Jonathan Isaac Putting in Work From the Sidelines

by John Denton

ORLANDO – Trying to do everything he and his staff can to continue to learning process for injured forward Jonathan Isaac, Orlando Magic head coach Steve Clifford is having the talented third-year pro report back to him following games about nuances he notices in game plans, personnel and strategy.

Isaac, 22, has been out since Jan. 1 when he suffered a posterior lateral corner injury and a medial bone contusion in his left knee. There’s an outside chance that Isaac could play again this season, but the likelihood is that he will be out for the remainder of the season.

At the time of his injury, Isaac was one of just two players in the NBA to rank in the league’s top 15 in blocked shots and steals. In 32 games (all starts), Isaac averaged 12 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.44 blocks and 1.56 steals in 29.7 minutes a night. This season alone, he set new career highs for points (25 at Indiana on Nov. 23), rebounds (13 at Toronto on Nov. 20), steals (seven at Milwaukee on Dec. 28) and blocked shots (six at Dallas on Nov. 6).

Isaac is back with the team after shedding the crutches, the cast and bulky brace he was forced to wear in the six weeks following the injury. He recently resumed some light shooting drills while also sitting in on team meetings.

In an effort to keep Isaac locked in on the games and feel a part of the team, Clifford and assistant coach Pat Delany are having him keep notes on what he sees during game action. They then meet with Isaac to discuss what he learned while looking on from afar.

``We’re just doing a similar thing where he evaluates the game. And, like (on Tuesday), Pat Delany and I met with him in my (hotel) room,’’ Clifford said. ``We did similar things – personnel (groupings), evaluate the game, and he gives us his opinion of what was good and what was bad. It just, to me, it keeps him engaged.’’

Clifford used a similar tactic last season with center Mo Bamba, who missed the final 2½ months of his rookie season with a stress fracture in his left shin. Clifford joked about Isaac’s abilities as an ``assistant coach’’ for the Magic.

``He’s on it,’’ Clifford said. ``I said something during the (team’s) film session, and he started shaking his head (in agreement). I told him, `It took a year-and-a-half, but you finally agree with something I said.’’

FOURNIER’S HAPPINESS: Evan Fournier is easily one of the Magic’s most ferocious competitors – to the point that he rarely ever fraternizes with opponents before or after games. However, on Wednesday in Atlanta, Fournier made an exception to satisfy a boyhood dream.

With the Magic facing 43-year-old guard/forward Vince Carter for the final time in his 22-year NBA career, Fournier had ball boys in Atlanta go over to the Hawks’ dressing room and ask Carter for a pair of signed shoes on his behalf. Carter, a native of Daytona Beach, has announced his plans to retire at the end of the season.

Not long after Wednesday night’s game, Fournier was presented with the black and gold Nikes that Carter personalized to the Magic guard. Fournier said it is the first piece of NBA autographed memorabilia he has ever gotten from a foe.

``It’s really hard to put into words what this means,’’ said Fournier, a native of France who grew up idolizing Carter, who is the first player in league history to appear in games in four different decades. ``When you first get drafted coming from Europe, there are certain guys where you are like, `Wow, I’m playing against him!’ You’re not impressed, but it makes you realize that you are in the NBA.

``Vince was one of those guys,’’ Fournier added. ``It was like LeBron (James), Kobe (Bryant), Dirk (Nowitzki) and Vince. His longevity is incredible, and he has set a great example for all of us.’’

GORDON’S PLAYMAKING ABILITIES: While there has been plenty of attention of late on Aaron Gordon’s increased production in terms of scoring and rebounding, the 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward has also made major strides in becoming a better playmaker for the Magic.

Gordon came into Friday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves averaging 5.4 assists over his previous nine games. He had a season-high nine assists on Feb. 12 against Detroit, handed out another seven assists last week against Dallas and dished four and six assists in road win over Brooklyn and Atlanta earlier in the week.

Gordon’s per game average for assists for the season (3.3) is a full assist higher than his career average (2.3). Gordon’s rise as a playmaker actually started last season when he posted a career-best 3.7 assists per game over 78 games.

``It adds another dimension to our team,’’ Clifford said. ``As we go forward, you have to constantly look for different ways during a season that you can add to your offense. His passing out of the post against the zone and in pick-and-rolls has gotten better and better and we’re trying to take more advantage of it.’’

Gordon has played the best sustained basketball of his career of late, averaging 19.9 points, 9.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.3 steals while shooting 48.3 percent overall and 44.4 percent from 3-point range in the Magic’s 10 games prior to Friday.

UP NEXT: The Magic will be back in action on Saturday night, facing the Spurs in San Antonio, while also trying to end a couple of troubling skids.

Orlando is just 1-8 on the second night of back-to-backs. The only win this season on the second night of a back-to-back was on Dec. 4 against Phoenix – a 128-114 victory that came when Gordon made 13 of 15 shots and scored a season-best 32 points.

Another odd statistic for the Magic is this: They are 0-8 this season on Saturday nights. Four of those losses have come on the road and three of them have been on the second night of back-to-backs.

Whereas the Magic will likely be weary from playing on Friday and travelling from Florida to Texas, San Antonio should be rested from being off from games on Thursday and Friday. In 10 of Orlando’s 11 back-to-backs this season, their opponent will have had a night of rest while the Magic will be playing for a second consecutive night. Six times this season, the Magic’s opponent will have had at least two nights off to rest up for them.

Spurs’ all-star center/power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (right shoulder soreness) has already been ruled as out for Saturday’s game versus Orlando.

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.

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