The Orlando Magic will throw their rookies into the fire next week at Summer League. But they will keep their expectations and roles fairly simple.
Jonathan Isaac was the biggest mystery before the NBA Draft.
The raw, athletic 19-year-old forward played a depressed role with the Florida State Seminoles last year as a freshman. But despite his meager averages, NBA scouts salivated over him. It was enough for the Orlando Magic to make him the sixth overall pick — and for Isaac to work out only for the teams in the top four.
Now that Jonathan Isaac is with the Orlando Magic and now that he has a couple professional practices under his belt in preparation for the Mountain Dew Orlando Pro Summer League tipping off Saturday, what stands out about the Magic’s new player?
The plays coach Chad Forcier thinks about are not the highlight-reel dunks or blocks Isaac is certainly capable of. It is not the length that fellow rookie Wesley Iwundu describes as “always there.”
For Forcier and the Magic for the next week, it is the simple things that stood out. For Forcier, the moment that stood out to him was the simple play Isaac made, setting a screen and popping. It is when he received the ball and did not like the shot and so moved the ball to the second side and initiated a secondary action.
For the Magic in Summer League, they want to keep things simple for their team and their young players, letting them grow at their own pace.
"“We’re not trying to force feed anything,” Magic assistant coach Chad Forcier said. “We’re not trying to feature anybody. We’re not trying to make anybody a star this week. We’re just trying to play the game the right way and play as a team. And hopefully play well as a team. We are going to compete hard and play hard. He’s going to learn at his own pace. Players have different results in their first Summer League. It usually doesn’t mean anything one way or the other.”"
Forcier said the team was not going to give him more than he could handle or overload him in the first week. The expectation for the first week is to play within the team’s concepts. The expectation for him is to defend and play unselfishly.
Isaac said the coaches have asked him to focus on learning and soaking in the experience and the coaching. The team has not put him on the ball much, at least through Thursday morning’s practice.
Forcier added Isaac was a joy to coach so far. He has been engaged in what the Magic are asking him to do and asking questions of coaches. Forcier described Isaac as a sponge, absorbing what the coaches are teaching him. He said Isaac has been unselfish, trying to make the right play all the time.
For his first exposure to the pro game, Isaac seems to have gotten off on the right foot.
"“For me, it’s getting these nerves out of the way,” Isaac said. “It is tough. This is so new and you can’t prepare for it. There is no preparation for a pro-level game. Just getting the nerves out, having some fun and doing what I can do.”"
Whether that translates to the court remains to be seen. Certainly, Orlando would like to see Isaac make those strides in the games next week. But the game will still be fast and physical for Isaac. He said the speed of the pro game is the biggest difference so far.
That is always the cliche with rookies.
Isaac is not the only focus. There are 17 other players on the Magic roster and several players the team wants to see play.
Chief among them is second-round pick Wesley Iwundu, a senior for the Kansas State Wildcats before the Magic took him with the 33rd pick in the Draft. Forcier noted his maturity is evident, but like so many of the young players, he is adjusting to the speed of the game and what the coaching staff is asking of him.
Iwundu said he is doing his part to be a versatile defensive player and to make other players better. Just as the Magic want, he is fitting into his role.
"“We all have roles to play,” Iwundu said. “I think executing my role is perfect. I don’t want to do too much. I don’t want to step outside the boundaries. I just want to be a good teammate and help guys get better each and every day.”"
Forcier has seemingly kept to that line too, trying to put attention on the good things his team does. His focus on building those good team habits.
Following the conclusion of Thursday morning’s practice, he singled out individual players for their effort and growth throughout the practice and the week. He praised his team’s effort and willingness to learn, even if the play was still a bit sloppy. It is Summer League, after all.
The player who seemingly has shown the most growth and fits what the Magic are hoping to teach and get out of this Summer League week is Tyler Harvey.
Harvey, the Magic’s 51st overall pick from the 2015 Draft, was the NCAA’s leading scorer coming out of Eastern Washington. As Forcier said after practice to the media, there is not a shot Harvey does not like. But, after some gentle prodding from coaches, they have seen Harvey become more of a playmaker and move the ball on offense if he does not have an open shot. It is clear he has improved from one summer to the next.
That kind of growth is encouraging and is the basis for what the Magic want to see from these players this week. As they try to showcase themselves, they can best do that by fitting into the team concept.
"“We want to play defense first and we want to compete hard,” Forcier told Orlando Magic Daily. “On the offensive side of the ball, you can’t predict how many times shots are going to go in or you will or won’t turn it over. But we’re going to hold ourselves to a standard that we’re going to come in every day nad try to play harder than the team we are playing against. We want to make sure we do a good job on the defensive boards. Overall, just try to do a grat job playing together. The open man rules. We want to make sure each guy is trying to make the right play. And trying to make somebody else look better than themselves.”"
Of course, the focus will remain on Isaac, the key player to the Magic’s rebuild. Summer League is no accurate predictor of eventual success for a player’s career. Everything will be new to Isaac. And the Magic are invested in seeing him grow in the next week as he gets his first exposure to professional basketball.
They are not going to put him in situations that are too uncomfortable or too beyond what they need for the team quite yet.
The pace at which Isaac learns and grows will likely determine how much more responsibility he will take on. For now, he is trying to take as much in as he can.
"“That’s the hardest thing of this whole thing,” Isaac told Orlando Magic Daily. “You want to be perfect. You want to get it right every single time. You don’t want to get stopped. You want to hear the coach say you got it right every single time. It’s hard to fathom I’m a rookie. All these guys have been through this before. They are getting stuff a lot quicker than me. It’s tough not to get frustrated.”"
The Magic will keep things relatively simple for their Summer League team as they try to teach and grow this young group — and the young players they want to focus on.
For them, the next week will be a crash course and introduction more than a master class.