Jonathan Isaac has the chance to become something really special, and that will be the key for the Orlando Magic as he continues to become the star
There are many young players on the Orlando Magic who have tons of potential.
After what has been a disappointing season where the team struggled to take its next steps into the upper bounds of the playoffs, many fans question which will be the one to step up and take the leap.
With back-to-back playoff appearances under their belt, it is easy to forget that the core players for the Magic are still so young. Aaron Gordon is 24. Mohamed Bamba and Markelle Fultz are 21. Jonathan Isaac turned 22 a few weeks ago.
All have proven they are at different stages of their development. And how they grow will determine just how the Magic grow.
It is on them the Magic pin their hopes for their next star and their path into the upper half of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Nobody is satisfied or wants to be stuck long-term in the 7- or 8-seed.
This year, most people expected Aaron Gordon to be the one to take the leap to get the team there. But with all of the injuries he’s dealt with this season, he was not able to do it.
There are still a few questions that need to be answered with Mohamed Bamba and Markelle Fultz before they can be the ones to lead this team. They are both still going through the NBA ringer for the first time and were preparing for their first postseason before the season went on hiatus. But they are still young and have plenty of runway to keep developing and growing.
Fultz is closer, having jumped quickly into the starting lineup and come up with several big late-game moments to show his potential and promise. But he is not star-ready yet. He needs to find a consistent jump shot.
Bamba has looked impressive for long stretches this season. He definitely grew from last year. But he needs to put on weight to be able to play big minutes. Until then, his role will remain limited.
That leaves Jonathan Isaac. And to be sure when Isaac returns from injury and starts preparing for next season, the Magic and their fans will be eager to see what he becomes and just how high he can raise the team’s ceiling.
Out of the four, he is the only one to have an elite skill. He is already an elite defensive player as he was a defensive player of the year candidate before an injury to his right knee ended his season.
This year he averaged 2.4 blocks and 1.6 steals per game. If he qualified for final leaderboards, he would rank second in blocks and 11th in steals. That shows off his defensive versatility.
Overall, he has an 1.9 defensive win shares for the 2020 season. He can disrupt offenses with his length by being in the passing lanes and by using his athletic ability to provide help side defense to protect the rim.
The biggest weakness (which is not that big of a weakness) is the ability to be able to defend perimeter players one on one. But even that had greatly improved.
According NBA.com’s player tracking stats, opponents shot 42.5 percent when Isaac was the closest defender, nearly 4.5 percentage points worse than the team average when he was on the floor. For comparison, last year, opponents 44.3 percent when Isaac was the closest defender a little less than 2.0 percentage points worse than the team average.
Even through this imperfect measure, Isaac’s defensive impact is abundantly clear.
Where Isaac still has to grow is on offense. He has not shown that elite skill on the offensive end yet where he is still developing his jumper and learning how to be more assertive off the dribble.
This season he averaged a career-high 12.0 points per game on 46.3-percent shooting and 33.0 percent from beyond the arc. It is the first time in his career he has shot better than 50-percent effective field goal percentage. But it is still undoubtedly a work in progress.
Most of Isaac’s shots are off cuts or spot-ups. Orlando is not running plays for him yet.
But little by little he continues to show new offensive skills. He has gotten comfortable with the one-dribble pull-up and the post-fade-away. He seems close to putting together his offensive game, which will do wonders for this Magic team.
Isaac has pulled off this turnaround fadeaway move on a few occasions this year. It is hard not to get wide-eyed watching Isaac able to back down a player like Paul Millsap and easily turn and shoot over him.
At his height and size, there would be very few players who could contest such a shot. The offensive potential then is very easy to see.
The question for Isaac is how he recovers from the posterior lateral corner injury to his right knee — whether he comes back when the season resumes or we wait for the beginning of the 2021 season — and how much he is able to develop and grow his game in the meantime.
As the Magic continue to develop and build their team around their young group of players, Isaac plays a key role. His development will track with the team’s development. His potential with the team’s potential.
A lot of fans are excited to see what Isaac becomes as he continues to put it together.
Isaac has a bright future but has the chance to become something really special, and that will be the key for the Magic as he continues to become the star Orlando needs.