Jonathan Isaac Will Play for Lakeland Magic on Friday

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

By John Denton Feb. 21, 2018

ORLANDO – Jonathan Isaac had already gone through a two-hour practice with his Orlando Magic teammates – one head coach Frank Vogel dubbed as the rookie forward’s best of the season – when the real work began later on Wednesday afternoon.

Like a boxer facing multiple sparring partners, Isaac took turns going against three different Magic staffers who kept coming at him in waves. All while he was battling for position in the post, showing off his new shooting form from 3-point range and attempting free throws that doubled as more conditioning work, Magic assistant coach Chad Forcier barked orders and encouragement at him as he fought through some rather obvious fatigue.

Isaac, Orlando’s prized No. 6 pick in last June’s NBA Draft, is eager to get back into action with the Magic after missing most of the past three months because of an ankle injury. His extra work on Wednesday and his upcoming assignment to the Lakeland Magic of the G League are just further proof of how much the promising, 20-year-old forward will do to get back into NBA action as soon as possible.

``Today was tough (while) getting more work on conditioning and my fitness level. It was a good day, but it was tough,’’ Isaac said as sweat continued to trickle down his face. ``I definitely felt good (in practice), but there’s always room for improvement. But I do think it was a good day for me.’’

While the Magic (18-39) will get back to action on Thursday by facing the New York Knicks (23-36) at the Amway Center, Isaac will be away in Lakeland practicing with the team’s G League franchise. Then, on Friday, Isaac will see his first game action since Dec. 20 when he plays for the Lakeland Magic against the Maine Red Claws at the RP Funding Center.

Hall of Famer and Polk County native Tracy McGrady will be honored on Friday in Lakeland, but it’s Isaac who the Magic will have their attention affixed on in his limited minutes on the floor. The 6-foot-10, 222-pound forward has missed most of the season from the lingering effects of an ankle injury, but in recent practices he’s started to show his massive potential. Vogel said that it would be ``the understatement of the year’’ in just saying he can’t wait to get the dynamic rookie back on the floor – especially after the way he shined before and after practice on Wednesday.

``He looked great today, he really did, probably the best practice (for him) in some time,’’ an impressed Vogel said.
``He’s taller than everybody else,’’ Vogel continued, jokingly referring to Isaac’s 7-foot horizontal wingspan and a standing reach that exceeds nine feet. ``He has great defensive instincts, he really does. He’s in the passing lanes even when he’s not trying to be because he’s so long. He plays in a stance, he has great shot-fake discipline and stays down. He has the ability to switch onto bigger guys and his length around the basket changes shots. And on the perimeter, being both hard to beat off the bounce and contesting perimeter jump shots, he changes our defense. … The kid’s going to be a player.’’

One moment from Wednesday’s practice where Isaac ``tore the rim down one time,’’ particularly caught the attention of Vogel and other Magic players. Isaac used his expansive reach to bat away a pass and finish on the other end of the floor with authority.

It was familiar to early this season when Isaac played in the Magic’s first 13 games of the season and helped the team get off to a promising 8-4 start before suffering an ankle injury on Nov. 11 in Denver. He’s played just twice since then after the team shut him down so that he could focus on strengthening his body and rehabilitating his injured ankle.

Now, he’s eager to make more plays like the one he pulled off on Wednesday in practice. And he’s excited about getting some playing time in a game on Friday – even if it’s in the G League for now.

``They tried to swing it around to Mo (Speights) and I got my hands on it and I got a dunk on the other end,’’ Isaac said of his highlight-worthy play from practice. ``I don’t think I’ll ever lose the instinctual part of it but being back out here (in practice) has helped sharpened me up from when I wasn’t playing.’’

Isaac said he has no intention whatsoever of going to the G League and trying to prove himself all at once by forcing up a bunch of shots. He plans to stay within himself and do everything he can to fit in on a team where he has played only sparingly with a couple of Lakeland’s players. His focus will be on defense, conditioning and getting more repetitions at game speed. Eventually, though, he wants to do it at the NBA level with the Magic.

``I definitely understand why they want me to spend some time there (in Lakeland), but I’m just focused on getting back up here and getting back around these guys,’’ Isaac said.

Limited in what he could do in terms of explosive activity as his ankle healed, Isaac put his downtime to good use in re-tooling the form on his jump shot. He worked almost daily with Magic shooting consultant Dave Love to get more balance and leg drive under his release and the early results have been impressive in how Isaac has shot the ball from 3-point range.

``I’m working with Dave Love and he’s been pointing things out like my balance to make my shot more consistent,’’ Isaac said. ``It’s definitely improved from the time since I got here.’’

Isaac knows that it is extremely important for him to rejoin the Magic in game action so that he can continue the development that he enjoyed early in the season. He’s had to be patient and mostly watch as rookies Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Kyle Kouzma and Lauri Markkanen have shined for their respective teams.

Isaac knows that workouts like the one he had on Wednesday should only speed up his return to NBA action and make him a better player over the long arc of his career. Forcier, who worked as a development coach with the San Antonio Spurs prior to joining the Magic, has been credited for the immense growth made by star players such as Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard through the years. Isaac is hopeful that Forcier’s tactics – including him sending the three Magic staffers at him in waves as he was battling fatigue – will have a similar effect on him.

``Getting in here after practices and before practices is definitely going to help me get to where I want to get to,’’ Isaac said. ``Working with a guy like Chad, who has so much experience working with guys who have taken their games from not-so-great to greatness, helps. So, I’m definitely excited about working with him. Today was tough, but I got through it.’’

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