Jonathan Isaac has been inching closer to his return. He feels like he is back to where he was before the injury. But there are still steps to go through.
Jonathan Isaac has been a ghost for the Orlando Magic. A specter looming over this disappointing season and one that may not have been able to fix everything that ails this team, but one who certainly would help the team provide some hope for a brighter future.
The sixth overall pick in last year’s Draft is very much a part of the core. The first player president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman acquired as the head of the Magic’s organization. He will be a foundational building block for the team int he years to come.
Yet, the Magic have rarely seen him. In a frustrating turn of events, Isaac has stayed on the sideline with an injury.
He severely rolled his ankle going up for a rebound in a Nov. 11 game against the Denver Nuggets. Since then, Isaac has only played in three games. In those three games, he was definitely getting his legs back under him and hardly looked like the confident, growing player he was in the first 12 games of the season.
Eventually, he re-aggravated the ankle injury. The Magic decided to hold him out indefinitely to make sure the ankle healed properly.
It was a deep breath no one really wanted Isaac to take. But injuries have dictated he has to.
Slowly but surely, Isaac’s return to the court appears to be on the horizon. He has returned to practice, slowly upping his contact and conditioning drills. He has been shooting throughout the injury.
Isaac is confident when he gets the OK to play again, he will not miss a beat.
"“It’s been fine,” Isaac said during shootaround Wednesday. “I haven’t really lost anything. It feels weird to be dribbling and shooting to be honest. I feel like I am back to where I was.”"
Isaac will get his opportunity at some point after the All-Star Break. It will be a welcome sight for the team.
The Magic were 8-4 when Isaac sprained his ankle initially. It is not directly on Isaac’s absence that the season fell apart. But the coincidence is not lost on anyone.
Isaac was one of the team’s best defenders at the time. He showed a defensive ability that seemed beyond his years. His impact clearly went beyond his meager 5.3 points per game.
He still had a lot of work to go offensively, including improving his 3-point shot. But he made a clear impact on the defensive end. That was what the Magic expected of him when they drafted him. His immediate impact would be on that end.
No one is quite sure how much the injury set him back. His three games when he first returned showed a player who was still getting his conditioning and timing back. He was a little tentative.
Orlando’s decision to hold him out was as much about as his health as it was building up some of his other skills off the court.
Isaac reported, confirming something Weltman said on the radio last week, he had put on more than 10 pounds thanks to his work in the weight room. Adding muscle to his slim frame was one of the big priorities in his development. He said he is up to 221 pounds from his listed 210 pounds. That should help him absorb contact better once he returns.
The question that remains is how quickly Isaac can get into a rhythm once he gets the OK to play.
Isaac said it will only take a couple of practices to regain that rhythm. He is obviously confident in his abilities. But the Magic are understandably cautious.
"“He has a great head on his shoulders,” coach Frank Vogel said of Jonathan Isaac’s approach to his absence. “He wants to be out there, but at the right pace. He understands that what we have done is really good for him and will benefit him.”"
Vogel said Isaac’s return is going to be predicated on practices. The Magic will want to see him in full-contact practices before giving him the OK to play. A lot of it will be based on how Isaac feels and what his conditioning level is.
It seems likely Isaac will take a few rehab games with the Lakeland Magic in the G-League before rejoining the Orlando Magic’s rotation. Likely he would be on a minutes restriction when he plays there. But that is something Isaac would welcome.
Isaac has remained positive about the experience while missing time. It is undoubtedly frustrating for him, for fans and for the team itself.
But, as his Internet-famous sermon suggested, Isaac has taken it all in stride. He has viewed the whole experience as a positive. A chance to slow down and work on the little things before stepping onto the court again.
"“I feel like it has been a blessing being out and just being able to slow down,” Isaac said. “Being a rookie takes so much on you when you are playing so much and trying to handle life outside of basketball. Being able to slow down and focus on life outside of basketball and focusing on my body with Bill [Burgos] in the weight room has been great.”"
Isaac said he was a bit overeager at the start to come back. He learned how to scale things back and be a little more patient.
While the Magic have taken things slowly, Isaac recognizes how important the rest of this season will be. After the All-Star Break, the Magic will have just 25 games remaining. Each one is a chance for Isaac to get his feet under him and regain that comfort on a NBA court.
It is easy to forget he is just 20 years old. He still has a lot of growth to come. And the only way he will achieve that growth is by playing. Isaac understands how important those games will be.
He said he knows he has taken a step back in some way in his rookie year because he has not been able to learn on the floor. Any opportunity he has to get on the floor he has to take.