Isaac Living Up to His 'Minister of Defense' Nickname

ORLANDO – It might seem somewhat odd now for Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac to talk about the game slowing down for him what with the absolutely rapid-fire flurry of activity that he hit the Milwaukee Bucks with on Saturday night.

Because the pace of the NBA game is coming at him at a more manageable rate now, Isaac insisted, he’s better equipped to take over the action in the jaw-dropping manner that he did again on Saturday.

In a little less than 9 minutes of third-quarter action against the East-leading Bucks, Isaac scored nine points, buried a 3-pointer, sank two free throws, grabbed three rebounds, stole three passes and stuffed 7-footer Brook Lopez at the rim for a blocked shot. Almost single-handedly, the nearly 7-foot Isaac vaulted a Magic team previously teetering on the verge of a blowout back into contention.

The Magic would go on to lose 111-100 to Milwaukee – largely because of the struggles of their second unit – but not before Isaac racked up a career-best seven steals to go with his 19 points, nine rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot. During the game, it appeared as if Isaac had tied Nick Anderson’s 1991 franchise record for steals in a game with eight, but statisticians later took away one of Isaac’s swipes and credited it to teammate Evan Fournier.

Still, that did little to take away from a night when Isaac was at his do-everything best for the Magic. Afterward, Isaac insisted that he is able to do so much now because he is better at reading and reacting to what’s happening before him in the midst of a chaotic NBA game.

``I think it’s taken for granted, but defense is 50 percent of the game,’’ Isaac said of giving that part of the action as much attention as he does while trying to score. ``There are schemes and all types of things that go into defense. The same way that you want to get comfortable on offense and learn how the NBA game works, you want to do the same on defense.

``I think that I’ve been farther ahead when it comes to my defense and I’m trying to get my offense to come along, too,’’ added Isaac, who is averaging career bests in scoring (12.3 points), rebounding (7.1), blocks (2.5), steals (1.5) and assists (1.4). ``But defensive-wise, I feel like this is my job and I’m at home.’’

That has to be bad news for other teams in the NBA as many of them have already been terrorized this season by Isaac, whose Magic (14-18) host the short-handed Atlanta Hawks (6-27) on Monday. Even more might be asked defensively of Isaac with fellow forward Aaron Gordon likely to miss time with a left Achilles’ tendon injury that he said has bothered him for a couple of weeks.

``It’s definitely something you don’t want to mess with, but I feel like I might have been playing on it too long already,’’ Gordon said after he was forced to leave Saturday’s game in Milwaukee early in the third quarter. ``So, now’s the time that I’ve got to get it taken care of so that I can get back healthy and help my team.

``It’s been bothering me awhile now, but it’s not getting much better with all the amount of games,’’ Gordon added. ``I’ve got to get it right and get it healthy. That’s going to help my game and it’s going to help our team. It will just be better for us in the long run for me to get healthy.’’

As for Isaac, he came into Sunday as the NBA’s leader in ``STOCKS’’ (steals + blocks) with 122. To put that figure into perspective, Los Angeles Lakers’ superstar forward Anthony Davis has the NBA’s second-most ``STOCKS’’ at 120.

Through his 30 games played, Isaac ranks third in the NBA in blocked shots (2.53) and he’s tied for 14thin steals per game (1.5) – meaning that only he and Detroit’s Andre Drummond rank in the NBA’s top 15 in both blocks and steals.

``It’s something that he takes pride in; he takes pride in his defense,’’ Magic point guard D.J. Augustin said of Isaac. ``A lot of guys in the NBA just want to score and get numbers, but his main goal and his main objective is to go out there and be great on defense every night and it shows.’’

Added Magic center Mo Bamba: ``I think the most impressive component of how he is blocking shots is it’s not all coming from one-on-one stops. He’s able to get blocks off help-side, he’s able to stop a guy from driving, move his feet, meet him at the rim and still block the shot. It’s all the makings for somebody who should be the Defensive Player of the Year.’’

To show how defensively dynamic Isaac has been this season, his 4.06 combined steals and blocks a game are nearing what NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal did during his rookie season with the Magic in 1992-93. That season, one in which O’Neal earned the NBA’s Rookie of the Year honors, the then-325-pound center averaged 4.27 ``STOCKS’’ over his 81 games played with the Magic. That first season in the NBA, O’Neal blocked a franchise record 286 shots and chipped in 60 steals.

For further perspective, former Magic center Dwight Howard never averaged a combined 4.0 blocks and steals a game over a full season – even though he is the only player in NBA history to win the Defensive Player of the Year award three seasons in a row (2008-10).

Isaac was somewhat taken aback to learn that he leads the NBA in ``STOCKS’’ and that he is performing now at a level that only O’Neal has before in Magic history. However, he said what he’s done thus far is just the product of his maturity as a player and the hard work that he’s put in.

``For me, it’s all about the growth and all about the day-to-day of wanting to get better,’’ said Isaac, who spent his past two summers in Orlando in an effort to grow his game and better his body. ``I think it’s great that I’m able to be in the same company with those guys.’’

Isaac’s growth on the defensive end has allowed Orlando to climb to third in the NBA in blocked shots per game (6.6) and seventh in steals (8.4). Already, they have registered double digits in rebounds and steals in the same game four times – the most in the 31-year history of the franchise.

The Magic are allowing the league’s third-fewest points per game (104.5), but they have only recently started to resemble last season’s dominant defensive unit with stellar showings against the Chicago Bulls and Philadelphia 76ers. For the season, Orlando is 12thin overall defensive rating (106.6 points allowed per 100 possessions), 15thin field goal percentage allowed (45.6 percent) and 23rdin 3-point percentage allowed (36.8 percent).

``Listen, if we get right and play like we’ve played (recently against Chicago and Philadelphia), then we’re going to beat a lot of teams,’’ Magic coach Steve Clifford said of his team’s defensive potential. ``We have really good defensive personnel. We just haven’t played as well as we wanted to this point.’’

At the top of that defensive personnel, of course, is the long-armed and active Isaac. He’s swatted at least one shot in 29 of the 30 games that he’s played in with the exception being last week’s game in Denver when he had to leave in the second half because of back and hamstring pain. He’s had at least one steal in 20 of 30 games and two-or-more steals 11 times. Already this season, Isaac has set new career highs in blocks (six at Dallas on Nov. 6), steals (the seven in Milwaukee on Saturday), points (25 at Indiana on Nov. 23) and rebounds (13 at Toronto on Nov. 20).

``I think (getting steals) is the same thing that helps me get blocks,’’ Isaac said. ``I just try to time things and guess what’s going to happen and it has worked out.’’

Isaac’s teammates feel that he is just getting started as dominant defender.

``Some of the stuff that he’s doing defensively is incredible,’’ Gordon said of Isaac. ``He’s a tenacious defender and he’s only going to get better, too.’’

Augustin, agreed, adding: ``He’s a young guy, he has a long career ahead of him and he’ll get that (Defensive Player of the Year award) eventually.’’

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