Jonathan Isaac played in only 11 games last season after three seasons on the shelf recovering from a torn ACL injury and other knee injuries. It was a long time for him to play precious few games.
His 11-game return last year was promising but clearly rusty. He played in short bursts — usually no more than two six-minute stints in each game to get to 11.3 minutes per game. Then came the hamstring surgery and six weeks of recovery to start some things over.
Isaac was cleared to play fairly quickly and got some run in with the team during pre-training camp pickup games. But that is certainly not the same.
It is not the same for everyone, let alone a player who has played so little over the last three seasons. So expectedly, the first preseason game required some time.
Everyone on the Orlando Magic needed to get their legs under them in their first preseason game. Now the goal is to get better and further get into rhythm.
Just look at Isaac in his first preseason game, using the early part of the game to try to find his shot and get used to the physicality of a new team. He, like the team, needed a spark to calm down and get things going.
Jonathan Isaac found that when he cut to the basket and took a Cole Anthony feed and laid it in with the four. Isaac slapped the floor in celebration. Then on the next possession, he proceeded to make an incredible block, switching his block hand to erase a shot.
Isaac had seven points on 2-for-7 shooting. He looked rusty in a lot of ways, still looking for his rhythm and, as the cliche goes, trying to get his legs under him.
This was representative of the entire team. And many of the problems the Orlando Magic saw throughout their 122-105 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday were things the team could expect from the shock of a first game.
Everyone was trying to get their feet under them.
"“We’re still getting our feet under us,” Isaac said after practice Wednesday. “It is preseason. It is what it is. We did some great things. We have some things we have to work on. But it felt good to get a win and have everyone contribute.”"
Isaac said for himself, he felt like he was getting his legs under him still and his timing down. That was evident with the way that he played.
But that was the same anybody could say about that first game of the preseason. It was all a process of getting to know everyone again and finding the things they have to do to get better.
Despite the Magic winning — or better, trailing by one at the half when all the starters for both teams were playing despite the Magic trailing by 16 at one point — the team certainly feels like a lot to clean up.
Both Paolo Banchero on Wednesday and Markelle Fultz after shootaround Thursday said there was a lot of focus in practice on crashing the boards. They also both said the team has some defensive rotations and positioning to clean up.
As Banchero put it, it is stuff you expect to see in the first preseason game. It all feels like things the team can ultimately correct.
The Magic gave up 17 offensive rebounds, a 29.8 percent offensive rebound rate and 22 second-chance points for the game — they gave up nine offensive rebounds, a 32.1 percent offensive rebound rate and 14 second-chance points in the first half.
Rebounding was both something the Magic were good at but also struggled in key moments to grab rebounds.
Last year, Orlando was eighth in the league in defensive rebound rate at 73.0 percent. That would suggest the Magic were not terrible on the glass. They got their share of defensive rebounds even though they did not have one dominant rebounder.
But the Magic gave up 13.5 second-chance points per game, 15th in the league. For a team that was eighth in defensive rebounding, but still giving up that many second-chance points suggests those offensive rebounds they do give up matter.
This has been something everyone needs to work on and improve upon. With the Magic switching a ton, gang rebounding is going to be vital for the team.
And that is something the team will certainly aim to improve Thursday against the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team that has a lot of size and rebounds well (except for in the playoffs).
Orlando still has a lot of things to get down defensively too.
The Magic ended up defending well for the whole game — 101.0 defensive rating. But through the first half, Orlando gave up 121.4 points per 100 possessions in the first half. The defense has to get a lot better and a lot of that is in tightening rotations and limiting fouls and turnovers.
All things you expect a team to get better at as the preseason goes on and the team plays more. This is really about getting their legs under them.
Ultimately, that is what preseason is for. And so the goal will be to look better.
Isaac certainly looked better as he played through his first-half stint. He found his legs and everything started to look better. That is the only way to get better, to play more.
And that is the opportunity the Magic have Thursday night.