3 Areas Jonathan Isaac Improved the Most in 2018-19

by Josh Cohen

Defense

To help detail just how good defensively Jonathan Isaac and several of his teammates were after Jan. 30 when the Magic went 22-9, the third best record in the NBA during this period, here’s a rather powerful stat:

Isaac and Aaron Gordon were the only two starting forwards who appeared in at least 30 games during this timeframe to hold opponents below 32 percent 3-point shooting when they were the closest defenders, per Second Spectrum tracking data. Philadelphia's Jimmy Butler, Boston's Jayson Tatum and Toronto's Pascal Siakam also limited opponents to under 32 percent from long distance, but each of them appeared in 29 or fewer games during this period.

Among starting shooting guards, meanwhile, Evan Fournier ranked No. 1 in this category.

For Isaac, a promising 21-year-old with unlimited potential, it’s not much of a surprise that he has emerged as one of the league’s premier defenders. Many felt when Orlando selected him sixth overall in the 2017 draft that he would turn heads on that end of the floor because of his length and unique defensive instincts.

In a league where versatility is critical (maybe mandatory for championship-level teams), the Bronx, N.Y. native has the physical tools and basketball IQ to transform into an annual Defensive Player of the Year candidate when he reaches his prime.

Corner 3-Point Shooting

At this stage of his development, Isaac is primarily a high-end 3-and-D player, not too shabby for someone very unrefined offensively.

Before Jan. 31, the former Florida State standout shot just 30.8 percent from the right 3-point corner and 28 percent from the left side. From that date onward, he made 41.4 percent of his threes from the right corner and 33.3 percent from the alternate side.

At minimum, it’s going to be essential for Isaac to shoot well from the corners, as the game’s elite 3-and-D players tend to shoot high percentages from those spots on the floor. Houston’s P.J. Tucker, Toronto’s Siakam and Boston’s Marcus Morris are good examples.

Isaac certainly has the shooting form, confidence and work ethic to do just that.

Off-Ball Intuition

Perhaps Isaac’s most underrated strength is his basketball IQ. He generally makes the right decisions, simply put.

Whether it’s setting a solid screen, making the extra pass, hustling for a loose ball or just being in the right spot when a teammate looks to make a play, J.I. is reliable and extremely selfless.

Isaac’s teammates shot nearly 47 percent overall and 41 percent from 3-point distance during the regular season when he set an off-ball screen for a player who ended up taking the shot, per data. Terrence Ross, in particular, shot 44.4 percent from beyond the arc when Isaac set the off-ball pick.

Also impressive about the 6-foot-10, 210-pounder was that he averaged just one turnover per game. Steve Clifford-coached players tend to limit their miscues and Isaac was no exception.

For Isaac to take another major leap in his development, he’s going to have to expand his offensive repertoire. So far he’s shown he can spot up from downtown and pull up off the dribble. It remains to be seen how much more he can add to his arsenal by the time the Magic return for training camp in September.

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