Magic Veterans Helping Isaac Get Ready for Important Offseason

by John Denton

NEW YORK – One by one, Orlando Magic veterans have approached rookie Jonathan Isaac over the past couple of weeks, stressing to him the importance of growing his game in between this, his rookie season, and when he returns for his second year in the NBA.

To his credit, Isaac is working to get a jump on that growth that he’s expected to make by finishing this first pro season with a flurry.

``(Advice given by Shelvin Mack) is the same thing as with (Aaron Gordon), (Bismack Byombo) and (Nikola Vucevic) and those other guys – they’ve talked to me about how this summer is really important for me,’’ Isaac said after scoring a career-best 15 points on Sunday night in Atlanta against the Hawks. ``I know that I’ve got to add things to my game and be a more consistent, catch-and-shoot player. So, I definitely understand the value of this summer and what I have to do.’’

Orlando, which plays the Knicks in New York on Tuesday night, has been mired in a major offensive slump of late, but it had no effect on the confidence of the 6-foot-11, 222-pound Isaac on Sunday. At the request of his teammates and the demands of his coaches, Isaac confidently took aim at six 3-point shots and buried three of them. By the early stages of the third quarter, he had already eclipsed his previous career high of 11 points, which had been set back in November a night before he suffered the ankle injury that would interrupt his season.

Isaac was so impactful on Sunday that the Magic were a plus-seven on the scoreboard in his 20 minutes on the floor and a minus-13 in the 28 minutes he was out because he is still under a minutes’ restriction. Magic head coach Frank Vogel longs for the day when there are no restrictions – with Isaac’s minutes or his willingness to let fly on open looks from the perimeter.

``We’re making him (take open threes) and we’re doing an appropriate job of identifying for him shot recognition from the 3-point line,’’ Vogel said. ``He’s stepping up and shooting them with confidence.

``As he continues to get his legs under him, he keeps playing well,’’ Vogel continued. ``He’s not a timid player. He can really score the ball for someone his age. He hasn’t really had a lot of time to get his legs under him, but he’s been great.’’

Isaac’s season has been filled with more stops and starts than Orlando’s Interstate 4 traffic what with the numerous ankle and foot troubles he’s had. He played a major role in the Magic’s encouraging 8-4 start before injuring his ankle on Nov. 11 in Denver. Because of recurring pain, he played only sparingly over the next 3 ½ months to stall his development. Then, just as Isaac was back on the floor and gaining momentum, a mild foot strain knocked him out of action again.

On Sunday, another scare for Isaac came late in the game when he cut hard through the lane and stepped on the foot of a foe, causing his ankle to grotesquely twist. He stayed down for several seconds before getting to his feet, twice rubbing his ankle at the foul line and continuing to play.

Said Isaac, following a postgame plunge in an ice bath to manage the swelling in his ankle: ``Everything was going through my head, like, `Oh no, not again.’ But I was able to get up and get back down the court, so I was all good.’’

Following his best offensive night as a pro, Isaac debunked the notion that he is far behind where he should be right now because of all the injuries that have walloped his rail-thin body. He stressed that games such as Sunday’s show that he is still making strides each time he hits the floor.

``I’d say I paid really, really close attention while I was out and I just landed back in stride and I’ve been able to jump back in defensively, make shots and help the team offensively as well,’’ said Isaac, who has played in 27 games (with 10 starts) while averaging 5.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks a game. ``So, I wouldn’t say that I feel like I’m behind at all.’’

In an effort to spur future growth, Vogel and the Magic have started Isaac alongside of Gordon in the past two games. Ultimately, the Magic see the two forwards as being interchangeable defensively because of each’s ability to defend multiple positions. Gordon, 22, feels that the 20-year-old Isaac is coming along nicely as a rookie.

``It’s great to see J.I. out there on the floor and finding a comfort level,’’ Gordon said. ``He’s going to be a helluva player in this league. We’ve got a lot of talent on this team and we’ve got to figure out a way to put it all together out there.’’

Isaac knows there will be much attention on him in the summer ahead to improve his game and his body so that he can be a dynamic player next season. He’s already bulked up from 211 to 222 pounds and he feels that his ideal playing weight will ultimately be around 230 pounds. With that added strength, he hopes to become a player who can finish in traffic around the rim and hold his position better on the defensive end.

For now, though, he’s treating each of Orlando’s remaining six games as measuring sticks with which he can gauge his progress. A critically important summer lies ahead, for sure, and Isaac wants to head into that stretch with some momentum gained down the stretch of this regular season.

``That would be great for me if I continue to play at the pace that I am now,’’ he said. ``If I can go into the summer in stride with no injuries or anything like that, I feel like that would be good momentum for me.’’

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.


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