ORLANDO — When you take a 19-year-old who looks like a spare rib that’s already been gnawed to the bone with the No. 6 pick in the draft, you’re mostly holding your breath and hoping for the best down the line.
But first things first, which would be Magic rookie Jonathan Isaac trying to catch his own breath before training camp and the long grind of the NBA season arrive.
Through three games at the Orlando Summer League, the 6-10 Isaac has shown flashes of the things he can become along with the fundamental physical parts that need work.
One moment Isaac is bodying up with a stronger opponent to block a shot at one end of the court and then burying a sweet 3-pointer at the other. He can use his speed and long arms to close out on a jump shooter and fill the lane on a fast break to finish with a dunk.
However, the reed-thin runner has yet to make it through a first quarter without looking gassed and asking to come out of the game. He was limited to 12 minutes Monday after tweaking his left hip on a drive to the basket against two defenders in a loss to the Mavericks.
Isaac had been off to a solid start, rolling to the basket to catch passes and finish for eight points, two rebounds, two blocked shots and one steal in the first 6 1/2 minutes. In three games, he’s shot 12-for-27, averaging 10.3 points, eight rebounds and 1.7 block in just 15 minute per game.
“We’re absolutely thrilled,” said Magic summer league coach Chad Forcier. “He’s met all the expectations, actually exceeded the expectations. He got off to a great start today and it was disappointing that he got the bump. We wanted to be smart about it, but it would have been nice to watch him keep going today in terms of the start that he got off to.”
After showing a serious case of nerves in his first game on Saturday, Isaac has relaxed and appeared more comfortable each day. He’s shown quick feet on defense and an ability to reach and block shots with either hand.
“I don’t have any bookmarks (of favorite plays) yet from the week, but I’m really happy with how coachable he is,” Forcier said. “He listens. He’s got a great personality. He interacts with his teammates. He’s great at picking things up that we put on the floor brand new. He’s great at picking things up on the board and taking them out of a timeout. And he really seems to care about defense.”
Isaac quite obviously needs to add weight and muscle to his frame. While he doesn’t back down from contact or going into crowds, he can be outmuscled for rebounds or loose balls. In his one season of college ball at Florida State, there were times when he seemed to willingly take a backseat to teammates Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes.
Here Isaac seems to have embraced his role as the focus of the Magic summer league team while getting adjusted to the difference in the NBA style of play.
“Just how physical it is,” Isaac said. “A lot of times you’re getting hit and grabbed and there’s no calls, and you’ve just to fight through it. With every game it just gets more and more comfortable, more and more relaxed.”
The buzzword on draft night about Isaac was “project,” which after five years of wallowing near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, might not be something Magic fans want to hear.
“I’ve been doing this a long time and I have no way of assessing that,” Forcier said. “I’ve never been able to measure that. Every player is a unique human being and so much of it has to do with the environment they’re in and the circumstances that they’re handed. It’s not always just on the individual player. That’s the best thing I can tell you. There’s not very many ready-made 19-year-olds that come into this league and go right to work. So I think he’s no different than the majority of his peers.”
Due to his slight frame, his ability to guard players on the wing and his age, Isaac has been compared to Brandon Ingram. But no matter what he becomes, the Magic are more than happy with the sneak peak he’s provided.
“I really do try to stay away from comparisons,” Forcier said. “Honestly, no one quickly comes to mind. Like I said, we’re just excited to have this young man on our team. We’re thrilled with what we’ve seen this week. We think we have a great opportunity to help him move forward in his career and it will be fun to see how he just evolves on his own and how he grows and who he ends up showing us who he is and how he just creates his own path. We’re looking forward to being a part of that.”
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