Jonathan Isaac ready to bring impact back to starting lineup

Jonathan Isaac started to display confidence after Feb. 1 in pushing the Orlando Magic to a playoff team. (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jonathan Isaac started to display confidence after Feb. 1 in pushing the Orlando Magic to a playoff team. (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Jonathan Isaac returned to the Orlando Magic’s starting lineup where his defensive impact was already felt in Thursday’s win over the Chicago Bulls.

In the final seconds of the Orlando Magic’s 97-91 win over the Chicago Bulls, Jonathan Isaac was in the game to finish and not rising star forward Aaron Gordon. This was no indictment of Aaron Gordon. He had a strong defensive game despite a 2-for-11 shooting performance to go with seven assists.

At the end of the game, coach Steve Clifford seemed to be trying to find the hot hand on both ends. Isaac was in at the right time and his length and athleticism proved a much bigger deterrent against Lauri Markkanen.

It might have been a meaningless play, but Jonathan Isaac’s block on Zach LaVine‘s final attempt was a sign of how much the Magic are improved defensively with Isaac active and engaged. It was at least a sign of Orlando’s defensive engagement throughout this ugly game.

Nothing was going to come easy. Even the most meaningful shots. Isaac was having none of LaVine padding his statistics.

Isaac started the game at forward alongside Gordon as the Magic returned to the starting lineup it started the season with. Clifford at long last made good on teh promise of returning Isaac to the starting lineup. It was a long time coming with Isaac showing plenty of signs defensively and an increasing rhythm offensively since a November absence with a sprained ankle.

He started in place of Jonathon Simmons, who had started the previous seven games. Jonathon Simmons twisted his ankle on Wednesday but he played 21 minutes off the bench and scored eight points. But this was a move that was a long time coming.

Isaac made the most of his starting opportunity. He scored 10 points, with three rebounds, three steals and three blocks. He was his usual self on the defensive end, clogging the passing lanes and blocking shots.

But Thursday game marked a breakthrough for Isaac.

The second-year forward had not made a three-pointer in two games. After going 2 for 4 from three against the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 28, Isaac had only made 2 of 17 3-point attempts, which is an abysmal 11 percent.

Isaac is shooting 25.9 percent from beyond the arc. It is still a major part of his game he has to develop. But he has shown a greater willingness to shoot and greater confidence with his shot overall.

Although Isaac has been struggling with his 3-point shot, he has shown improvement in other areas in his game. He is doing better taking his man off the dribble and hitting mid-range jumpers. He has displayed the kind of offensive potential the Magic saw when they drafted him with the sixth pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.

Every game, Isaac creates the feeling he is coming into his own and getting more comfortable on the court. Although, he has been struggling from three, he has kept shooting them. He has not let it affect his overall game offensively or defensively.

And he has made a positive impact on the floor for the team.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Overall this season, the Magic have a 105.1 defensive rating with Isaac on the floor, the best mark of any regular rotation player. His struggles shooting the ball are certainly part of why the team has difficulties offensively with him on the floor, but the Magic have stayed afloat with him out there.

Orlando was that much better with Isaac on the floor Thursday. Orlando gave up just 94.3 points per 100 possessions with Isaac on the floor in Thursday’s game. A small sample for sure, but he was part of a strong defensive effort for Orlando to help hold off the Bulls.

Back in the starting lineup on Thursday, the Magic’s starting group struggled. The team’s defense was lax early in the game and it could not hit shots. That was a theme throughout the game. That is partly why Clifford mixed and matched the lineups throughout the game and even at the end.

The glaring weakness in Isaac’s game right now is his three-point shooting. The Magic’s lineup struggled with Isaac on the floor offensively no matter how anyone slices it. That has been true throughout the lineup. He will have to continue improving on that end as he develops and improves.

But the Magic have to hope he has gotten over that wall after getting a 3-pointer to go down against the Bulls. His confidence is still growing and will only continue to improve.

Back in the starting lineup, the Magic are hoping his defense will help establish a strong base on that end for this team as his offense rounds into form.

dark. Next. Grades: Orlando Magic 97, Chicago Bulls 91

It will be interesting to see if Clifford sticks with Isaac in the starting lineup going forward. It certainly helped with the matchup against the Bulls.