The Young Guns
Jonathan Isaac – optimism
It would be easy for Jonathan Isaac not to be optimistic. He has had injuries that took away nearly his entire season in two of his three NBA seasons and will take away a third this season. Isaac will have made it through only one full season in his four years in the NBA.
His latest injury was a devastating one. After working for seven months to recover from a knee injury, Isaac was back on the floor and looking like he did not miss a step as the Magic were preparing for a final playoff push inside the bubble. Then he made a hard jump stop and collapsed with a torn ACL.
The energy in the building and for the team seemed to be sucked dry. The Magic were no longer playoff contenders, they just seemed to be trying to survive.
But Jeff Weltman and the team’s spirits were lifted a little bit quickly by Jonathan Isaac himself. By the next day, Isaac was encouraging others and promising he was on Day 1 on his walk back. There is no doubt Isaac will return.
Anchored by his faith, Isaac has continued to be a positive force in the community and on the team as he attacks his rehab. Isaac in that way is an inspiration. Even in his darkest time, he sees the light.
Aaron Gordon – putting on a show
Aaron Gordon is probably still the most recognizable face on the Orlando Magic. He gives the team a bit of flash that they are sometimes missing. And while sometimes that devolves into isolation shows that Gordon is not best suited for, the opportunity for Gordon to put on a show is still there.
When Gordon has the ball or when he is on the break, there is an opportunity for something crazy to happen. He showed that again in Chicago during the Slam Dunk Contest.
Gordon was once again the People’s Champ of the Dunk Contest with an incredible performance that will live on in the contest’s memory. Gordon’s highlights will be replayed forever.
That is the kind of legacy he has created already. Gordon is still learning how to be consistent and to find his place in the league. The Magic have asked a lot of him.
But the one thing we can always expect from Gordon is an aerial show when he is given the chance.
Markelle Fultz – #F2G
Markelle Fultz has tagged a lot of his social media posts with the hashtag “#F2G.” It stands for Faithful to the Grind.
For a long time that is all Fultz had. His body would not allow him to play basketball. There were plenty of doubts about whether Fultz would ever play again. But Fultz kept to his work.
Last year was a reward for all that work and all the faith Fultz put in himself — along with the faith and trust the Orlando Magic put in Fultz to get himself ready. Last year was a revelatory season for him. He showed flashes of what made him the top overall pick in 2017. And he clearly established himself as the team’s top point guard and playmaker.
But Fultz is not one to rest on is laurels. He is still #F2G as he posts on his social media.
Jeff Weltman said he hoped that discussions about Markelle Fultz would evolve past his injury. He hopes we can now talk about Fultz the basketball player and not about Fultz in terms of his injury.
And if young players typically take the big leap between their first and second year, if Fultz remains #F2G, he should be in store for a big 2021 season.
Mohamed Bamba – leadership for what’s important
Mohamed Bamba has done plenty of work on the court. His development has been slow, but he is quickly establishing himself as one of the best shot blockers in the league. Opponents are going to learn quickly not to challenge him as much as they do.
And he has done the work off the court. His putting on 20 pounds of muscle during the league’s hiatus was a testament to the work he was willing to put in to give him the best chance to see his role expand.
Bamba has faced adversity. The leg injury that cost him the second half of his rookie season slowed things down. The after-effects of COVID-19 have slowed down his development and the chance to play in the playoffs.
But Bamba has kept working even as the Magic’s training staff try to manage the remnants of a disease not everyone understands yet.
Still, Bamba’s offseason has been productive. He became the face of the Magic’s efforts to encourage Orange County residents to vote in November’s election. Bamba was a greeter at the Amway Center as voters lined up for the election.
It was a great effort and great to see a young player take the lead in these important efforts.