Isaac Staying Patient and Pushing Through Rustiness

by John Denton

LOS ANGELES – There are times, primarily when he’s hesitant to take a shot, when he’s uncharacteristically late on defense or when he fumbles the ball out of bounds, that it dawns on Orlando Magic rookie Jonathan Isaac that he’s playing a game of catch-up against foes fully comfortable and confident from being in the fray all season.

Isaac, 20, doesn’t have that luxury of rhythm and timing for now after missing most of four months because of an ankle issue. He’s trying to rapidly make up the valuable rookie experience that he missed out on but doing that against fully locked-in foes has proven to be somewhat challenging for the 6-foot-11, 222-pound Isaac.

``It is tough, but I just have to take it for what it is right now and just get back into the groove and take things one game at a time,’’ Isaac admitted. ``I think that’s what I’ve done so far but doing that is difficult. It’s almost like I’m starting the season over again. But I feel good and I’m getting more comfortable with each game.’’

Isaac, the sixth overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft, got his first start since mid-October on Friday in Orlando’s 94-88 loss to the Sacramento Kings. He hit two corner threes and swatted a Frank Mason III layup out to the 3-point line, but he also played tentatively at times and received a something of a tongue-lashing from veteran Magic point guard D.J. Augustin during the game. Isaac shot two-of-eight with six points, two rebounds and two steals.

``A couple of times he passed up some open shots and I told him, `Shoot it. That’s the only way you’re going to get your confidence,’’’ Augustin said of Isaac, who made just two of eight shots on Friday. ``In the second half he did that, and I was happy to see it.’’

The rust accumulated from Isaac’s long layoff was apparent in Orlando’s last two games when he twice botched what should have been run-out dunks. After stealing the ball Wednesday in Los Angeles, Isaac slowed down on the break, allowing Lakers’ point guard Lonzo Ball to catch up to him and knock the ball out of bounds. On Friday, Isaac used his 7-foot-2 wingspan to step in front of a Garrett Temple pass and no one stood in between him and a thunderous dunk. That opportunity never came as Isaac lost his dribble and the basketball rolled out of bounds.

Magic coach Frank Vogel wants his rookie to remain patient and to push through the rustiness as best that he can over the remainder of the season. Vogel said if Isaac just keeps his focus on the defensive end and stays within himself offensively, he’ll give the Magic exactly what they need from him.

``(Isaac) is a 20-year-old young man who is still finding his way on the offensive end,’’ Vogel said. ``I encouraged him to be more aggressive than he’s been. To his credit, he plays within himself, but there’s going to be some growing pains that come along with that. I was just happy with the spirit that he played with (on Friday).’’

ROOKIE REVIEW: The morning after making his NBA debut for the Magic, rookie guard Rodney Purvis woke up to about 100 congratulatory text messages on Saturday. Purvis, who signed a 10-day contract with Orlando after previously spending all season in the G League, scored two points and grabbed one rebound in 10 minutes.

Purvis, 24, is an only child, but his grandmother had 14 kids so got loads of messages from his many aunts and uncles back in North Carolina and elsewhere.

``A lot of people watched it. I have a huge family and my support system is huge,’’ Purvis said. ``I have so many aunts, uncles and cousins, so there were so many messages.’’

Purvis ranked ninth in the G League in scoring during his 37 games with the Lakeland Magic, so it came as no surprise that he came off a pick and confidently buried a 20-foot jumper for his first NBA points. Purvis said that while he was a tad bit nervous, he came into the night realistic that regardless of what happened he wouldn’t be in a primary role or asked to play big minutes.

``A little bit (of nerves), but the other guys just told me to be myself and that really helped,’’ Purvis said. ``It was great seeing a shot go in and getting that out of the way. That helped me relax. I’m still trying to feel my way out. I know it will take a little time and I didn’t have expectations of coming in that first night and scoring double figures or anything like that. I just want to compete on the defensive end and try to create some easy looks for myself and the other guys.’’

THE DOCTOR IS IN: Prior to taking his first head coaching job in the NBA – with the Magic in 1999 – Doc Rivers said repeatedly that he was almost goaded into the job by then-Miami Heat coach Pat Riley, who would tell him to ``get off the sidelines and get into the fray.’’ Rivers did just that, going 41-41 that first season with the Magic and later leading Orlando to three straight playoff appearances.

Now, 19 years after starting, Rivers is still coaching – something that even he is a little bit surprised by because he wondered previously if he would like the job or even last very long.

The ultimate competitor, Rivers likes what he does, largely, because he’s been so successful. He came into Saturday’s game 14th in NBA history in wins (839) and second among active coaches in victories. He was the NBA’s Coach of the Year in that first season with the Magic (1999-00), he won a NBA title in 2008 with the Celtics and he’s had a winning record 16 times in 19 years. Twice, his teams captured 60 wins in a season and six other times they have nabbed 50 victories.

``I love it more now, I love coaching, I really do,’’ Rivers said. ``Honestly when I started coaching I didn’t think I’d be around more than five, six or seven years. I thought it’d be something that I’d like, and I’ve been fortunate to have some great guys. … It’s a tough job because you get your heart broken a lot – not just with wins and losses, but you forge relationships with players and sometimes that goes awry. There’s just a lot of negative stuff that goes into it all.

``But when you get guys who call you when they’re done and when they’re on other teams, it makes your day. It really does,’’ Rivers added. ``So I still love it.’’

UP NEXT: After spending nearly a week out West, Orlando’s longest road trip of the season finally heads back toward the Southwest. The Magic will next play the Spurs in San Antonio – but not before taking Sunday off and practicing on Monday.

After facing San Antonio on Tuesday, Orlando will host the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday in its first night back in town in 10 days.

The Magic notched arguably their best win of the season in November when they routed the Spurs at the Amway Center. The victory was notable for the fact that Orlando once led San Antonio by as much as 37 points.

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.