After nearly two months out with an ankle injury — following a one-month absence — Jonathan Isaac took some important first steps with the Lakeland Magic.
It was easy to tell in his postgame interview Jonathan Isaac wanted to be with his teammates in Philadelphia. There is a longing from the young forward to be out on the NBA floor, realizing his dream and playing at the level he knows he is capable of.
Isaac has experienced a difficult rookie year, derailed by an ankle injury in November that has cost him all but 15 games. His attempt to come back early derailed again when he re-aggravated the injury in late December. The Orlando Magic shut him down, hoping to build strength in his ankle and make sure when he returned the next time, he would truly be ready.
It has been long a process. One that has required a lot of little steps. All of them seen away from the public light.
Isaac is not all the way back yet. The team traveled on to Philadelphia without him. But he made an important step Friday night in the G-League.
Playing for the Lakeland Magic for the first time, Isaac made a rehab start with the team. He played only three or four minutes at a time, typically at the start of every quarter. It was hard to see if he could handle a whole lot more.
It seemed Isaac was still getting a feel for the game again. But he was back on the floor playing in a game again. With some restrictions . . . and plenty of rust.
Isaac finished with six points on 2-for-6 shooting in 13 minutes. He grabbed three rebounds and turned it over three times. That is the kind of stat line anyone would expect from a player who has not played since Dec. 26 and has played in only three actual live games since Nov. 11.
Isaac was so eager to play he was begging Lakeland Magic coach Stan Heath to let him stay in a bit longer. But Orlando is not skipping any steps in its process with Isaac. The Magic have an eye toward the future.
Lakeland ended up winning the game 102-80 over the Maine Red Claws, leading by as much as 27 points in the game. Magic two-way player Jamel Artis led the way with 21 points.
Whether Isaac will play again in Lakeland’s game Saturday at the RP Funding Center is still unknown. But this was a good first step for Isaac.
Isaac reported to Safid Deen of the Orlando Sentinel he felt no pain or discomfort in his ankle after playing his first 13 minutes of game action. Slowly but surely, Isaac will regain his timing and comfort on the court.
His defensive presence is easy to see. Isaac’s length is noticeable even on a court full of pros. His offensive timing and rhythm will take some time. Isaac clearly is a bit off on that front, his shot lacking fluidity and rhythm still. And he surely was a bit winded even after 13 minutes. Isaac will still need some time and could probably use another G-League start.
His drives still look a bit mechanical. The fluidity is not there.
But he can still flash his potential, taking an early game possession coast-to-coast for a layup opportunity. Or in the second quarter grabbing a pass one-handed for an acrobatic finish.
For Isaac, he just has to get all the pieces together. The 19-year-old rookie still has a lot of growth and development to go. And a lot of it will still come this year. Just slowly and incrementally.
Call Friday’s G-League game the next step in that process. He will have to keep improving in the next one.