Jonathan Isaac’s return to Orlando Magic will come in stages

Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac will clearly need time to get himself back to full health. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac will clearly need time to get himself back to full health. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic are notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to their inner workings and player recovery. Asking president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman for a timeline for players to return is usually gut-churning for him.

His answer is inevitably: “We aren’t going to put timelines for our players to return.” He has even acknowledged to the media how the Magic have a reputation for bringing players along slowly and being too cautious with injuries.

The Magic always had the long-term view with injuries and young players. Whether it has worked or not is certainly part of the inexact science of sports medicine. Orlando though has never let the pressure to return players to the court quickly influence their decisions.

That has not stopped any of the hand-wringing for the team when it comes to Jonathan Isaac‘s progress, especially with training camp just three weeks away.

Jonathan Isaac gave an update on his recovery from a torn ACL. But the Orlando Magic forward still will not give a firm timeline and his progression will remain an ongoing process.

There is still no official word on when Isaac will hit the floor, whether he will be ready for camp or exactly where he is in the process. More than a year removed from surgery to repair a torn ACL and torn meniscus suffered in the bubble last August, nobody is quite sure where Isaac is.

And not even Isaac is revealing much, keeping to the party line and letting the process play out.

That is the truth of the matter for this year. Whether Isaac is available for camp or not and whenever Isaac makes his on-court debut, it is going to be a process to get him back to full speed. And the goal for this season is more about getting Isaac to full speed and getting him confident in his body to continue growing and developing again.

It is almost like a second rookie year.

The good news is we finally have some clue about where Isaac is in that process.

Isaac hosted a Seafood Festival alongside JUMP Ministries to benefit Project Life this weekend and the question of where he is at came up (via Chris Hays of the Orlando Sentinel):

"“We’ll see,” Isaac told the Sentinel about being ready for the opener. “I’m on the court. I’m weaning out of the brace. I’m jumping. I’m finishing around the basket and such. I’m easing my way. . . . I”m getting there.”"

There are plenty of good nuggets in there. But it is not exactly a ringing endorsement that he has been cleared to play or will be ready for camp — which is set to begin Sept. 28 with media day on Sept. 27.

It is good to hear Isaac has checked off several boxes though. He is back working on the court. He is working toward playing without a brace (which would be a huge step suggesting the knee is stable and he is comfortable planting and moving off it). He is jumping and dunking, it sounds like.

But this comment also suggests he is not playing fully yet. Whether that means he has not been cleared for 5-on-5 or contact work is not at all clear.

The statement is fairly vague.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Undoubtedly, Isaac is going through the process and checking off the boxes for both the medical staff and himself. Isaac has gone through major injury recovery before. That experience should at least keep him in tune with his body and where it needs to be so he is ready to play.

And that is going to be the ongoing process throughout the season. it will be constantly checking in and double-checking where Isaac is at physically and caution as they increase his load.

Jonathan Isaac is certainly physically and mentally more prepared for the NBA than Chuma Okeke was, but how the Magic handled Okeke’s rookie season is a good road map.

Okeke finished the year averaging 7.8 points per game with a 49.2-percent effective field goal percentage. But his season came in stages.

As a rookie, he was expected to have a slow start. But four games into his season, he had a bone bruise that caused the team to shut him down for a month.

Even when he came back, he came back slowly as he reacclimated to playing. But he certainly still looked like he belonged and he did enough things that Magic fans knew patience was warranted.

Another month later, Okeke looked like he was fully realized. In the seven games in the immediate aftermath of the trade deadline (including the win over the Phoenix Suns just before it), Okeke averaged 16.3 points per game and shot 46.7-percent from beyond the arc.

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  • A lot of that might have been letting loose any restrictions on him and playing him 30-plus minutes per game. Someone has to score. But that kind of efficiency was exciting to see from a young player. Especially one still coming back from a torn ACL.

    He ultimately though hit the rookie wall. In his next eight games, he scored only 8.5 points per game and hit on 16.1-percent of his 3-pointers.

    He finished the season strong with a pair of 18-point games against the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers before a turned ankle in the win over the Cavaliers ended his season.

    Isaac’s season will likely go through these waves this season.

    There will probably be a feeling out process early on — Okeke, for his part, did not play 24 minutes in his first eight games until injuries on the team made it impossible not to play him the majority of minutes on the Magic’s first West Coast road trip.

    Isaac will probably be held out of most back-to-backs and have a cap on his minutes right around that 25-minute mark. He will constantly have to let the medical personnel know how he feels.

    There will probably be moments where he really takes the lead and feels comfortable. Those will be the moments where fans see the flashes of what he can be and where he is growing next once he is fully back.

    There will inevitably be some days and stretches of fatigue. Here, his shot will struggle and while he may still play through it, it will feel like he has hit the rookie wall. Going back to an 82-game schedule is always tough. And Isaac only has one full season under his belt. He is not exactly an expert at 82 games.

    What is important then for Isaac is this process and going through the ups and downs of returning to the court. But most important is that Isaac continues to listen to his body and do what it is capable of doing without overtaxing it.

    That is always the toughest things with the eagerness players have to return to play.

    In this sense, then, coming back to a team that does not appear to have winning pressure is a positive for him. Isaac will be able to come back at his pace. The Magic are clearly invested in him and need him to succeed.

    Jonathan Isaac will get his chance to shine. dark. Next

    They are going to give him every chance to do so. Even if it takes a bit longer.