Jonathan Isaac was billed as a raw athlete who would need time to develop. His Summer League run showed everything there is to grow from for the rookie.
He comes flying in for a dunk. Or he rocks his defender with that seemingly effortless crossover dribble, rising up for an unblockable jumper. He crashes the glass and grabs offensive rebounds or slides over for that weak side block.
Isaac is hard to miss on the floor, if not just for his size than for his activity around the paint. The talk of Isaac sometimes blending in too much with the offense might still be true. He might still have to find ways to assert himself offensively. But Isaac found a way to get involved.
Isaac stood out in three games in Summer League. And he proved himself to be one of the best players in the Mountain Dew Orlando Pro Summer League.
It may only be Summer League, so take everything with the appropriate grains of salt, but Jonathan Isaac was a runaway success for the Magic in three games.
"“We’re thrilled. We’re absolutely thrilled,” Magic summer league coach Chad Forcier said. “He has met all the expectations, actually exceeded the expectations. he got off to a great start again today. It was disappointing that he got the bump. We wanted to be smart about it. It would have been nice to see him keep going today in terms of the start that he got off to. We are thrilled.”"
Isaac injured his hip in the second quarter of Monday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks. Until then he was building off his strong play throughout the week. Monday’s third Summer League was Isaac’s most impressive performance.
He scored nine points on 3-for-5 shooting. Isaac was aggressive off the bounce, looking to attack one on one. He hit a step-back jumper, he ran the floor and attacked the offensive glass with normal gusto. His offense became more confident with each minute it seemed.
For the Summer League, he will finish averaging 10.3 points per game and 8.0 rebounds per game with 11 total offensive rebounds in three games. He shot 44.4 percent from the floor for the week.
His defense was already there. And it was evident early on.
Isaac had some incredible blocks as he hung near the basket and looked to help protect the basket with either Stephen Zimmerman or Matt Costello. All the while, he was able to get back out to the perimeter and challenge shots. Isaac was the defensive terror everyone suspected he could be.
After his shaky and nervous first game, Isaac’s comfort was more obvious with each passing minute. He gained more confidence from the moment he made his first shot — a step-in 3-pointer in Saturday’s opener.
"“It’s just like anything, the more you do it, the more relaxed,” Isaac said after his second game Sunday. “The second game, I felt a lot more comfortable and a lot more relaxed.”"
It was in that game that Isaac pulled out his best Dirk Nowitzki impersonation, stepping back into a one-legged fadeaway. It was there too he hit the quarter-winning bucket to end the fourth quarter on a fadeaway jumper. Time and time again, Isaac seemed to display a new aspect to his game. He was growing with each experience.
It is hard to miss Isaac on the floor.
Granted, he still has areas where he can improve. As expected, his slight frame had him struggling to grab rebound sin traffic and to finish around the basket on putbacks. His whole first game was him struggling to finish offensive rebounds after grabbing six in that game. And bigger players were able to knock him off balance to create space for a shot or to rebound despite Isaac’s great defensive timing and instincts.
There is too still a sense Isaac wants to defer on offense and fit in. He is the first to admit his offensive game will take some time. But even his instinct in transition is to cede the path to the basket to pop for a 3-pointer rather than attacking the lane aggressively.
All these reads and instincts will come in time. The Magic did not draft Isaac for his immediate impact. They knew he would be a work in progress.
But the progress he made at Summer League was certainly encouraging. The Magic may not have seen everything they wanted — and the injury is a setback. But they saw plenty to get excited about.
"“I’m really happy with how coachable he is,” Forcier said. “He listens, he has a great personality. He interacts with his teammates. He is great at picking things up that we put on the floor brand new. He is grat at picking things up on the board and taking them out of a timeout. And he really seems to care about defense. We’re thrilled.”"
"“You always take summer league for what it is,” Magic general manager John Hammond told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. “You don’t over-evaluate it. You don’t under-evaluate it. You just take it for the experience of playing.“We saw a young guy that’s 6-foot-11 with great length and a good skill set. I think he was able to demonstrate that. He’s got some diversity to his game. He can handle the ball. I think he’s comfortable doing that. I think he showed that he can make a shot. He can shoot the ball with some range. And he has a good nose for the ball around the boards. So overall we’re very pleased.”"
There was plenty to like about Isaac and the way he played. If Summer League reveals whether someone cannot cut it in the NBA, he passed that test with flying colors. Isaac did more than looking like he belonged. He was one of the best players in the entire Orlando Summer League.
It did not take much to see that.
His teammates could feel it. Fellow draftmate Wesley Iwundu said on several occasions it seemed Isaac was everywhere on the court. There were moments defensively where he enveloped smaller defenders with his size and length or he closed passing lanes with his length.
It was hard to miss Isaac. And that list of positive plays bodes well for his future.
"“You got eyes like I got eyes,” Wesley Iwundu said after his double-double Sunday. “You can see what that kid can do. He did so many things — a double-double. He can do so many things and that’s the beautiful thing about him.”"
The Magic will not see him play again until September, when he will have long recovered from the strained hip that knocked him out of the final two games. That wait cannot seem long enough after the impressive showing he put on in his first professional games.
He will have to spend the rest of the offseason continuing to improve his offensive game and building strength. Isaac will also have to work on his conditioning. He pulled himself out of the first two games after five minutes — the first time, claiming the moment overwhelmed him after signing his contract moments before his first game.
But at the very least, Summer League proved Isaac has plenty to build and grow from. And that is all the Magic can ask for.