What is an Iso in Basketball?

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Would you like to know what does an ISO mean in a basketball? Have you heard other players or fans of basketball refer to plays as ISO plays and wonder what they are talking about? Perhaps, you know what basketball isolation plays are, and you would like to do them yourself and need some help in setting them up.

ISO plays are becoming more popular in basketball. Many players such as yourself are trying to figure out not only how to do ISOs effectively but also how to guard against ISOs. We know that it is vital to understand ISO situations and how to react when they happen on the court while you are playing.

Our article today will guide you through ISO plays so that you can know not only what they are, but how to perform them, and how to guard against them.

What Does an Iso Mean in BasketballWhat Does an Iso Mean in Basketball?

An ISO in basketball occurs when the ball handler is isolated at any place on the court with his defender in a one-on-one situation. In this one-on-one situation, teammates are not helping the offensive player with ball screens or any other basketball plays to help him beat his opponent.

On the flip side, the defender is not being helped either. The defender is isolated with his mark throughout the play. Isolation plays do not necessarily mean that the ball handler has to finish or try to finish the basket. However, it means that for most of the play, the ball handler will be isolated with his defender until this play develops into another.

When isolation plays are set up, it is ideal that the ball handler has a weaker defender that he can exploit.

How Do You Setup ISO PlaysHow Do You Setup ISO Plays?

There are many things that need to be done to set up an isolation play. Isolation plays should start in practice so that players know where they need to be on the court. Here are a few things coaches the players need to do to ensure success with isolation plays.

The right personnel

Basketball is a team sport, so even though there are plays where players are isolated at a particular area on the court, their teammates will also be on the court and can affect the play. Coaches should try to put players on the court that the opponents will find it difficult to leave open. If you surround your isolation player with shooters, it will be more difficult for the opponent to leave shooters open to come and double team.

Threatening spots

Players on offense should try to go to locations where they will be very useful if they receive the ball while open. Some coaches will say balance the court so that the isolated player can have room to work. However, we believe the players should go to their areas where they are most likely to make a shot. Going to areas where you can make easy shots will keep your defender honest.

How Do You Setup ISO Plays
The positioning of the ball

The ball handler should try to initiate isolation plays at the areas of the court where they are strongest. If you are a ball handler that can attack the rim or make open shots easily from the center of the court, then you need to start your isolation play at the center of the court. If you operate more effectively from the wings, try to initiate your isolation play from the wings.

Develop signals

Teams shoulder develop signals in practice so that they can initiate isolation plays without verbal cues. Verbal cues can be used, but they are easier to be recognized by the opponents than signals. If players use signals to indicate to their teammates that they want an isolation situation, the offense can set up without the defense knowing what is going on.

Get the right defender

On and off the ball pics can be utilized to set up the ball handler with the right defender for a mismatch. Isolation plays are normally created with a mismatch in mind. Usually, a stronger offensive player tries to take a weaker defensive player. Using pick-and-rolls can force the opponents to switch so that the weaker defender is left with the ball handler.

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Iso PlaysWhat are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Iso Plays?

Isolation plays can be quite beneficial if there are talented offensive players on your team. Unfortunately, if your team cannot capitalize on them, they come with severe disadvantages too. Let’s take a look at both.


Getting to the Rim

Isolation plays are often going to result in stronger offensive players against not so capable defenders. Because offensive players can control the pace of the play, they may find it easier to take weaker defenders off the dribble and get to the rim for finishes. 

Getting Open Shots

Some ball handlers can create space when they play 1v1, which often results in great opportunities for shots from distance. In most isolation scenarios, a lot of defenders play to protect the lane.

If a player gets by you in a one-and-one situation, they will have an open layup or dunk at the basket, so defenders usually try to keep the lane closed and prevent dribble penetration. This commitment to protecting the lane often allows the offensive player to create enough space to take open shots.

Drawing Fouls

Strong and smart players often find easy ways to create contact and to get fouls from plays. Many offensive players are encouraged to attack the rim in isolation scenarios because it often results in the weaker defensive player committing a foul or giving up an easy basket.
Isolation plays are easy ways for smart offensive players to get their defenders off balance and attack them while heading to the rim.

Force Help to Get Open Shots

Some teams will try to counter the isolation play by sending another defender to help the isolated defender. In situations like these, the team on offense can take advantage of the player left open by the help defender. Players should work on getting to good spots where they can make shots so that if their defenders help, they can get the ball in a threatening position.

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Iso Plays



Overuse of the isolation play can result in demoralized teammates who feel left out of the offensive end of the game. Basketball is a team sport, and some players do not like to be left out of the game on the offensive end because they feel as if they are not needed on the team. Demoralized teammates will become more upset if the isolated player is creating turnovers and not making shots.

Winded Key Player in Key Moments of the Game

If your key player is continuously being used in isolation plays throughout the game, this will wear him out. Towards the end of the game or end of quarters, players continuously used for isolation plays will have a difficult time to execute efficiently. Isolation plays are best used in a balanced way.

Rested Defense

Because the majority of the defenders are not involved in the isolation play, defenders will have more time to rest if their marks are stagnant throughout the play. You do not want your opponents to have time to rest on defense because this will make them a more potent on the offensive end of the floor. Throughout isolation plays, teams should work on getting each other open even if they do not have the ball so that if an opportunity presents itself, they can help.

How Do You Become Better at Iso BallHow Do You Become Better at Iso Ball?

To improve your capabilities as an ISO ball player, there are certain things that you need to work on by yourself. Isolation in basketball allows players on the team to take the team out of the equation for a part of the game and do their own thing.
Isolation plays are good when you can get your team involved in the end. If you are efficient enough to complete them on your own, you will be an asset to your team if utilized properly. Here are some things that you can work on to improve your isolation game.

Ball Handling

You cannot be an isolation player in any shape or form if you are not a good ball-handler. Your handles must be turned up. Being able to handle the ball is everything in isolation. You must be able to create a space from your handles or get by a defender one-on-one.

Making Contested Shots

Isolation plays can allow you to create enough space to get your shot off, but chances are it’s going to be contested. Your ability to knock down shots off the dribble is going to be an asset, so you must work on this. Shooting off the dribble is one thing, but shooting off the dribble with a hand launching out at you is another thing. Try to work on taking shots with defenders coming at you. 

Who are Some of the Best Iso Basketball PlayersWho are Some of the Best Iso Basketball Players?

Here are some of the best ISO basketball players on the planet. These guys demonstrate basketball ISO moves night after night.

James Harden
James harden leads the league in ISO plays. He has a remarkable offensive skillset that can almost beat and score against any player in the NBA. James Harden is often described as one of the most gifted offensive players to ever play. No wonder his coach fosters and encourages this type of playing style.

Luka Doncic
Luka is often compared to Larry Bird. He is a tall guard that is an experienced and capable scorer. He uses his skills to have his way with many a defender.

Russell Westbrook
This guy may be the hardest playing player in the NBA. His quick pace, determination, and strength allow him to be formidable in ISO situations. He has a good mid-range game to back him up too.

LeBron James
The King has a shot and is one of the best finishers at the rim. He can dribble the ball as well. He is not someone NBA players want to match up with 1v1.

Kevin Durant
The God’s Gift to Basketball can do it all. He can take players off the dribble or pull up with an unblockable shot from anywhere around the arc.

Wrapping Things Up: What is an Iso in Basketball?

An ISO play is when the offensive and defensive players are playing 1v1 in a game. No teammates are helping, and they go head to head. These plays often find strong offensive players trying to take advantage of a weak defender. They are great if they work out but can be detrimental if they don’t.

Did you find this helpful? Then also check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.

> How to Defend Ball Screens in Basketball

> What is an Illegal Screen in Basketball?

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Hoops Addict

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