Can Isaac Humphries make an NBA roster this season?
7-foot center Isaac Humphries was one of Australia's brightest high school prospects in recent years. Hailing from the Sydney suburb of Caringbah, he exploded onto the scene at the 2014 FIBA Under-17 World championships, averaging 18.9 points and 11.6 rebounds per game, he led Australia to a silver medal (losing only to the USA).
In mid-2017 the 7-footer decided to turn professional after two years at Kentucky, foregoing his remaining years of college eligibility to play with the Sydney Kings, going onto win the NBL's Rookie of the Year award. A brief stint in Europe followed, before Humphries again decided to try his luck in the states, and it's where he will again be this season.
Humphries signed a training camp deal with the Atlanta Hawks ahead of the 2018-19 NBA season, only to be waived one day later. He then spent much of the year playing for the Hawks' G League affiliate, the Erie BayHawks.
Humphries averaged 11.3 points and 7.0 rebounds in just 21.8 minutes per game with the BayHawks. This form earned him a call-up to Atlanta's NBA roster late in the season. Humphries played five games, including one start, but didn't receive enough minutes to make an impact in the NBA.
The 7-footer also made his Boomers debut during the NBA season, in a World Cup qualifier against Kazakhstan. In fact, Humphries was the standout Boomer in his very first game, with 17 points and 7 rebounds. He would go on to make an additional appearance against Iran.
Humphries' place in the pecking order
Isaac Humphries made an appearance at the 2019 Las Vegas Summer League, averaging 6.3 points and 3.7 rebounds in a paltry 13 minutes per game (across 3 games). The Orlando Magic then signed him to an exhibit 10 deal, allowing him to join their training camp. However, the Magic then waived him on Saturday, just a few days out from opening night.
Although unfortunate for Isaac, Orlando's decision to cut him is largely unsurprising. 2019 All-star Nikola Vucevic has a mortgage on the centre position, with promising youngster Mo Bamba being next in line.
The Magic drafted Bamba with the 5th overall pick last year, and will hence be committed to his development. In addition, judging by preseason minutes, even fringe NBA player Khem Birch looked to be ahead of Humphries in the pecking order. The Sydney product was used sparingly throughout the preseason, racking up DNP-CDs and averaging 5 minutes when he did step onto the court.
Humphries will likely spend the next season with the Lakeland Magic, Orlando's G-League affiliate. If he stays with the team for 60 days, Isaac will receive a $50,000 bonus as per his Exhibit 10 deal. The best case scenario for Humphries is to earn an NBA call-up later in the season, but that will hinge on his G League form.
Humphries' strengths and weaknesses
The Isaac Humphries we see today is very different from the Isaac Humphries that dominated the junior scene. In his younger days, Isaac was very much an interior presence, rarely venturing beyond the paint. Since joining Kentucky however, the 7-footer has gradually expanded his shooting range, to the point where he now takes threes.
Humphries hit 33.7% of his threes in the G League last season, with 2 attempts per game on average. Although this appears unimpressive at face value, the Sydney native has come a long way. Throughout his junior career, collegiate career and NBL career, Humphries never took shots from beyond the arc. His shot chart below also shows a propensity for mid-range jumpers from the short corner.
Despite encouraging signs, Humphries' shooting stroke is very much a work in progress. He connected on free throws at 66% last season, and 65% the season prior in the NBL. Very few players are capable of knocking down threes while hitting free throws at an underwhelming rate.
Moreover, Humphries has improved dramatically as an athlete in recent years. His mobility and above-the-rim play show quite a transformation since leaving Kentucky. The big man is now capable of putting the ball on the floor and attacking the rim from outside the paint. This is valuable in the modern NBA, where spacing is key. See his highlight reel below for flashes of new-found athleticism.
Furthermore, Humphries has maintained the interior presence he was always known for. He offers rim protection and averaged a respectable 7 rebounds in just 22 minutes per game. Humphries is also a polished low-post threat, although his shot chart (see above) does indicate a weakness on his right side. This is surprising, given that Isaac is right-handed.
Perimeter shooting could be the key
Humphries is trending in the right direction, but remains some way off playing regularly in the NBA. Despite the aforementioned physical transformation, the 7-footer still isn't as mobile or explosive as most NBA big men.
If he continually improves his jump shot however, it could be a point-of-difference against other centers. Isaac's shooting stroke has already come a long way in a short amount of time.
Moreover, Humphries will need sufficient playing time in the G-League to earn an NBA recall. Any improvement on 21.8 minutes per game from last season will be crucial for his development.
If Humphries excels this season, he could be in line for a Boomers jersey at the Tokyo Olympics. It won't come easily though; there will be stiff competition from the likes of Andrew Bogut, Jock Landale, Aron Baynes and Jonah Bolden.