SALT LAKE CITY – Rare is it that young players idolize others for blocking shots, altering shots and causing general chaos for opposing teams, but Orlando Magic rookie Jonathan Isaac looks to Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert as someone he could potentially model his game after for years to come.
Isaac, 20, has grown to 6-foot-11 in height, has a 7-foot-2 wingspan and a 9-foot-4 standing reach. Gobert, 25, has used his 7-foot-1 height and 7-foot-9 wingspan to become one of the NBA’s most feared defenders.
Gobert missed a major chunk of the season because of a knee injury, otherwise his 2.35 blocks a game would rank second in the NBA. Utah’s 15-4 stretch coincides with the return of Gobert, who has averaged 14.7 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks over the last 19 games.
Isaac also missed a major chunk of the season – with an ankle injury – but he’s been quite impressive defensively in his 17 games thus far. Despite playing just 19 minutes a game, Isaac has blocked 1.12 blocks a game, which would rank second among rookies if he had played enough games to qualify. In two games last weekend, Isaac blocked four shots and changed a dozen more with his towering wingspan.
Gobert is one of the players who Isaac looks at to model his game after. The one major difference is that Isaac can potentially be a shutdown defender both on the wing and as a rim protector from the weak side.
``Defensively, he impacts the game so much,’’ Isaac said of Gobert. ``When players think that they have an angle or think they have a shot, they second-guess themselves and it creates confusion and turnovers and things like that without him even blocking a shot or getting a steal. He’s a great asset to any team and that’s what I want to be.’’
MILESTONE AHEAD FOR VOGEL: The Magic’s wins against Detroit and Memphis over the weekend got their head coach, Frank Vogel, on the cusp of a major milestone.
Vogel entered Monday’s game against Utah at 299-277 in his eight-year coaching career, meaning he needs just one more victory for 300. In the history of the NBA, only 66 coaches have ever won 300 games.
Vogel had five winning seasons in his six years as a head coach in Indiana from 2011-16, including 56 victories in 2013-14. He twice led the Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals and has 31 playoff victories, which ranks 31st in NBA history.
Vogel has yet to find similar success in Orlando, going 29-53 last season and 20-43 heading into Monday’s game. He said he feels honored to be on the cusp on moving into the 300-victory club.
``It reminds me of the success that we’ve had and the success that I hope we have here (with the Magic),’’ Vogel said. ``It doesn’t feel all that great having the season that we’re having. But, certainly, just to have the opportunity to be a head coach in this league is something that I cherish and hopefully I get that (300th victory) tonight. I was not aware of that.’’
FRENCH FRIENDSHIP: As two of France’s best young basketball players a decade ago, Magic guard Evan Fournier and Gobert have known each other since their early teens. And there was a time when the 6-foot-7 Fournier not only towered over the now 7-foot-1 Gobert, but he was also thought to be the much better NBA prospect.
``(Nicolas) Batum and Tony (Parker) are a little older than us, but Rudy and I have known each other before high school and middle school and we have good chemistry,’’ Fournier said. ``(Gobert) came back one year and he had a (deep) voice and it was crazy how tall he had gotten. We all knew that Rudy was going to be tall because his father is like 7-1, but it happened so fast. In one year, he went from a shooting guard to a center. With the French National Team 18s, we were roommates and I just remember Rudy being so long (in stature). It was fun growing up together.’’
Gobert hosted Fournier and Magic center Nikola Vucevic – a fellow French speaker from his time growing up in Switzerland – at his mountainside home near Salt Lake City. They joked about how far Gobert has come as a player.
``He sucked, man, he was not good at all,’’ Fournier said of a 13-year-old Gobert. ``But the thing about Rudy is that he always had confidence in himself, knew he was going to be long and athletic and he kept working and it paid off for him. It worked out well for him.’’
UP NEXT: Orlando’s 10-day, five-game road trip heads to Los Angeles where the Magic will face the torrid Lakers on Wednesday. L.A. went into Monday’s home game against the Portland Trail Blazers having won five games in a row after wiping out a 21-point deficit and winning in San Antonio on Saturday.
Orlando demolished the Lakers 127-105 on Jan. 31 thanks to a hot-shooting third quarter in which it drilled a franchise record nine 3-pointers. Veteran center Marreese Speights scored 21 points in that game.
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