Jonathan Isaac stands out in long-awaited return with Lakeland Magic

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 /

Nobody probably knew what would happen when Jonathan Isaac stepped back onto the court for the first time in more than 800 days — a number that somehow puts into perspective how long his 2.5-year absence was.

Isaac got his standing ovation as he took to the court at the RP Funding Center, realizing that part of his journey. But what would he look like actually playing a game?

Would he take things easy and try to feel his way through the game? How would he react to that first bump in the game? Would his defensive instincts still be there?

Isaac — and everyone within the Magic — assured the world Isaac still had all the basketball skills. One thing he did not forget how to do in two years is play basketball. But doing that in an empty gym or in 3-on-3 with support staff is different than a game.

This was his last step. His most important step to returning to the court fully and finally.

Jonathan Isaac returned to the court for the Lakeland Magic, playing his first professional game in 2.5 years. He did not miss a beat and looked impressive.

And it sure did not seem like Isaac missed much of a beat. In fact, the way Isaac stepped onto the court with confidence and aggression seemed to suggest he has been ready for this moment for a long time.

To say the least, Isaac surpassed expectations for his first professional game in 2.5 years, scoring 15 points on 6-for-12 shooting in 15 minutes of play.

He had a huge burst the moment he stepped on the court, showing those defensive instincts, recording a deflection and forcing a 24-second shot clock violation on his first possession. The first time he touched the ball, as his teammates spent most of the game looking to get him the ball at every opportunity, he drove right into his defender and got a foul, making the free throw for two points.

From there, Isaac was off to the races, going directly at defenders and trying to finish with some authority, absorbing contact and getting to the foul line and using some surprisingly strong footwork to finish around and over defenders.

He finished with surprising authority and physicality in one play. He spun and showed a deft touch on a pair of turnaround jumpers on another pair of plays. He raced out to cover the perimeter with speed and ran back in transition to challenge shots, getting a contest on a layup. The Knicks were always aware of where Isaac was.

It did not seem like Isaac lost any of those instincts or the pressure and presence that made him such a special player before his injury.

All the stats he got were important and good. It showed what he is still capable of for the Magic when he returns fully. There is still some ways to go before that.

What matters more was this: It was his movements.

The quick and decisive way that he sprinted to his spots on defense and the cuts he made. The aggression he moved with to drive to the basket. His willingness to absorb and take contact. The patience he showed with the ball in his hands.

Isaac did not look like a player who had missed 2.5 years and was playing his first game in such a long time. At least not until the second half when his fatigue really started to set in. He was laboring a bit more and not nearly as quick or active as he was through his first stints.

Admittedly, Isaac’s legs were not fully under him as he struggled to get his shots to go down from deep.

There is still a lot of work for Isaac to go at this point. His return to the NBA is closer than ever. And he certainly looked dominant on a G-League floor.

It is not clear yet whether Isaac will play a second game in Lakeland — Lakeland has home games Friday, Saturday and Monday all before the Orlando Magic return home for practices next week ahead of Jan. 20’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Next. Who will be the Magic's next player to score 50?. dark

But Isaac was on the floor and looked very good. It is only a matter of time now. But as always, the goal is to continue to get better with each appearance until finally that last hurdle is cleared.