Jonathan Isaac’s return gives Orlando Magic new hope

Jonathan Isaac has given this Orlando Magic team new life and new energy. No matter what is role may be, his lift could be a difference-maker for this team.

When the Orlando Magic entered the bubble, they never stated whether or not Jonathan Isaac would play when the season resumed. They kept coy, saying they were planning to play without him but were still bringing him along for the right. But they never ruled out his return.

But surprisingly, Jonathan Isaac was cleared for the third scrimmage against the Denver Nuggets after returning to practice. The timeline for his return seemed to accelerate and what seemed unlikely suddenly became a reality.

And then Isaac took the floor and exceeded all expectations.

In only seven minutes Monday, Isaac scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds, adding two steals for good measure. It created energy for the Magic to go on a 22-2 run during the stint he was on the floor.

Isaac’s presence was refreshing and gave Orlando new energy. Isaac looked like he could keep going, but he admitted after the game he was pretty tired after his seven-minute run.

It was a good reintroduction. But the question becomes what can Orlando realistically expect from Isaac?

The Magic say Isaac remains day to day. Coach Steve Clifford said after Monday’s game and again at practice Wednesday that he will continue to discuss Isaac’s status with the medical staff before making any minutes, role or playing decisions.

Isaac is essentially day-to-day. But Clifford said after Wednesday’s practice that all indications are Isaac will play.

Isaac will probably start playing with a minute restriction which is to be expected, considering how long he was out for. But at the pace he’s going, no one would be surprised if he plays more minutes as the seeding games go on until he is ready to play regular minutes for the playoffs and return to the starting lineup.

Isaac’s return will provide the Magic with his elite defensive presence. Orlando will not automatically become one of the best teams on the defensive end, but it will improve as there is going to be a new dimension to their defense.

Isaac is capable of making defensive plays like this one against the Milwaukee Bucks earlier this year.

Here, Isaac diagnoses the play, slides across the lane to help and is able to challenge the layup, changing his angle mid-jump to get the block. Isaac made plays like this regularly.

Isaac is going to provide the rim protection this Magic team has missed while he was out of the action.

Isaac was in the defensive player of the year race by averaging 2.4 blocks and 1.6 steals per game. He will be able to create more fast-break opportunities with his defense alone, and the team will improve because of it.

That was evident from the Magic’s scrimmage and his short stint in them. The energy of the team immediately picked up. A lot of it was because of plays Isaac made.

His first points of the game came when he crashed the offensive glass and scored on a putback. He made several plays in transition too to help boost his scoring.

These are the subtle plays Isaac makes that add up and lift the team’s pace and energy.

Isaac was averaging a career-high 12.0 points per game before his injury on Jan. 1. He was shooting a career-best 46.3 percent from the floor and 10.1 field goal attempts per game. Isaac was starting to play more assertively, even though his usage rate remained roughly the same at 18.3 percent (still a career-high).

Isaac still generates a lot of offense by finding gaps in the defense and cutting into space. He took advantage of the defense leaving him open or the holes they left open for him to cut to the basket.

But while some of Isaac’s contributions can be counted with stats, other contributions cannot be tracked with numbers. Those contributions have already been amplified in the small amount of time he was on the floor.

He provides the team with a surge of energy both Steve Clifford and Markelle Fultz commented on.

Clifford explained it was good to have Isaac back, not only for his numbers but his energy contributions that he provides for the team.

Fultz, who also made his campus debut with Isaac, also explained his presence gives the team energy. He said it’s hard not to play hard when Isaac is on the floor because of how much he runs and gets after players.

Fultz said that energy pushes everyone harder. That was more than evident in Monday’s game.

While it’s not clear how much of an impact Isaac will have on the season overall, it is clear that Isaac has given this Magic team new life and new energy.

Isaac’s main role as he returns to play is to provide that energy. At this point, the Magic have to consider anything they get from Isaac to be something of a bonus. They did not expect to have him available for the remainder of the season.

No matter how much he is able to play, they know his minutes are going to provide a lift to the team.

Next: Orlando Magic have eye on the future as they prepare for today

It gives them renewed hope and energy.

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