Orlando Magic’s regular season about the vets, the Playoffs were about the future

Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac are the key to making this team's experiment work. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac are the key to making this team's experiment work. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic rode their veterans to get into the playoffs. But it was clear it will be Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac leading them beyond.

Early in Game 3, the Orlando Magic were searching for energy as the Toronto Raptors again slowed the offense to a crawl, making even simple passes difficult. The team was trying hard to make quick decisions and finding them all blocked off.

Five turnovers in the first four minutes would set the whole tone for the game. Orlando was playing from behind and trying to make up ground.

There was Jonathan Isaac making his statement. Swooping in for blocks and challenging shots even in transition. Even after the Raptors took a 10-0 lead, Jonathan Isaac became the central focus of the team’s offense for a brief moment.

He got the Magic on the board with a tip dunk off an Aaron Gordon layup. He buried a 3-pointer off an offensive rebound from Nikola Vucevic to cut the lead in half.

Through the high-turnover first quarter, Isaac delivered eight points (albeit on 3-for-7 shooting) on offense. It was his defense that kept the team in the game. He flew in for two blocks, often playing safety to slow down the Raptors’ fast break. He added four rebounds.

The energy from Isaac took everyone by surprise. Even Raptors coach Nick Nurse would comment on how Jonathan Isaac was everywhere in the early minutes of the game.

Like so much in that series, the moment was fleeting.

Isaac played the entire first quarter but then only checked in for 3.5 minutes in the second quarter. Late in that game, coach Steve Clifford stuck with his normal rotation and left Jonathan Isaac on the bench. Pascal Siakam took advantage in his 30-point game with some big shots down the stretch over smaller defenders.

Aaron Gordon had his moments too throughout the series. He scored 14 of his 25 points in the third quarter of Game 4, keeping the Magic alive. It was the first time he looked aggressive off the dribble and he got to his spots for his shot.

For a brief moment, Gordon was the only star on the court.

And this was the lasting impression of the Magic’s brief playoff appearance. It was not the brilliant play Nikola Vucevic displayed throughout the entire season or D.J. Augustin‘s solid play (outside of Game 1).

The lasting impression the Magic gave was that of a young core that could give the league problems. Gordon and Isaac were the highlights. They gave the Raptors the biggest fits with their defensive presence. The two young players flashed enough offense to get the league talking about the Magic — especially with talented players sitting on the bench injured still.

The Raptors, of course, shut that glimmer down pretty quickly. No one is pretending these two players are close to the levels they need to be at to lead the team deep into the playoffs. Kawhi Leonard had the Magic’s defense figured out by Game 4 and there was little they could do to stop him.

But the postseason was clearly about Gordon and Isaac and the team’s future. They were the keys to the series and the players who stood out the most in an otherwise lopsided series. If Orlando wanted to make a dent and push Toronto, it was going to fall on their shoulders.

The future will fall on their shoulders.

The veteran players like Nikola Vucevic, D.J. Augustin and Terrence Ross got the Magic to the postseason. Their consistency and drive were vital to the team’s playoff push and efforts. But it was — and will be — Gordon and Isaac who lead the team into their future.

They just were not ready for the stage and the total responsibility needed.

Gordon ended up leading the team in scoring during the five-game playoff series with 15.2 points per game on 53.2 percent effective field goal percentage. He and Augustin were the only major Magic players to shoot efficiently the entire series.

With Vucevic struggling, the Magic needed an outlet offensively. They were not getting it from Evan Fournier — his infamous 1-for-12 shooting performance in Game 3 is going to haunt the team for a while — and Aaron Gordon had difficulties going after Kawhi Leonard. Finding him easy baskets proved difficult throughout the series.

Isaac had his moments defensively and some small offensive outbursts. But his struggles to shoot after coming on strong toward the end of the season were a big reason why the Raptors won so easily. He finished the series scoring 6.6 points per game on a 32.5 percent effective field goal percentage.

It is hard to say either player played well. If Gordon’s main responsibility in the series was to slow down Leonard, he struggled mightily with it despite his best efforts. Both clearly showed their potential just as much as they showed they have a long way to go.

To be sure, they both got a lot out of their first playoff experiences. The next time both make it, the Magic will be relying on them even more.

There already seems to be a bit of shifting underneath the Magic. There is no guarantee Vucevic returns in free agency — everyone seemed to be hedging their bets at the team’s exit interviews — and quickly the attention and reigns to the team will turn to these young players.

Quite clearly, the Magic’s future rests with them. The playoffs made that even more clear. Even as they struggled offensively, all the focus and attention was put on them. It was their play that always seemed to make the greatest impact. Losing either of them to foul trouble had massive effects on the game.

They delivered enough to believe the potential for greatness was there. But now the trick is to turn that potential into actual production.

The Magic are not about to force anything or push them into positions where they cannot succeed. Orlando is not about to hand Gordon or Isaac the offensive reigns if they are not ready for them — although necessity and development may force that hand. The team will find ways to protect them.

But the playoffs proved one thing: If the Magic are going to make noise and advance beyond the first round, it will come on Gordon and Isaac’s development.

dark. Next. Orlando Magic hungry for more after playoff appearance

The playoffs was theirs for the taking. Now they have to develop to seize that moment when it comes again.