will reduce the risk of a ball turnover or the ball going out of bounds.

2. The Best Player Gets the Ball and Increases the Chances of Scoring Points

It’s just a smart move to let your star player own the spotlight at a crucial time in the game. Especially when he gets hot on the hardcourt, you’re giving him a bigger opportunity to shoot baskets freely.

But you might wonder, “Though your goal is to create an iso play, can you control what the defense will do in this situation? Won’t they double-team your player?” Possible.

But you also leave the defense torn between two tricky options.

If they double-team the offensive player, that will leave an open teammate. The player in possession will most likely pass the ball to the unguarded teammate to take an open shot.

On the other hand, if the defense allows the iso play to happen, the best scorer who has the ball can get past the defense and even take a three-point shot.

3. Create a Player Mismatch

In an iso play where the offense’s strategy involves creating a player mismatch, they can exploit the defense’s weaknesses.

For example, a weaker player from the defense could be caught in a situation when he’s mismatched against the defense’s best player. This will increase the offense’s chances of successfully scoring points.

The 3 Key Weaknesses of an Iso Play

We mentioned that some commentators frowned upon iso plays, and here’s why.

1. Iso Plays aren’t so Effective Against Zone Defenses

When the opposing team employs zone defenses instead of assigning their players to guard specific individuals of the offense, it is difficult to isolate a defender.

To get past the defenders, the team in possession will need to do a lot of ball passing which is not how an iso play works. In this case, an iso play is not an ideal strategy.

2. Becoming too reliant on One Player

Yes, he is your star player. But the best players get tired too. And unfortunately, they can get injured too.

In addition, there are times when the defense successfully uses the double-team strategy to force a turnover.

The point is that it’s essential to grow as a team instead of letting one player own the spotlight all the time. By focusing on developing each player’s strengths, you can build a more solid team.

3. Iso is Less Efficient as Compared to Other Offense Strategies

The offense is more likely to score points when running plays than creating isolation based on surveys.

What Shots Can You Do with Iso?

When you’re in an iso play, you can do just about anything. Whether that’s a layup, dunk, a mid-range shot or even a three-pointer – you can score anyway you want.

The best players in a team usually get to iso since they’ve usually mastered a certain shot.

You can even iso and then pass if it becomes too difficult. There’s no limit to what you can do with an iso play.

How Do I Become a Better Iso Player Quickly?

So far, you’ve learned what iso means in basketball and found that there are hard-to-ignore pros that come with iso plays, so the offense can take advantage of this strategy when the situation calls for it.

How can you increase your chances of being called for an iso play as a player?

1. Get down the basics of ball handling

Practice your dribbling skills. Develop your agility. These are essential, especially if your team creates an iso to give you an open opportunity for an easy layup.

2. Practice shooting

A lot is at stake. The whole team counts on you. You become liable to your teammates and coaches, and you can’t let your supporters down too!

So, the goal is to make successful baskets. Practice your shots so you can improve your accuracy no matter the distance and pressure.

3. Be able to think on your feet

Should you find yourself trapped in a player mismatch situation when the defensive player is stronger or when the defense double-teams you, can you quickly think of solutions to get past the defense?

An iso player needs to be smart, strategic, and decisive!

Who are the Best Iso Players in the NBA?

If you need some inspiration, here are some of the best iso players in the NBA.

James Harden

He is currently the leading iso player in league with 321 points. His incredible offensive skill takes the credit for his success.

Lebron James

He is excellent at driving the ball to the basket; as he gets past the defense, James garners 111 points.

Damian Lillard

Lillard is undoubtedly one to watch for just a point lower than Lebron’s points.

Russell Westbrook

What’s impressive about Westbrook is his fantastic speed on the court—definitely a huge advantage when in possession of the ball. No wonder he can score as high as 99 for doing iso plays.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

We’re not surprised he also gets 99 points. Antetokounmpo is an exceptional ball-handler.

Other players who can be part of the roster of great iso players include Pascal Siakam (87 pts), Luka Doncic (83 pts), Spencer Dinwiddie (82 pts), Brandon Ingram (79 pts), CJ McCallum (75 pts).

Final Thoughts

Now that we’ve learned what iso means in basketball, we figured it will be practical to include it in team practice because it works well in some specific game situations.

The main takeaway is that you should know which situations call for it and the best player who can create the iso play.

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