ORLANDO – On Wednesday in Dallas, Jonathan Isaac, the Orlando Magic’s blossoming third-year forward, became the third NBA player since 1983-84 to record at least 13 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, six blocks and four steals in a single game. The only other players to accomplish this feat during this period were a pair of Houston Rockets legends, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson.
What made this achievement even more extraordinary was that he compiled those stats against one of the NBA’s premier power forwards, Kristaps Porzingis. The 7-foot-3 Latvian, largely because of Isaac’s stifling defense, was held to 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting from the field and 1-of-5 from 3-point range.
Orlando’s 22-year-old, arguably an early-season favorite for the Defensive Player of the Year Award, currently leads the NBA in blocked shots with 24 of them. He also has 13 steals, tied for eighth in the league with Russell Westbrook.
Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford noted earlier this week that Isaac’s individual defense has significantly improved from last year. More recognized for his help defense in 2018-19, the 6-foot-11, 234-pounder has virtually shut down every opponent he’s been matched up against so far this season.
Opponents, per Second Spectrum tracking data, are shooting 29.2 percent from the field when Isaac is the closest defender. Among players who have defended at least 70 shots so far this year, that ranks No. 1 in the league. In fact, only two players – Isaac and the Lakers’ Anthony Davis – are holding opponents below 30 percent shooting with at least that many shot attempts guarded.
Taking it one step further, opponents are shooting 26.5 percent when the Magic’s versatile forward contests the shot, truly an extraordinary statistic.
The million-dollar question on Isaac moving forward is whether his offense will ever catch up to his defense by the time he reaches the prime of his career. He has shown flashes in the early portion of this season that it could eventually happen. The key will be patience and continued hard work.
Another player, although obviously with far fewer opportunities because he plays less minutes, that is standing out defensively is Michael Carter-Williams, who played one of his best games since joining the Magic late last season during Orlando’s loss in Dallas. Opponents, per data, are shooting 33.3 percent when he is the closest defender this season. MCW, whom Clifford said when Orlando first signed him that his on-ball and pick-and-roll defense is, on a scale of 1-10, an 8 ½ or 9, blocked three shots and had two steals against the Mavs.
The Magic’s defense has been as advertised early on and there’s no reason to believe it will dissolve any time soon. This team was built to be elite defensively and they have delivered on that end of the floor. They have lost six of their first eight games mostly because of their poor outside shooting. Once that improves, and logic says it will, the Magic have the potential to be a top-tier team.