Orlando Magic getting reintroduced to Jonathan Isaac

Jonathan Isaac is still recovering from his injuries. But he is clearly capable of making an impact for the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports
Jonathan Isaac is still recovering from his injuries. But he is clearly capable of making an impact for the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports /

Jonathan Isaac is like a shark. You can almost hear the theme from Jaws playing in the background as teams start probing the paint trying to find a seam to get to the basket. They are certainly looking around.

Even after missing most of the last three seasons, opponents know Isaac is hanging around. Sometimes they need a reminder of what he can do.

So Jonas Valanciunas, outmuscling and out-positioning Jonathan Isaac, thought he had the room to get to the basket. He rumbled down the lane and went up for a hook shot. Then Isaac quickly came from behind and swatted the ball emphatically out of bounds. The ball barely had time to leave Valanciunas’ hands before it was completely erased to oblivion. Valanciunas certainly could not imagine Isaac could make this kind of recovery.

If there is one thing Isaac never lost through all the years rehabbing and waiting out his injury, it is his defensive instincts. Players are still astounded by what Isaac is capable of defensively. And his ability to change games defensively will help him break out on the court this year once again.

Jonathan Isaac is attempting to return to full play after his series of injuries. His defensive impact for the Orlando Magic is already abundantly clear.

In the run-up to Friday’s game against Flamengo, a reporter from Brazil asked Isaac if he was ready to fly. The answer through preseason seemed to be a resounding, “Yes.”

"“I’m ready, let’s go,” Isaac said Thursday after practice. “I feel great. Glad to be on the floor. I feel extremely blessed to be playing again and ready to have a great year.”"

Isaac scored a total of 11 points in 27.5 minutes, making only 3 of 13 shots and 2 for 6 from beyond the arc. He added four rebounds, two steals and six blocks.

This tracks with his struggles from his limited time last season.

In his 11 games last year, Isaac averaged 5.0 points per game and shot 41.5 percent from the floor but 40.0 percent from beyond the arc. He averaged 4.0 rebounds per game, 1.3 steals per game and 0.4 blocks per game.

To further illustrate that point, the Magic had a 107.7 defensive rating with Isaac on the floor. That was the second-best mark of any player on the team for the entire season (Goga Bitadze was first). But Orlando scored only 102.0 points per 100 possessions with Isaac on the floor.

His defense is clearly ahead of his offense still. But that is part of the process for Isaac in making this final step in his comeback.

"“I feel like I’m still getting adjusted to the pace and feeling myself out and just trying to be helpful,” Isaac said after practice Thursday. “I’m playing limited minutes right now it being preseason. When I get in, just trying to disrupt, pick my spots, shoot the ball when I’m open and go from there.”"

Isaac said at media day that he was unaware of any minute restrictions on him. But the team repeatedly said they would continue to manage and watch his minutes to start the season. We will find out just how much they will play Isaac when the season begins on Wednesday.

Without a doubt, the Magic are still going to be giving Isaac time to recover. And Isaac is still working his way back to being a full participant.

But it is also pretty clear the kind of impact he can make defensively. Everyone could feel it when he returned to the lineup last year. Just as they could feel it in the preseason too.

"“It’s incredible,” Moe Wagner said after Tuesday’s game against the Pelicans. “It’s almost so challenging because you are so trained to help. But with him, you don’t have to. He takes it on himself to not wanting help either. Once you get that rhythm together, I think we had 11 games last year and our lineup was so good defensively because he was in there. He basically takes the pick and roll out of the equation. It makes it easier for the big man to get back and he is an incredible rebounder as well. He makes up for mistakes and it’s great to have him on our team.”"

Wagner will likely play most of his minutes with Isaac alongside him. That should help counteract one of his biggest defensive weaknesses. Last year, opponents made 75.5 percent of their shots against Wagner at the rim, according to Second Spectrum. That was the worst mark among center who appeared in at least 41 games.

Isaac, on the other hand, gave up just 50.0 percent on eight attempts at the rim in 11 games. Back in the 2020 season, opponents shot 51.0 percent on 145 attempts at the rim.

To say the least, Isaac still makes a major impact at the rim. And that is going to help erase a lot of mistakes.

As will his ability to get steal and step out onto the perimeter and defend. Isaac can seemingly be everywhere and he uses his length and speed to close gaps quickly too.

"“His defensive effort is something that we’ve known he is capable of doing,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Tuesday’s game. “He is one of the best defenders I have ever been around. His IQ on the defensive end is something special. He’s covering up for guys, he’s communicating.”"

Mosley said teammates recognize how valuable he can be. Not that he should be a defensive crutch for the team. But he will erase a lot of shots.

The Magic will need a lot of support from their bench. It should be one of their strengths this year. And Isaac certainly will have opposing reserves quaking somewhat in their boots. He has a clear role for this team and it is going to be hard to imagine him off the floor.

The Magic are still getting used to the idea of what he will bring to the floor. And eager to see him get more comfortable and grow.

"“Obviously, we all know what JI can do on the defensive end,” Cole Anthony said after practice Thursday. “I think he is one of the best and most versatile defenders in the league. I think he is ever-improving on the offensive side. I think he has just improved his offensive game steadily. He is someone who can help us score. Obviously, we know he can defend, but he will help us on the offensive side more than he has in the past.”"

Every player grows with more experience and time. That has been the one thing that has been robbed from Isaac. He missed three years. And so there will be some trepidation and growing pains as he gets back onto the court.

Next. Anthony Black's preseason one of steady progress. dark

But even with that, Isaac is clearly capable of making an impact. His defensive impact is still clearly there to build on and grow with. And everyone is eager to get used to that all over again.