By Josh Cohen Feb. 23, 2018
LAKELAND, Fla. – Lakeland Magic fans didn’t have to wait very long to get a close-up view of Jonathan Isaac and what makes him such an intriguing young player.
Back in action Friday while on a G League assignment after missing Orlando’s last 23 games and 40 of the last 43 contests due to an ankle injury, Isaac’s first 30 seconds was a nourishing reminder of why he was chosen sixth overall in last June’s draft and why he can be a difference-maker down the road.
First, after Lakeland’s opponent, the Maine Red Claws, misfired on their first shot attempt, Isaac skied high and used his incredible length to collect the rebound. Then, with his long strides and sprightliness, the 6-foot-11 versatile rookie stormed down the floor, took his man off the dribble and accelerated into the paint. There, he kept his balance, got the closest defender out of position by using some nifty footwork and finished the play with a layup.
To Magic fans’ delight, there were more bright spots throughout the night from Isaac, who played a total of 13 minutes and finished with six points, three rebounds, one block and one steal in Lakeland’s 102-80 victory. An ideal alley-oop target because of his supreme athleticism and agility, Isaac dashed toward the basket early in the second quarter, caught the lob pass with one hand, absorbed the contact and earned the hoop and harm.
“I tried to get into a flow as much as I could with the minute restriction,” Isaac said. “I was just trying to play my game, trying to be aggressive. T-Mac (who was honored during the game) told me I needed to be more aggressive. I definitely felt more comfortable. That’s me though. That’s me just being me.”
“No pain, no discomfort,” he added about how he felt physically throughout the night.
As Isaac acknowledged, the ride down I-4 to get more reps and improve his conditioning is a major boost to his growth. One of the main reasons the Magic decided to relocate their G League affiliate to nearby Lakeland was to augment player development and make it more feasible for young players, such as Isaac, to transport back and forth when necessary.
This decision is certainly paying off. Aside from Isaac, several of the Magic’s other young players have benefited from having the G League team close by. Wes Iwundu and Khem Birch, who have been getting big minutes in recent weeks with the parent club, spent most of the early portion of this season in Lakeland.
The noticeable improvement Isaac has seen first-hand from his fellow rookie teammates when they returned from their G League stint is another reason why he is excited to be in Lakeland for this assignment.
Isaac will suit up for Lakeland again on Saturday when the Magic host the Grand Rapids Drive at 7 p.m. The plan is for Isaac, who shot 2-of-6 from the field and 2-of-5 from the free throw line, to get more playing time in hopes he will begin to shake off some of the inevitable rust that comes from not playing for a lengthy period of time.
“Tomorrow we have more flexibility (with his minutes),” Lakeland Head Coach Stan Heath said. “We talked about maybe using him a little bit more in the same quarter like give him four or five minutes (each quarter).”
“It’s a perfect example for what it’s about,” he added about the value and purpose of the G League. “That’s the conversation we had from the very beginning. Obviously, we want to win games but it’s about developing players, it’s about utilizing the closeness, the proximity of guys being able to go back and forth when necessary.”