2017-18 Player Review: Jonathan Isaac

by John Denton

ORLANDO - At times last season – one that was often rocky for Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac because of the bevy of injuries that he suffered – veteran guard Arron Afflalo would put the rail-thin rookie to the test.

When the Magic would technically have a day off on the schedule here and there, Afflalo would press Isaac as to his plans. In not so many words, Afflalo would stress to Isaac that rookies don’t get days off during the NBA season. And when the Magic’s season ended at a disappointing 25-57, Afflalo had another pointed message for the rookie who appeared in just 27 games as a way of motivating him for what figures to be a big offseason.

``He’s so humble and he’s a very smart kid for his age, but for him it’s just about how much can he give to the game? How much passion does he have for the game?’’ Afflalo asked. ``He’s 6-11 or 7-feet with handles, can shoot, has great defensive instincts and has the potential to be a great player, but he has to make up his mind how much heart and desire he wants to give to the game to maximize his tools. If he does that, he’ll be one of the building blocks for some great times here.’’

Isaac, the No. 6 pick in last June’s NBA Draft, showed plenty of flashes of that potential this past season, but much of his momentum and rhythm were sapped by injuries to his ankles and feet. Isaac, who missed nearly twice as many games as played in, knows he is heading into an offseason where it will be vitally important for him to commit himself fully to getting stronger and more skilled so he doesn’t have a repeat of his rookie season.

``This summer is huge for me and huge for this team and where we go moving forward in terms of who comes in and who goes,’’ Isaac said. ``It’s a big summer for the entire Orlando Magic organization and I think it will go well because the people up top have a clear head in terms of what they want to do and so do I.

``I understand that (commitment to the game) and I don’t think (teammates) mean anything else by that when they say that,’’ Isaac said, referring to Afflalo’s pointed pep talks. ``In this league, you have to dedicate yourself to becoming who you want to be. I understand that because I’ve been here, and I’ve worked every summer to be in the position that I am today. That’s what I’m going to continue to do – work, progress and continue to move forward. So, I’m excited.’’

Isaac played a major role in the Magic’s strong start to the season, giving the team the long-armed defense that it desperately needed on the perimeter and at the rim. However, an ankle injury on Nov. 11 – one suffered after blocking a shot – wrecked much of the next 4 ½ months for the rookie. He got back fully by March 2 and delivered an impressive 10-game stretch where he contributed 47 points, 35 rebounds, 19 steals and 14 blocked shots before the injury bug bit him again.

In what proved to be his final appearance of the season – April 1 in Atlanta – Isaac showed off the confidence and potential the Magic had been seeking from him. He had 15 points, four rebounds, three 3-pointers and a steal before hobbling off after accidentally stepping on the foot of a foe and twisting his ankle.

It was the kind of performance that showed members of the Magic that Isaac can someday be great – as long as he uses this summer to improve his body and his skill.

``The thing about Jonathan is that he’s such a great kid, he doesn’t have an ego, he listens, he wants to be better and he wants to be great,’’ veteran Magic point guard D.J. Augustin said. ``Those are good qualities that he has and he’s already ahead of the curve. For him, it’s just about getting stronger and getting that confidence. Obviously, he missed much of the season with injuries, so it’s just about him getting that chance to play and getting a full season under his belt. But he has a bright future.’’

Here’s a more in-depth breakdown of Isaac’s 2017-18 season with the Magic:

PLAYER: Jonathan Isaac
POSITION: Power forward/small forward
NBA SEASONS: 1
AGE: 20

2017-18 SEASON STATS: 27 games (10 starts), 5.4 ppg., 3.7 rpg., 3.8 apg., 1.22 spg., 1.11 bpg., 23.1 mpg., 37.9 percent FG, 34.8 percent 3FG, 76 percent FT.

2017-18 SEASON HIGHS: 15 points, April 1 at Atlanta; eight rebounds, Oct. 18 vs. Miami; three assists, Oct. 20 at Brooklyn; five steals, March 20 vs. Toronto; three blocks, three times, most recently March 3 vs. Memphis; 29 minutes, Nov. 5 vs. Boston.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Isaac had a huge impact on Orlando’s strong start to the season with his tremendous play on the defensive end. The Magic opened the season 6-2 and later 8-4 and ranked sixth overall in the NBA in defensive efficiency in that time – largely because of Isaac’s ability to guard on the perimeter and protect the rim with his shot-blocking skills. In the 12 games that he appeared in after the all-star break, Isaac shot the 3-pointer better (39.3 percent) and again proved himself to be a next-level defender with his shot-blocking (1.3 bpg.) and ball-hawking (1.9 spg.). In his final game of his rookie season, he scored a career-best 15 points by drilling three 3-pointers.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Isaac missed nearly twice as many games (51) as he played in (27) as a rookie. Injuries to both ankles and a left foot strain limited him to just two stretches where he played at least double-digit games and kept him from establishing much rhythm throughout the season. Isaac is well aware that he must put on more weight and add more strength this offseason so that he can hopefully avoid the injuries that wrecked his rookie season.

Also, Isaac must become a much more skilled offensive player – both on the perimeter and in the post. Foes are going to sag off of him and dare him to make 3-point shots until he can prove that he can consistently make them. Also, he needs to be able to punish smaller defenders in the post when they switch onto him in pick-and-roll plays. The Magic are hopeful that an offseason of work will give Isaac the strength and confidence to improve those skills.

FUTURE ROLE WITH MAGIC: Isaac was the No. 6 pick of last June’s Draft because the Magic envision him as the poster boy for what elite-level defenders should look like going forward. Because he has the length to defend at the rim, the lateral quickness to defend on the perimeter and the instincts to anticipate defensively, he is everything the Magic want in a stopper on that end of the floor. The next step is adding weight, strength and toughness this offseason so that he can stay on the floor for 25-30 minutes a game next season.

Then, there’s this: Isaac grew from 6-foot-10 to 6-foot-11 this season and doctors still say his growth plates are ``wide open.’’ Some feel he could eventually grow to be as tall as 7-foot-1 ½ -- length that would potentially make him even more of a menace defensively.

As skilled as Isaac is defensively, he still has a ways to go on the offensive end. His shot, his handles and his playmaking all need development. The Magic are confident that because of his advanced maturity, smarts and strong work ethic that he will make a big jump next season following a summer of work and skill development.

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.