Clifford Impressed With Isaac's Unselfishness

Magic's coach says this season is very much like a rookie year for Isaac
by John Denton

SACRAMENTO – There are games when 21-year-old Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac looks like a player who culled lots of experience from his first season in the NBA and finds ways to have an impact with his diverse skill set.

Then again, there are nights when the nearly 7-foot Isaac looks very much like an NBA rookie, which is understandable considering that much of his first season was marred by repeated ankle injuries.

Isaac even said there are times when he’s felt both like a second-year veteran and a rookie this season as he’s experienced new things now that he is a steady fixture in the Magic’s regular rotation. Isaac played just 27 games (with 10 starts) as a rookie and he’s already eclipsed those totals this season (33 games played and 22 starts).

``I’m still experiencing new things that I haven’t experienced before because of not being in there so much in my rookie year,’’ said Isaac, who was set to make his 23rd start on Monday in Sacramento. ``But I’d say it’s up and down with me. Sometimes, I do feel like a second-year player who has been through some of this before. Other times, when I’m in a new position on the floor or taking a shot that I haven’t taken before, I feel like a rookie all over again.’’

Isaac came into Monday averaging 8.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 0.8 steals, but his shooting has been a struggle when teams have dared him to put up 3-point tries. Isaac’s shooting percentage dipped to 41 percent overall and 28.4 percent from 3-point range following Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers when he made just one of seven shots and missed all four of his 3-point tries.

The Magic’s offensive rating with Isaac on the floor (103.5 points per 100 possessions) is better than when he’s off the floor (102.1), and head coach Steve Clifford likes that the forward is a willing passer.

``To me, this is his rookie year and he naturally plays for his teammates and he’s learning when to pick his spots offensively. I think’s doing a really good job with that,’’ Clifford said. ``He’s getting more and more comfortable with his shooting and also, he’s learning to use his size to get to places where he can get up over people and get the ball going toward the basket.

``There are a lot of guys in this league who are hungry to score, and he doesn’t play that way,’’ Clifford continued. ``He plays more as a decision-maker and a ball-mover. It’s not like he’s not aggressive, but he plays the game for his teammates. Some guys just want to score, and you need (scorers and playmakers), but he plays for others.’’

CLIFFORD SHOCKED BY THIBODEAU FIRING: Clifford was completely shocked to hear that Minnesota hired head coach Tom Thibodeau – a close friend and mentor of his for 25 years – on Sunday night on the heels of two straight victories.

Minnesota rallied to defeat Clifford’s Magic on Friday and then it routed the LeBron James-less Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. Not long after that victory, news broke that the Timberwolves were firing Thibodeau, who took the Wolves to the playoffs last season and had steadied the team and led it to a 15-12 mark since the controversial trading of mercurial guard Jimmy Butler in early November.

Clifford landed his first NBA job in 2000 as an advanced scout for the New York Knicks, and Thibodeau was already working there as an assistant under head coach Jeff Van Gundy. The two of them already had a friendship from years prior when Clifford was coaching at Boston University and Thibodeau worked at Harvard University. Within a year of starting in the NBA, Clifford was promoted to the Knicks staff as an assistant and he worked hand-in-hand with Thibodeau in putting together game plans and strategies. After spending four years together in New York, Thibodeau coached together three more seasons while with the Houston Rockets.

``You’re never surprised in this league, but I was shocked,’’ Clifford said. ``There are a lot of things where coaches get blamed for things that are totally out of your control and you get credit for things that you shouldn’t too, but this league is all about winning. They hadn’t made the playoffs in 14 years and to do what he did in that period of time … . I saw some of the stuff that the players said, and they were shocked. We landed (in Sacramento on Sunday) night and I couldn’t believe it.’’

BRISCOE BREATHING EASIER: Magic reserve point guard Isaiah Briscoe is breathing a bit easier now that his contract has been guaranteed for the remainder of the season. Briscoe’s contract had a clause in it that if he was still on the roster after 5 p.m. on Monday, his salary for the season would be fully guaranteed.

Several other NBA players, such as MarShon Brooks, Michael Carter-Williams, Patrick McCaw, James Nunnally, Lorenzo Brown and Ron Baker had similar clauses in their contracts and hit waivers after being cut by their respective teams.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Briscoe came into Monday averaging 2.1 points in 17 games this season. He has been used primarily as the team’s third point guard, but he did play as the backup last week against Charlotte when starter D.J. Augustin missed the game because of a sprained right ankle. In 27 minutes against the Hornets, Briscoe scored six points, grabbed two rebounds and handed out two assists. His career high in scoring (10 points) came against the Hornets in mop-up duty on Oct. 19.

UP NEXT: The Magic’s longest road trip of the season – six games spread over 11 nights – finally wraps up on Wednesday night when they play the Jazz in Utah.

Orlando won the first meeting of the season, rolling to a 96-89 victory in Mexico City thanks to a stellar second half of basketball.

The Magic’s long, winding road trip started in Charlotte and then took them to Chicago and Minnesota before hitting Los Angeles and Sacramento. At long last, they will wrap up the trip in Utah on Wednesday. It is the first time in the 30-year history of the franchise that the Magic have gone on a road trip where they will play games in all four U.S. time zones.

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.