The Orlando Magic had some nerves to work off to begin its Summer League schedule. But once they did, they began to show what kind of talent the group has.
Jonathan Isaac had moments in the early stages of his first professional game. He met Jarnell Stokes at the rim to challenge a shot and protect the rim on one of his first possessions, blocking it cleanly and displaying that legendary length. He scored his first points on a rotation pass to the top of the key that found him wide open for three. His release seemed in slow motion as he snapped in his first professional points.
But largely Jonathan Isaac, and the rest of the Orlando Magic, seemed a bit nervous in this opener. Isaac’s stat line was relatively unimpressive — seven points, eight rebounds and 2-for-10 shooting. And he did not make too many highlights on his own.
In fact, his biggest highlight may have come in the first quarter when he sent Twitter ablaze by taking himself out of the game. Having just signed his contract 20 minutes before the Magic tipped off, there was a lot of emotion wrapped up in the day. After hitting his first shot, Isaac said he could not breathe and needed to exit the game.
If the 19-year-old rookie had any nerves, Magic assistant coach Chad Forcier said he did not notice it. When the team got that nervous energy out, they played a fine game, erasing a 20-point deficit to tie the game at 69 midway through the fourth quarter.
The Indiana Pacers ended on a 16-5 run the rest of the way and won 85-74 on Saturday at the Amway Center. But the Magic seemed pleased with the effort and intensity they brought. Summer League is not completely about results, after all.
And the Magic shook out the nervous energy to put in a solid effort. Specifically the Magic’s sixth overall pick.
"“He seemed to have a level of poise I didn’t expect that he would have,” Forcier said. “I’m sure he had nerves flowing, but it didn’t really show. He did a great job playing the game the way we asked him to play.“I thought he still showed a comfort level. I am sure his heart was racing a million miles an hour and he didn’t have a breath in his lungs. But he didn’t look that way. He was out there, the game was moving fast. But he was impressive.”"
There was definitely that kind of rushed nervous energy.
Isaac said after his first game the physicality of the game surprised him as much as the speed of the game. The NBA, even in Summer Leauge is an entirely different animal.
Isaac’s stat line was fairly meager. And he was missing several putbacks off his six offensive rebounds.
The Magic, for now, were not featuring him much in the offense. Orlando has taken a team-oriented approach to the Summer League. The magic are not looking to feature anyone. They just want to see everyone working well together and playing for each other.
For Isaac, that means doing a lot of the things the Magic will ask him to do during the season. Focus on defense and making energy plays with the occasional shot. That may not be what fans want to hear from a sixth pick, but that is where his game is now as he continues to grow and get comfortable with the NBA game.
And for the most part, with his activity on the glass and his defensive effort and potential, he filled that role.
Isaac displayed a lot of that. He was able to recover quickly and block a shot at the rim on one defensive possession, leading to a run out for fellow rookie Wesley Iwundu. This was all part of the Magic’s comeback in the third quarter to bring the game closer and eventually tie the game. Isaac ripped down tough rebounds over tougher, bigger players throughout the game.
The other elements of his game will come.
"“[I was happy with] my toughness,” Isaac told Orlando Magic Daily. “Once I figured out how physical the game was and how it was going to be, I translated that. A lot of times you get hit and grabbed and you just have to fight through it.“I think that’s the thing I can impact right away. I just played hard and played defense the way I know how.”"
He learned that first-hand when he went up for an alley-oop and got hit in the chest on the attempt for a foul. Isaac lost his breath and laid on the court for a while before point guard Kalin Lucas joking yelled, “Get up, man.” It drew some laughs and Isaac got up and sank both free throws.
The physicality definitely got to Isaac at times. But he more than held his own. He blocked shots, contested shots well and locked down his opponent. There were moments, of course, where nervousness got him. He slipped a few times on defense or jumped on pump fakes. It all needed to get out of him. And everyone does it at their own pace.
The whole team seemingly had that nervous energy about them early on. They fell behind by 15 points at halftime and the offense looked anemic and stagnant. The team’s defense was disjointed and not together.
For the whole team, once the nervous energy of the first Summer League game died down, the team started playing significantly better. The Magic were better after halftime and worked their way back into the game, picking up their activity level and intensity on both ends.
"“Just playing hard. Just doing what we’ve been practicing all week,” Magic second round pick Wesley Iwundu told Orlando Magic Daily. “I thought we executed the plays well. We helped each other out on defense, ran the right offense and it worked. It worked to perfection for us in the comeback.”"
Iwundu had his moments too, scoring eight points on 2-for-7 shooting with five rebounds. But he too suffered from nervousness. He said once he settled down, he felt much more comfortable and capable of playing. Things had to slow down and settle down for him and the other rookies on the roster.
Once it did, Iwundu’s size defensively and even his offensive ability to get into the paint and score became apparent.
If Summer League is about figuring out who cannot play, the Magic’s two rookies showed they can at least hold their own. As the games become more rote and they get more experience, they should be able to settle in and play with the intensity and energy they had in the second half comeback.
The Magic got 10 points from Marcus Georges-Hunt, Kalin Lucas and Derrick Walton Jr. Forcier said he liked the shots the team got, they just did not go in. He was especially proud of the way the team rallied and came back in the second half, especially considering the team did not have any timeouts.
It is a Summer League game and so the final score did not matter so much. It is about the way the team and the players grow and respond to the trial of the game.
There, the Magic have plenty to be encouraged with despite the loss. For Isaac especially, he may not have shown all of his nerves, but he certainly grew from where he was at the beginning of the game.
"“I think he’s got a great spirit. I think he’s got great energy. I want to be perfect every time I do something as a coach. I’ve got the same expectation. But that’s just not going to happen. I like the way he handles himself. I love that he holds himself to a high standard.”"
Things are just beginning for Isaac. Now that the nerves are out of the way, Isaac can begin showing what he has the rest of this week.