Isaac Confident He Will Become Great Player

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

ORLANDO – Whereas it might seem that frustration could overtake the psyche of Jonathan Isaac considering all the injuries that have threatened to mar his young NBA career, the Orlando Magic forward instead has a distinct calm about him amid the storm.

A series of unfortunate ankle injuries put a huge damper on his rookie season, limiting him to just 27 games. Then, just nine minutes into the first game of the preseason, another ankle twist knocked him out of action. Over that injury and starting to display some of the reasons why the Magic consider him to be a cornerstone piece for the future, Isaac’s run was stopped eight games into the regular season by yet another ankle sprain that knocked him out again.

Healthy again, Isaac made his return to game action on Wednesday when the Magic hosted the Philadelphia 76ers. Though his career has been filled with stops and starts because of the injuries, Isaac vowed that he is at peace with himself because he understands the fickle nature of injuries. He said that as long as he is doing everything in his power to make his body and game sound, he can’t worry about factors out of his control.

``That’s all that matters – if I’m doing everything in my power to stay ready, get ready and work hard,’’ Isaac said. ``I’m never going to hang my head or wonder, `Why me?’ I have faith that I’m going to be a great player in this league and I’m going to continue to work and go with the cards dealt to me.’’

The Magic’s medical staff placed Isaac on a minutes’ restriction on Wednesday and coach Steve Clifford said that will likely remain the case over the next couple of games. Accordingly, Clifford used Isaac in a reserve role on Wednesday. Still, he thinks the forward has the kind of skills to make a difference even in a reduced role.

``When he’s out there, to me, everything just makes sense,’’ Clifford said of Isaac’s versatility. ``You’re going to execute, he’s a good individual player and he’s a terrific team player. He helps everybody else play better just by being out there with the way that he plays.’’

The Magic feel that Isaac, the No. 6 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, has the size, lateral quickness and basketball smarts to be a dynamic two-way player. To do that, of course, Isaac needs to be upright and fully healthy. Both he and the team are hopeful that Wednesday’s return will be the start of a long run of staying healthy – not that Isaac is going to worry about factors that are beyond his control.

``It’s out of my control and I can’t control landing on somebody’s foot and rolling my ankle,’’ Isaac said. ``I can control this (rehab) portion with the training staff by working really hard to strengthen those lower extremities so it doesn’t happen again. So, if I just control what I can control, the rest is up to The Man above.’’

NEW BIG THREE: When the 76ers missed out on landing LeBron James and Paul George in free agency last summer, it briefly appeared as if they would try and coexist with budding superstars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and a host of role players around them. That mix helped Philadelphia win a playoff series last spring before being soundly whipped by Boston in the second round.

However, when the Sixers struggled at times and played inconsistently throughout the first month of the season, the franchise jumped at the chance to add another star player around Embiid and Simmons. Enter four-time all-star Jimmy Butler, who was acquired in a four-player deal with Minnesota on Monday and made his Philadelphia debut on Wednesday night in Orlando.

Undoubtedly, Butler is an elite player because of his abilities as a scorer and as a lock-down defender. Still, there are questions about how the 29-year-old Butler will be able to coexist with Embiid and Simmons, two players who are at their best with the basketball in their hands. Butler had several publicized confrontations with Dwayne Wade and Rajon Rondo in Chicago and he wanted out of Minnesota following his many clashes with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said it’s worth the risk to gamble on the mercurial Butler because of the added firepower that it gives the Sixers in the Eastern Conference arms race.

``We do (have more options now) and it’s not just like, `bail us out Joel (Embiid) and J.J. (Redick),’’ Brown said. ``That (reliance on two players) had a shelf life and historically that hasn’t been J.J.’s primary role. So, now we have more options and in NBA situations we have a person now that we can run a pick-and-roll with or an isolation with and analytically you have a good gut feel about it. We just haven’t had that and that hasn’t been our strength before. So, to that point, we have something now that we haven’t had before.’’

IWUNDU’S GROWTH: Isaac’s injury thrust fellow second-year forward Wes Iwundu into the starting lineup six games ago and he has responded quite well as he’s grown more comfortable with his expanded role. Iwundu had one of his finest games as a pro on Monday in Washington, scoring eight points, handing out four assists and drilling two 3-pointers.

Iwundu marvels at how far he’s come since last year when he was rookie splitting his time between the NBA and the G League and trying to tackle the transition from college basketball to the pros.

``This time last year the NBA was, in a sense, everywhere for me,’’ Iwundu said. ``I was still trying to figure a lot of things out. Playing in the G League and going through everything that we did last year, it’s helped me get to this point now. When I’m out there now, I’m a lot more comfortable, the game has slowed down and I’m finding my spots on the floor to help the team.

``It’s important that I keep playing my role and try to help this team keep piling up wins anyway that we can,’’ Iwundu added. ``We keep winning, everybody eats. We win and the whole team eats. In the end, we’re having success it’s a great feeling right now.’’

UP NEXT: Wednesday’s game wrapped up a particularly taxing stretch where the Magic played eight games in 13 nights. Now, the team will get Thursday and Friday to recover and practice up before hosting LeBron James and Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night.

The Lakers will be well-rested for the game as well as they play in Los Angeles on Wednesday night and then also have Thursday and Friday off. The game in Orlando is starting a three-game, six-night trip for the Lakers. After playing in Miami on Saturday, James will be making his return to Cleveland next Wednesday. The Akron native left the Cavaliers for a second time this summer to sign a free-agent deal with the Lakers.

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.