The frustration of another loss and a slow 2-9 start for a young, but promising Orlando Magic team inevitably brings up the same question from fans. At this point, anything going wrong or anything going right with this team brings up the question:
What is the deal with Jonathan Isaac?
The frustration from fans over the lack of information and the length of Isaac’s recovery is building. The fact the Magic are nearing the midpoint of this homestand and Isaac will not return — along with potentially several others of the Magic’s long list of injured players — is only raising the frustration of a team trying its hardest but still pretty severely undermanned.
It is hard for this team to get its base with so many key players out.
The good news is though that there is Isaac news to report. He is inching closer to playing, telling Khobi Price of The Orlando Sentinel that he has started playing 5-on-5 with coaches and is working to regain conditioning to get back on the court and stay on the court without any setbacks. As Isaac put it to Price, he feels comfortable enough to play right now but the team wants to clear one final hurdle.
Jonathan Isaac has confirmed he has started playing 5-on-5 as his recovery enters the final stages and his return to the court is imminent. For the Orlando Magic his return on the court is a bonus and a welcome one.
That 5-on-5 is only happening when the team is in town and at the Advent Health Training Center. So, even if he is not playing in the next week, he is getting important work as part of his return to play.
He has not started traveling with the team yet, but if he makes the next road trip, that would be a good sign of how close he is getting — the Magic have injured players travel with the team when they feel they can get more from traveling and integrating with the team rather than working at the training center.
Of note then too, the Orlando Magic’s next extended time at home will take place over Thanksgiving when the Magic play a pair of games against the Philadelphia 76ers. Orlando has a five-game homestand in early December too if you are looking for a target for Isaac — or anyone’s — return.
Of note too then, the Lakeland Magic play a pair of home games this weekend and then another pair of home games Nov. 25 and 26. There are not too many opportunities for Orlando to steal some time for Isaac in Lakeland if the team is looking to expedite this final stage.
Nevertheless, Isaac’s return is close. Closer than it has ever been. And it seems like Isaac is on target to play his first game since August 2020 sooner than later.
That is certainly going to be a welcome addition. It is easy to forget because of his prolonged absence just how much of an impact he can have on the floor.
But Isaac is a bonus for this team. He is no longer someone the team is relying on to make the team better. He almost certainly will provide a boost. But he is no longer a central player on the team.
Isaac will play this year. But he is not a star or even a potential starter. His role this year is just to get back on the court and give the team another potential switcher on defense and a young player to develop on offense. His production is simply icing on top of the cake for this young team.
In the 2020 season, Isaac averaged 11.9 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting a 51.8-percent effective field goal percentage.
His big impact was on defense where he averaged 2.3 blocks and 1.6 steals per game. The team in the 2020 season had a 105.7 defensive rating with Isaac on the floor (their overall defensive rating that season was 109.2).
If anything, the Magic were eager to see how Isaac would grow offensively. He was starting to come into his own offensively after his first full season in the 2019 playoff run. Even in his short stint in the bubble, his shooting looked much improved.
It would be reaching to expect Isaac to step right back in and be an All-Defensive team player or a readymade offensive player (although his prolonged absence from his lateral corner injury had him returning like a 3-point sharpshooter through an exhibition game and two seeding round games).
The Magic are not expecting that either. The team has been overly cautious with his return from injury because of how long he has been out.
It is the one thing president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman has been open and transparent about in this process. He has said repeatedly the team is mindful that it has been two years since he last played and wants to be careful in bringing him back.
And they can be slow in bringing him back because the franchise’s success no longer depends on Isaac’s presence.
The team Jonathan Isaac is rejoining is not the same one he left — only Terrence Ross and Mo Bamba remain from that 2020 team.
The Magic have drafted Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero the last two years to fill those forward spots. Banchero has looked like a bona fide star through 11 games. Wagner has been a versatile and capable forward to fill in whatever gaps the team needs. Both are potential All-Stars and building blocks for the team.
Orlando has been more than willing to try funky lineups. It is easy to see the Magic at least trying to play all three of these forwards together — with Isaac’s switching ability, he could easily guard out on the perimeter if his skill level and defensive anticipation return.
The Magic clearly have a place for Isaac to return. And judging by their current defensive struggles are certainly eager to add him to the fold on that end most of all.
But Isaac is a bonus to what the Magic already have and are already building. Especially this year when they focus on his recovery and getting him back acclimated to playing.
The focus for the Magic and Isaac are clearly on getting him back on the court. Nobody really knows what he will look like when he takes the floor for the first time.
But at last, there is confirmation that Isaac is getting closer to that day. It is an exciting day and a bonus for a team eager to get healthy once again.