Isaac Confident Offensive Progress Will Come

by John Denton

LOS ANGELES – Rookie forward Jonathan Isaac has been so exceptional defensively in four games that an Orlando Magic team in desperate need for stops has been more than willing to overlook his offensive struggles.

Not that Isaac is worried at all about his play on that end of the floor, but he stressed recently that he’s eager to show off the work that he’s put in to grow his game. Still, he’s confident that offensive progress will come – quite possibly as soon as tonight when the Magic (20-44) face the Los Angeles Lakers (28-35). Tip time is just after 10:30 p.m. ET.

``It’s just one day at a time, I rely on my faith and I keep going and keep pushing,’’ Isaac said. ``I’m going to be all right (long term). I just want to do what I can do now, and I’ll be OK.’’

Isaac, the No. 6 pick in last June’s NBA Draft, has 10 rebounds, six blocked shots and three steals in his three games since a prolonged layoff from ankle troubles. Also, he opened the second half on Monday in Utah as a starter and he proceeded to smoother Jazz standout Joe Ingles (16 first-half points, two second-half points) over the final 24 minutes.

On the downside, Isaac has made just one of nine shots with his one basket being a corner 3-pointer in last Friday’s overtime defeat of the Detroit Pistons. The bulk of Isaac’s shots have come from the perimeter and the Magic’s hope is that as the 6-foot-11, 222-pounder adds muscle and strength that he will have more success driving to the rim.

Magic coach Frank Vogel, who admitted that he is seriously considering moving Isaac into a more prominent role as soon as tonight, stressed that he isn’t worried much at all about Isaac’s offensive game because of the way he’s defended for the Magic.

``We’ve got to figure out where he fits in terms of offensive organization alongside of Aaron Gordon or with Mario Hezonja and sliding (Isaac) over to (small forward) some,’’ Vogel said. ``Defensively, it doesn’t matter what position he plays because he impacts the game right now. He’s defending like he’s our best – or one of our best – defenders as a rookie. He’s pretty special, so I’m definitely (looking to grow Isaac’s role).

``I’m a coach who has felt like we’ve struggled to have enough defensive firepower over the last two years,’’ Vogel added. ``So it’s definitely tempting to get him out there as much as possible.’’

Vogel and the Magic are still restricted by the minutes’ limit that is on Isaac’s playing time. The rookie played 15 minutes in his first game back and his minutes were upped to 18 in each of the next two games.

Vogel feels that a run-out dunk, a backdoor cut for a layup or an uncontested jump shot that finds the net could be just the impetus to jump-start Isaac’s confidence on the offensive end of the floor. Until then, Vogel wants the rookie to be patient with his shooting and keep the focus on the defensive end of the floor.

``If he doesn’t get (an easy basket), I really don’t care,’’ Vogel said. ``I think he understands that it’s going to take a little time to get his rhythm and timing offensively, but his defense is where he’s making his money right now and where he’s helping the team. He’s making good basketball plays – I’d rather see him go 0-for-two or 0-for-four than two-for-12 where he’s out there trying to force things. One of his gifts is that he plays within himself on the offensive end. I think that’s great and I don’t really want him to change that.’’

The added defense will likely be needed against a Los Angeles Lakers team that is 17-8 over its last 25 games. Their five-game winning streak might still be alive had all-star guard Damian Lillard not gotten hot in the final 5 minutes of Portland’s come-from-behind defeat of L.A. on Monday night.

Orlando had one of its best offensive performances of the season against the Lakers on Jan. 31. The Magic made nine 3-pointers in the third quarter – a franchise record – in their 127-105 rout of the Lakers at the Amway Center.

``We have to execute and play together,’’ Magic guard Jonathon Simmons said. ``It should be a good one for us.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.