European Dispatch: Getting to know Isaia Cordinier

·The Vertical

Jonathan Givony is on an 11-day trip through seven countries to evaluate most of the top NBA draft prospects in Europe. On the eighth day of the trip, he was in northern France watching French shooting guard Isaia Cordinier.

Cordinier’s current club, Denain-Voltaire, has an interesting history in French basketball, as the hometown club of both Tony Parker’s father and Herve Dubuisson, the first French player to be invited to try out for an NBA team (the New Jersey Nets in the 1980s). The gym was almost completely packed an hour before the game, which is a rarity in our experience in France.

SITUATION
Born Nov. 28, 1996, Isaia Cordinier is the same age as many of the NCAA freshmen who will enter this year’s draft, although he could have entered the draft last year.

Growing up in Antibes in southern France, with a stop in Martinique (a Caribbean island under French rule, where his family is originally from), Cordinier is the son of an international handball player and coach who competed in the Olympics and world championships. His family’s professional sporting background helped play a major role in his development. Cordinier elected to leave for Pro B (second division) club Evreux last season and had a successful year that was derailed by knee tendinitis that lingered into the summer and continually requires maintenance.

Isaia Cordinier prepares to shoot a free throw for Denain-Voltaire. (Jonathan Givony/The Vertical)
Isaia Cordinier prepares to shoot a free throw for Denain-Voltaire. (Jonathan Givony/The Vertical)

Moving to Denain, another Pro B club, this season, Cordinier has developed into one of the division’s best players, averaging 19.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.3 steals and one block per 40 minutes. He had one of his best games of the season with a number of NBA scouts in attendance, posting nine points, six rebounds, nine assists in 34 minutes in a win.

Head coach Jean-Christophe Prat raves about Cordinier’s work ethic and intangibles, and believes he has a significant future ahead of him at the highest levels of basketball. In a country that hasn’t always done a great job providing its young prospects with minutes, opportunity and support, it is refreshing to find a situation like this.

In his own words
“In Pro B it is hard to play. There is not a lot of space. Defenses are tough. Sometimes ugly. It's helped me physically, to improve my body. With this coach, if you work hard he will put you on the court.”

STRENGTHS
While Cordinier is not an overwhelmingly gifted prospect physically, he is a very good athlete who moves fluidly, has a quick first step and is capable of playing above the rim.

He’s developing into quite a versatile offensive player, showing strong perimeter shooting and passing skills relative to his young age. Cordinier is 26 of 49 (53 percent) from behind the arc in 16 games this season. He does not have the most orthodox-looking shot, with somewhat of a rigid release and mechanical footwork, but he shoots it the same every time and gets quite a bit of arc on the shot. He shows potential as a shooter both with his feet set and off the dribble, and should be able to develop those aspects of his game in time.

Cordinier’s strong first step and overall athleticism make him a dangerous threat in the open court, and he is extremely unselfish in looking to find the open man. He was constantly probing the defense looking to make the extra pass and get his teammates involved, making a couple of very nice drive-and-dish plays. His feel for the game is very strong relative to his lack of experience, and he rarely forces the issue, almost to a fault at times.

Cordinier’s intangibles may be the best thing about him. He plays with a rare spirit, looking completely immersed in the game. He’s focused on every possession and shows a great attitude, whether in the game or on the bench cheering for his teammates.

All that translates nicely to the defensive end, where Cordinier has solid tools and excellent competitiveness and intensity. He has very quick feet in man-to-man situations and flies around constantly for blocks, steals and rebounds, often diving on the floor for loose balls. As his body continues to fill out, defense could end up being a major strength, even against high-level competition.

In his own words 
“First of all, I put a lot of energy on defense. On offense I like to play full court. Attack, rebound, try to bring rhythm for the team. My first strength in offense is to drive. But I improved a lot on my catch-and-shoot and my pull-up jumper. I have several facets to my offensive skills. Defensively is most important for me, because when I was younger that’s how I earned time on the court, first with defensive missions.”

AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT

Cordinier does not have elite physical tools for an NBA shooting guard, standing (in his words) 6-foot-4½ without shoes, with a 6-foot-7 wingspan and a 183-pound frame. He will need to continue to work on developing his frame and improving his skill level, because he won’t be able to overwhelm opponents with his natural tools.

Cordinier is a solid straight-line driver who does a nice job of picking his spots and finding the open man, but his ball-handling skills are not overly refined at this stage. He’s making major strides as a pick-and-roll and isolation threat, but is still a work in progress when it comes to operating at different speeds and creating separation from his defender in the half-court. His 2-point percentage is on the lower side at 49 percent, and he does not get to the free-throw line at an incredible rate. While his 3-point shooting percentage is superb this season, that hasn’t always been the case throughout his career. It’s clear he can continue to polish his mechanics and become more consistent.

Cordinier missing time with knee tendinitis is something NBA teams will want to study more closely with their private medical staffs. The condition could be because of the fact that Cordinier is still growing.

Youth, inexperience and the lower level of competition of France’s second division (at least compared to the Euroleague and NBA) are all mitigating factors in Cordinier’s evaluation as a draft prospect. He missed the U20 European Championship last summer because of his knee issue, so scouts haven’t had too many opportunities to evaluate him against other elite prospects at his position.

In his own words
“I need to develop my body. With time, that will come. It is not the most important thing. I need to keep working on my dribble and my shot, being more aggressive with drives, shooting and passing the ball, keep stopping the offensive player.”

PROJECTIONS
Cordinier looked like a clear-cut first-round prospect in our evaluation in person and on film. He has a great framework to build off as a shooting guard and plenty of upside. From what we were told, it seems likely he will enter this year’s draft to see how he measures up against other players at his position, and he has the option to withdraw in June if he doesn’t like what he’s hearing. The flexibility of his situation will certainly help his stock because an NBA team can opt to pick Cordinier and “stash” him in Europe for another year or two, which could be a big selling point for a franchise that has multiple draft picks and limited roster spots.

Cordinier is hoping to be invited to the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Ore., this April, and his club seems willing to let him go despite being in the middle of a battle for a playoff spot. He could really help himself with a strong showing there, and there is no doubt he is good enough to contribute to the World Select Team’s efforts in that setting.

In his own words 
“Going to the NBA is my goal. I want to go to the NBA. When you are young, it’s your dream, you watch it on TV. But the more you accomplish things on the court, the more you grow up, the more it becomes a goal, not a dream. I will take the steps I need, but if I have an opportunity to go to the NBA, I will go”

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