Jonathan Isaac Can Find Motivation Through Aaron Gordon's Journey

By John Denton
Jan. 1, 2018

BROOKLYN – Understandably, Orlando Magic rookie Jonathan Isaac is disappointed that his rookie season in the NBA has been interrupted by an injury that could keep him out of action for an extended period of time.

But if he needs any motivation or encouragement for how he can successfully recover from the setback all he need do is look across the locker room at fellow forward Aaron Gordon.

Isaac, the No. 6 pick of last June’s NBA Draft, got off to a promising start for the Magic before spraining his ankle on Nov. 11. The injury has caused him to miss 23 games and it led the Magic to rule him out indefinitely so that he can focus on his rehabilitation and recovery.

Three years earlier, when Gordon was a prized rookie for the Magic, he fractured a bone in the outside of his left foot early in the 2014-15 season and the subsequent surgery kept him out of action for eight weeks. Gordon was able to finish his first season with a flurry and he’s made steady improvement each of his four seasons in the NBA. He came into Monday’s game in Brooklyn first on the Magic in scoring (18.9 ppg.) while also averaging career highs in rebounding (7.9 rpg.), assists (2.1 apg.), steals (0.9 spg.), field goal percentage (49.9 percent) and 3-pointer accuracy (41.3 percent).

Gordon said he’s talked to Isaac about taking his time with his recovery and only returning when his body is completely healthy.

``Be patient because your body doesn’t lie and you’ve got to listen to your body,’’ Gordon said of his conversations with Isaac. ``If his body says he’s not good to go, then he’s not good to go. I want him to have a long, healthy career, but at the same time I know he wants to help us. But he’s not going to help us if he’s not 100 percent. So, time your time because you’ve got a long way to go (in his career).’’

UCF! UCF! UCF!: Orlando’s hometown college football team, the University of Central Florida, capped a 13-0 season on Monday by rallying to defeat Auburn 34-27 in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. In the process, the Knights turned Magic coach Frank Vogel into a fan of the team.

Vogel was able to watch some of Monday’s game – one in which UCF came back from a seven-point deficit in the second-half and held on at the end to preserve its undefeated record.

Like thousands of Knights’ fans, Vogel feels UCF should have gotten a shot to play for college football’s national championship.

``I’m extremely happy for them, but unfortunately, I didn’t get to watch them (in person) all season,’’ said Vogel, a passionate football fan in his downtime. ``They had a special season and congrats to them. I’d like to see them have a chance to be involved in the national championship conversation. You win all your games, you can’t do any better than that.’’

Then, Vogel, who was a part of the University of Kentucky’s 1996 National Championship basketball squad, added this: ``In college basketball, you’d get a chance.’’

GUSHING ABOUT GORDON: Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson had a front-row seat on Oct. 24 when Gordon torched his Nets for a career-best 41 points, including the game-winning 3-point shot on the final minute.

When Atkinson turned on the game footage of the Magic and Miami Heat from Saturday, he saw Gordon once again going off offensively, scoring 39 points and making another five 3-pointers.

On Monday, he raved about the incredible growth that the Magic’s fourth-year forward has made on the offensive end of the floor.
``He is a unique player in this league. He’s like a wing with a (power forward’s) body,’’ Atkinson said. ``He’s fast, he plays extremely hard and he’s obviously shooting the heck out of the ball. Credit him for working on that shot because it’s given him a whole different weapon.

``He’s been out for a while, so his energy level is like those video games where you have your full juice or whatever – he’s on full,’’ Atkinson added. ``It’s quite impressive to watch how he gets out on the break and how fast he is. He’s a big man who plays like a wing. He comes off pin-downs, comes off screens and gets out in transition. He’s turned himself into some player.’’

IMPROVING YOUNGSTERS: Vogel knows his team will ultimately be judged on wins and losses, but he said that no one can deny that Orlando’s young players haven’t made big individual strides this season.

The strides made by Gordon have been the most obvious and he could work his way into the running for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award if the Magic can make a playoff push. Others, such as Elfrid Payton and Mario Hezonja, have come on of late to help the Magic.

Payton came into Monday having averaged 15.3 points, 6.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds – a stretch that included a 30-point performance against Washington and one against Detroit in which he compiled 19 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

Hezonja, the No. 5 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, started to blossom with more consistent minutes after the Magic suffered a bevy of injuries. He recently had a stretch of five consecutive games in which he scored double-digit points – the first such streak of his career – and came into Monday averaging 11.9 points and 4.4 rebounds while shooting 47.9 percent from the floor over the past 10 games. Included in that stretch was a career night in Detroit on Dec. 17 when Hezonja made eight 3-pointers and scored a career-best 28 points.

``We’re still not winning at the rate that we want to win at, but our young guys are improving and getting better. That’s a very encouraging thing,’’ Vogel said. ``And I’m not even talking about our really young guys – Wesley (Iwundu) and (Isaac) have a long way to go – but Mario has played well of late and has played the best basketball of his career; Aaron, obviously, is having a career year, and Elfrid is improving, too.’’

Vogel said he is hopeful that those individual improvements ultimately add up and equal a great deal of success for the Magic as a whole.
``I look at winning,’’ Vogel said. ``I’m unhappy with where we’re at in terms of the outcomes that we’re getting, but you still have to keep a perspective on the totality of the (coaching) job. Our guys are improving.’’

UP NEXT: Orlando will be back at the Amway Center on Wednesday to face the high-scoring Houston Rockets. Whether or not the Rockets – 148-142 double-overtime winners against the Lakers on Sunday – will have superstar guard James Harden remains to be seen. Harden, arguably the NBA’s leading candidate to win the NBA’s MVP award, strained his right hamstring on a drive to the hoop in the fourth quarter. He did not return to the game, but still finished with 40 points and 11 assists.

After that game, the Magic will be off until Saturday when they host LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Amway Center.

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.