Film Room: Magic Forwards Already Terrific Defensive Tandem

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO – The defensive potential of Orlando’s promising pair of 20-year-olds, Jonathan Isaac and Mohamed Bamba, was, by and large, the Magic’s top storyline during the offseason. With how dominant they were together on that end of the floor during summer league, why shouldn’t it have been?

What makes this narrative even more fascinating, though, is that the Magic now have multiple defensive-oriented tag teams, which should help bolster the team’s long-term outlook on that side of the court.

Before Bamba and his 7-foot-10 wingspan arrived, the Magic already featured one of the league’s elite young defensive duos, Isaac and Aaron Gordon. Although their time on the court together was limited due to injuries last season, that didn’t prevent the two from jelling.

Just how much better were the Magic defensively in 2017-18 when they were on the floor at the same time? Perhaps these stats will help answer that question.

When Isaac and Gordon were logging minutes simultaneously, the Magic held their opponent to 43.8 percent shooting from the field. That was among the best marks among all Magic pairs who were on the court together for at least 200 defensive possessions.

Interestingly, when Gordon and Isaac were joined by Wes Iwundu on the court, opponents shot just 35.1 percent from the floor and 26.3 percent from 3-point range.

It’s a struggle to find any trio throughout the league with this kind of defensive success. Although the number of possessions is significantly greater in this instance, opponents shot 45.3 percent against the Warriors in the regular season when Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant were registering concurrent minutes.

Something else that really stands out when Gordon and Isaac were in the frontcourt together is how infrequent it was for opponents to attack the basket. Only 76 of the 224 shots attempted were layups, with the average shot distance being 15.3 feet from the hoop.

One game in particular from last season really highlighted just how well the two mesh defensively. With A.G. and Isaac patrolling the lanes and swarming the perimeter, the Magic held the Bulls to 2-of-22 shooting (nine percent) in the third quarter on March 30 at Amway Center.

What’s also noteworthy about that performance is that the Magic went big for most of that stretch, with Nikola Vucevic at center and Isaac and Gordon at the forward spots. Vucevic, a smart defender who avoids fouls, clicked with these two, not just in that contest but whenever they teamed up throughout the season.

For Orlando to transform into one of the premier defensive teams in the league, though, it’s going to take the entire squad to trust each other on that side of the floor.

Here’s a look at a few defensive possessions with Gordon and Isaac making an impact:

Note: The contents of this feature have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic and do not reflect the opinions of the Magic’s Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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