Jonathan Isaac, No. 1 of the Orlando Magic on court against the Boston Celtics in October.
It could be said that, when looking at the 2017 NBA draft, the Magic passed on the likes of John Collins, now an Atlanta Hawk, Bam Adebayo (Miami) and Donovan Mitchell (Jazz) and, technically speaking, that is true. Really, had the Magic not chosen Isaac with the No. 6 pick in that draft, they likely would have gone with a backcourt scorerâthink Dennis Smith Jr., for example, or Malik Monk.
Still, Isaac was a gamble, a player chosen based on the physical length and athletic potential coveted by team president Jeff Weltman and general manager John Hammond. Isaac had not produced jaw-dropping stats while at Florida State (12.0 points, 7.8 rebounds) as a freshman. Before that, coming out of high school, Isaac had been the No. 12 prospect in ESPNâs rankings, but it was a helter-skelter list, with Harry Giles the No. 1 recruit, and Isaac ranked just behind Monk, Frank Jackson and Terrance Ferguson.
Isaac, then, was a good player in a subpar crop and never a sure thing. But the Magic need him to be so much more. This franchise is counting on Isaac, who is 22, as a cornerstone for the next four or five years and while the team has an investment in other young playersâMarkelle Fultz, Mo Bamba and, to a lesser extent, G-League player Chuma OkekeâIsaac is the guy who has the most potential, the guy who will determine how high the Magicâs ceiling can be.
That was the sense on Monday, with Isaac returning to the floor to play for the first time since January 1, when he suffered a knee injury that was originally slated to keep him out for two months but was deemed to be season-ending when it was later re-evaluated. The four-month delay in restarting the season after it was suspended because of coronavirus in March gave Isaac the chance to get back on the floor for the rebooted 2019-20 season.
The mere appearance of Isaac in a scrimmage against the Nuggets on Monday seemed to be enough to lift not only his teammates, but the entire franchise. The way Isaac produced in the seven minutes he spent on the floorâ13 points on 5-for-6 shooting, including 2-for-2 from the 3-point line, with 7 rebounds and 2 stealsâhelped inject some enthusiasm into the Magicâs remaining schedule.
âHe was great,â coach Steve Clifford said. âNot just the way he playedâhis energy level, his purpose of play, the shot-makingâbut the nicest thing, or the best thing, is just the lift he gives the team. You saw when he came out, how happy guys were in the locker room after the game. It was just good to have him back and have him on the floor.â
Now in his third season, there are things we can say for certain about Isaac. Start with his defense, which ranks among the best in the leagueâand his offense, which has been slow to grow.
âHe has a natural skill for defense that you could see a little bit at Florida State but I donât think anyone knew he had the potential to be this good,â an Eastern Conference scout said. âOffensively, though, he is predictable. Some people were talking about him being Kevin Durant when he was coming out and he does not have that kind of offensive repertoire, and he is never going to. But he plays within himself, maybe to a fault. I would like to see him push his offensive game a little bit.â
Isaac was a popular pick as a breakout player for this season and in the 32 games he played before the knee injury, he was no doubt better but not quite a breakout guy. He averaged 12.0 points and 6.9 rebounds in 29.7 minutes, and made a big leap by getting to the rim more and becoming a stronger finisherâaccording to Basketball-Reference.com, Isaac shot 66.1% within 3 feet of the basket, a career high. He also took 36.6% of his total field goals from that spot, also a career high.
He has improved, sure. He has not broken out. But maybe the next eight games for Orlando will be his opportunity to change that. Isaac is expected to remain on a minutes restriction during the season reset and that will limit the impact he can have, at least in the early stages of the Magicâs schedule.
But as Orlando careens toward the end of the seeding-game schedule and into the playoffs, maybe the Magic can loosen up on Isaacâs minutes. He put in a tremendous amount of work just to get back on the floor in time for the restarted seasonâhe could easily have said he would pass on a return and focus on next yearâand he did not do all that work to play a handful of minutes per night.
âI did not know 100% that I would be able to,â Isaac said. âWhat I was being told, and rightfully so, was that it was going to be tough and we are going to have to go two-a-days if you really want to make this thing. I believed I could get back, so I just kind of locked in and said, âOK, I am down for the two-a-days, I am down for the work.â And we put it in and I am glad to be back at this point.â
It is impressive that Isaac has gotten back to this point when so few expected he would. He has been a mystery for so long, a work still in progress, that it is good to see him back in uniform and showing where his development has taken him during the coronavirus hiatus. The Magic need him, not just for what remains of this year, but for whatever future the franchise might have.
I have covered the NBA for 20 years, dating from the first championship of the Shaq-Kobe Lakers right through the rise (and, perhaps, fall) of the Warriors. In that span,
I have covered the NBA for 20 years, dating from the first championship of the Shaq-Kobe Lakers right through the rise (and, perhaps, fall) of the Warriors. In that span, Iâve attended 19 NBA Finals and All-Star games, and interviewed players from Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant to LeBron James. Iâve also covered Team USA at two Olympics, in London in 2012 and Rio in 2016, and have been lucky enough to write about the World Series, Super Bowl, NCAA Tournament and college football championship game. Iâm the author of eight books, including Facing Michael Jordan, Before Wrigley Became Wrigley and Fun City. I live in Springfield, Mass., a stroll away from where basketball was invented.
Jonathan Isaac, Orlando Magic, Wes Iwundu, Brooklyn Nets
World news – CA – Rehabbed Jonathan Isaac Remains A Mystery, And So Does The Magicâs Future