Jonathan Isaac was always going to have setbacks with Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic continue to pursue the Play-In tournament, and their two games since the All-Star break have brought with them much of what we have seen already this season.
A win over the Detroit Pistons, followed up by a disappointing loss to an Indiana Pacers outfit that they had a chance to overtake in the standings.
One of the bright spots for the team continues to be Jonathan Isaac’s return to the court after two-and-a-half years out injured.
Isaac has hit the ground running, and in the win over the Pistons he managed a season-high 16 minutes of game time.
But the big concern was always avoiding the start and stop of recovery. The Magic have tried to limit his minutes so they could make sure he plays uninterrupted.
That may always have been a dream.
Jonathan Isaac missed Saturday’s game — teammates noted his presence was missed especially with how it jumbled up some of the team’s rotations — with some soreness. He will miss Monday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans with knee injury management, although it appears the issue is his surgically repaired hamstring rather than his knee.
Jonathan Isaac is now off the court due to knee injury management, and although this has come at a bad time, it was always going to happen as he gets more reps for the Orlando Magic.
It is no coincidence the Magic looked flat defensively for parts of the loss to the Pacers, and that is because Isaac was not playing.
Already he has shown tremendous play on that end since returning, and really there is no limit to how good he can be as a defensive player in the league.
Where the issues arise, however, is in the fact the Magic now need Isaac to show some kind of reliability as they chase the Play-in tournament.
It is clear in the recent addition of Michael Carter-Williams, and by sending Caleb Houstan to the G-League where possible, that this is a group that is trying to win games.
The organization freed up some minutes at the trade deadline in moving Terrence Ross and Mo Bamba, as well as letting R.J. Hampton leave to pursue opportunities elsewhere.
With Bol Bol a center who is a liability defensively, a position has now been created for Jonathan Isaac to back up starting big Wendell Carter, or else play alongside him as part of an elite defensive group.
So it is no surprise Isaac would struggle to keep up with the newfound demands being placed upon his body.
The Magic are no longer a team that is trying to tank, and who can afford to bring the player along at a decelerated pace.
But fans should not be worried by this latest setback for Isaac, really it is just a precaution after playing 16 minutes in that Pistons win.
He had 10 points in that game, the most since returning to the court. He also made two shots from deep out of three attempted, having not even taken one in the three games previous.
There is a difference between asking more of a player, and being reckless with them, and the Magic are doing the right thing here.
It just now feels like any contribution from Isaac is no longer a bonus this season, and instead, something that will be relied upon more and more as the Magic get better.
With games running out to make the Play-In however, there is no need to really push Isaac.
The time to do that will be next season when the franchise has a full year with what they hope will be a healthy roster to try and make the playoffs proper.
Watching Isaac sit out also highlights that the front office still very much views him as a part of their long-term plans, as they should.
Talk of trading Isaac when he had been away from the court for so long had some sort of logic to it at the time, but that is not the case anymore.
We have seen in his limited run that there is no other player on this roster who has the combination of skills that he has.
On his day he is on the same level, and perhaps better than, Carter Jr. defensively. He is also able to score at a more consistent rate than Bamba and even Bol.
Those players are hard to come by and next to offensive starlets Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner, those skills will be even more appreciated.
So even if it ultimately means the Magic don’t make the Play-in this year, the handling of Isaac right now should not concern fans.
Niggles and setbacks will continue to happen on his road to playing 30 minutes a night or back-to-back games, especially so soon after returning to action.
But with the Magic having the 17th-best defensive rating in the league this season (113.8), and what would be far and away the best rating in the NBA when Isaac is on the court (107.7), ensuring he does not overdo it is paramount to the continued development of this roster.