What does ISO mean in basketball? Explained



Basketball is a team game which can have its moments where players go one on one against each other, basket after basket while the whole team stands there and watch.

What is an ISO in basketball?  In basketball the term ISO means isolation. This is when a player will go one-on-one with another player on the opposing team and try to score. Usually, it is the best player on the team that gets the go-ahead from the coach while the player takes advantage of the mismatch in the defense.  Isolation has been once frowned upon is now common in today’s game. So much so offenses are built of one on one plays.

When you think about Iso’s you may think of players like Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant or even players from the And1 mixtape from the late 90s, early 2000s. Let’s take a look at how the “ISO” evolved.

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When Does An ISO happen?

Iso’s in a basketball game is not always planned, there are some factors to consider. But in general, Isolations are mismatches between two players such as a guard vs center, when a player is hot or on fire, or even when a player on defense is in foul trouble.

 There are times in a team’s offense that isolations will happen to increase the chances of scoring by taking advantage of the defensive liability to increase chances of scoring.

On Fire…..

If a player is heating up and just knocked down his last 2 baskets they may want to feed the fire and give that player the ball again and have them try to score. You will hear players call this a heat check. This may result in an isolation attempt to score another basket, they’re feeding the hot hand, as the hot hand will shoot and feel as if they are shooing into the ocean.



 There are often times when a player will find himself in a mismatch situation such as a guard versus a post or Center at the top of the three-point line, the mismatch may be the speed advantage.

If the center plays off the guard and gives him room the guard will have an easy-open jump shot. If the center plays close to the guard, the guard blows by him. This mismatch can happen when the guard’s teammate which is a center also sets the screen and looks for the pick-and-roll in some cases players on defense are just switching checks which leads to this mismatch.

Not really considered isolation but sometimes in basketball switching with a guard who is undersized may get caught on defense guarding the big man because he was helping or switching on a pick and roll. The big man will go hard in the paint so to speak and use his size to his advantage.


 Last shot

Another time that may come up when we are playing or watching basketball where we will see isolations is a last-second shot in the game at the end of a quarter. When that is the case a player will wait at the top of the key with 6 to 10 seconds left on the clock before making his move. The idea is to beat his man and go to the basket and if he’s guarded well the player can spot his teammate in the corner for the open jump shot.

ISO basketball is very common in the NBA especially with the invention of the step-back jump shot. It is very easy to create the space needed to get the shot off all while making it difficult for the defender to contest the shot and play any sort of defense if the player has mastered this move.

 The best players on the basketball team will more than likely have the okay from their coach to try and score. It isn’t always an ISO attempt when a player is just trying to score during the regular play. Sometimes a player uses a series of one-on-one moves to create the space needed for the shot they are attempting.  


Allen Iverson

Allen Iverson was nicknamed the answer and for good reason during his Prime with the Philadelphia 76ers Iverson lead his team to the NBA finals and won back-to-back season MVP’s.  how he did this at 6 foot nothing and I say this kindly to prove a point is beyond, but he played in an iso ball style. 

 76ers relied heavily on Iverson to score as he was putting up 30 plus shots a game most nights, while the rest of the team adapted to Iverson’s playing style. Most notably the answer’s signature move was the killer crossover that opposing coaches in the league hated and thought was a carry ball.  The crossover is an exaggerated crossover and even Iverson admits it. 


The popularity of ISO Style Basketball

 ISO basketball has always been a part of the game, but in this day in age, it is almost the go to in some offenses. With a faster-paced game and quicker shot selection and players more skilled then ever you can see why it has evolved to this. You give me the best offensive player in the game vs the best defensive player and the player that is on offense will always have the upper hand.


 If you think about how players practice to improve their game they really are for the most part practicing isolation type skills to improve ball handling, jump shooting and one on one moves.


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