Orlando Magic Draft Evaluation: Redrafting the Jeff Weltman Era

Jeff Weltman has collected some solid players for the Orlando Magic through the draft. But is still seeking the big fish. (Photo by Gary Bassing/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jeff Weltman has collected some solid players for the Orlando Magic through the draft. But is still seeking the big fish. (Photo by Gary Bassing/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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Orlando Magic, Jonathan Isaac, Dallas Mavericks
Jonathan Isaac’s emergence as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate has boosted the Orlando magic early this season. (Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images), /

Jonathan Isaac (6th pick, 2017)

The debate it seemed, back in 2017 when the Orlando Magic selected sixth in the NBA Draft was whether to go with the promising young forward from the Florida State Seminoles, a player who was intriguing for his physical gifts but still fairly raw as far as usable NBA skills, or go with the more proven scorer and driver.

Fans still seem to have some fascination with Dennis Smith Jr., a guy who dominated as a scorer with the NC State Wolfpack and seemed to be a safe bet to be the kind of scoring point guard that has come to dominate the league.

When the Magic picked Isaac, it was not a complete surprise. Isaac’s talent was undeniable. It was just whether the Magic would have the patience to wait on him to develop and grow. And, secondarily, how he would fit alongside Aaron Gordon.

There are still questions about where Isaac fits and what he ultimately becomes. But if the choice was between Isaac and Smith still, Isaac is now the clear choice.

Smith has had his big moments, but he has struggled to show consistency, averaging 12.5 points per game on 40.0-percent shooting. He has been shuttled from the Dallas Mavericks, who would pick Luka Doncic a year later, taking Dennis Smith off the ball, to the New York Knicks. In New York, Smith has struggled to do more than just put up stats on a bad team.

Isaac does not have the same statistical profile. He has scored less at 9.3 points per game for his career on 43.2-percent shooting.

But more importantly, it was clear from the moment Isaac stepped on the floor he could make a positive impact defensively.

Even though injury took out most of his rookie season, the Magic were still at their best defensively with Isaac on the floor. And it did not take stats to understand that. Isaac made defensive plays that were far more advanced than his age would suggest.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

His second year, he proved an integral part of a playoff roster and his offense has continued to grow. This year, he was on track to be top five in the league in blocks and in the top 20 in steals (leading the league in “stocks”). He was not taking himself out of position either as he was one of the best defensive playmakers in the league.

Isaac already might be an all-defensive team player. That is impressive in three years. He may not have the counting stats as some of his peers, but he is clearly one of the best players in the draft class.

Among his draft class, Isaac is ranked 15th in win shares, 12th in Box Plus-Minus and 12th in VORP, according to Basketball-Reference. He comes in behind interesting alternate choices in Bam Adebayo, John Collins and, of course, Donovan Mitchell.

Was Isaac the best choice for the Magic at 6th?

With the information available and looking at where players were mocked, no one should blame the Magic too much for missing on any other players — Adebayo and Mitchell are probably the more interesting alternate picks with both reaching the All-Star team already.

Isaac has made Collins’ life miserable when they get matched up together. And Isaac’s value is measured by more than statistics.

Isaac was always going to take some time to develop. And his injuries — a sprained ankle in 2018 and a severely sprained knee in 2020 — have kept him out and slowed his development.

Some patience is still obviously needed with Isaac. It seems like the Magic made the right decision (in our 2017 re-draft on FanSided, I ended up taking Smith with the 25th pick, if you must know).

And it seems like they got good value.