2022 Orlando Magic Time to Step Up: Jonathan Isaac just needs to play

The Orlando Magic have been waiting for Jonathan Isaac's return. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic have been waiting for Jonathan Isaac's return. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Sunday morning, Orlando Magic fans were sent into hysterics and excitement.

Rare footage was released from an official source that reminded everyone of the biggest unknown facing the Magic this season. The kind of unknown that could significantly change this team’s outlook.

The vagueries of the Instagram story system has deleted it past the 24-hour mark. But Jonathan Isaac posted a video of himself working on the court inside the AdventHealth Practice Facility at Amway Center and suddenly everyone had seen something they have not seen or the Magic have shown publicly in two years: Isaac on a basketball court going through his paces in a seemingly intense matter.

The video below is indeed what Isaac posted Sunday:

It is not clear whether this video was recent. Some Magic fans believe it was from before his injuries.

Considering how secretive the Magic have been with his recovery and any timetable for his potential return, it is hard to believe that any recent video of Isaac on the floor would leak out. Then again, there was a photo of Isaac dunking that came out a few weeks ago — again, some believe it was an old photo even though the Magic themselves released the photo.

Like the Wolverine meme, Magic fans are sitting on their beds cry-watching old videos of Isaac, trying to remind themselves of the impact he had before a knee injury knocked him out until the Bubble in Jan. 2020.

It has been a long time since anyone has seen Isaac on the floor.

All signs are pointing toward Jonathan Isaac making his long-awaited return this season. All the Orlando Magic really need from him is to play and be out on the floor.

While there is no firm timetable or announcement about his return, all signs are pointing toward Isaac playing this season. It is also safe to assume the Magic will have some restrictions on his playing time and how much they want to use him. As Weltman has repeatedly said, Isaac has been out for two years and it would not make sense for him to jump back full time.

Orlando is also pretty stacked at his position. So the team can bring him back in slowly. It is not like the Magic are so focused on winning that they need to bring him back. The team can carve out time for Isaac to return.

Expectations are admittedly low. But what is clear for the Magic this year is they just need to see him on the floor and figure out his base so he can continue growing from there.

Still, just getting Isaac back on the floor for this basic thing is key for him and for the team.

If there was a failure from last season, it was that Orlando was not able to get Isaac back on the floor. One of the few goals Jeff Weltman publicly stated for his team was to reintegrate players who were injured.

They got Markelle Fultz back after the All-Star Break. But they ran out of time to bring Isaac back, and then hamstring surgery shut him down again as they worked to get him back to where he was before the surgery.

Injuries have characterized Isaac’s career. He has not only missed the last two seasons with the torn ACL suffered in the bubble at the end of the 2020 season, he has only played more than 50 games once in his career — the 2019 season.

He hit 75 games that season. But that accounts for more than half the games he has played in his four-year career.

That is just a harsh reality for a promising young player.

In his 34 games in 2020, he averaged 11.9 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game with 2.3 blocks and 1.6 steals per game. He was seemingly set to make the All-Defensive Team if he had not gotten hurt that season. It certainly felt like Isaac had made a sizable leap.

To some extent, Isaac is still the only player with a proven elite skill set. Of course, it has just been tucked away for two years. The question will be how quickly he can get back there if he even can after such a long layoff.

Asking him to get all the way back this season is going to be asking too much. The Magic are not expecting that back. All they want to see is him get back on the court and build toward comfort. They need to see flashes of that skill set and skill level.

There are going to be good and bad days and good and bad stretches for Isaac throughout the season. He is likely sitting out at least one end of the back-to-backs and having managed rest days. He is likely going to be on a minute restriction beyond that — Fultz was kept at a pretty strict 20-minute limit until the season’s final games.

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Orlando has the depth around Isaac to afford this much caution. And so the point of this season for Isaac is simply to play. That is all anyone wants to see.

That is honestly the biggest thing the Magic need to see. The goal for Orlando and for Isaac is to just have him play, get a feel for the game and get comfortable again.

It is a simple thing. There are no statistical expectations or anything like that. Any meaningful contribution the Magic get from Isaac is going to be a success.

Because then it becomes about building toward what is next.

This is a proof-of-concept season for a team rebuilding and potentially imagining bigger moves down the road. But this is a proof-of-concept season for Isaac too. It is a chance for the Magic to see where Isaac is at and where he can grow.

So the only stat that matters for Isaac this year is really “games played.” Just playing him for any amount of time consistently throughout the season should be considered a success. It is essential to figuring out the next steps for Isaac and for the team.

Whatever Isaac can give to this team is gravy. If he can leap back to where he was in 2020, that would be extra gravy on a sweet young team.

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For now, just having Isaac back on the floor is enough to get excited about and hopeful for. That is really all that matters for him.