Jonathan Isaac will be huge for the Orlando Magic down the stretch

The Orlando Magic are figuring out its rotations and naming key roles as the Playoffs approach. Jonathan Isaac may be the most important role player for the team.

Jonathan Isaac figures to be one of the most important players on the Orlando Magic's playoff roster as he gets more comfortable and builds himself up to end the season.
Jonathan Isaac figures to be one of the most important players on the Orlando Magic's playoff roster as he gets more comfortable and builds himself up to end the season. / Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

They kept him around for a reason.

At one point, the Orlando Magic may have thought of Jonathan Isaac as part of a jumbo-sized core that would terrorize teams defensively. He was always a central part of the story Jeff Weltman was putting together.

Things derailed quickly, of course, and Weltman had to reset.

Jonathan Isaac began an injury odyssey after injuring his knee in 2020 -- both in January and then again in the bubble. Mo Bamba never materialized into a viable starting center. And Aaron Gordon moved on to play a key role in the Denver Nuggets' run to a championship in 2023 as the playoff teams from 2019 and 2020 reached their ceilings in Orlando.

Isaac remained. He worked and rehabbed in the background as the Magic's core changed. Their mission to use length and versatility to build a defensive foundation never did.

The team may have changed, but Isaac's role and what he can contribute to the team never did. Now that Orlando is back in the playoff picture, Isaac's importance to the team remains the same. He remains a critical piece for the Magic in their playoff push and someone who could be pushing for even more.

After a long journey back from his injury, Isaac has felt better, looked better and played better. He has turned himself into a vital piece to a rebuild and the Magic have to be smart on how much he plays because he is coming off of an injury that kept him sidelined.

The Magic stuck with him though and they are reaping the rewards of that decision to keep him. He is a true glue guy, a 3-and-D-type of basketball player that the Magic desperately need.

Isaac is averaging 6.4 points per game, 4.3 rebounds per game and 1.9 "stocks" per game. His defensive impact is as great as ever. The Magic have a 101.7 defensive rating with Isaac on the floor and a +10.9 net rating, the best marks among rotation players in both categories.

According to data from Basketball-Index, he averages 3.52 deflections per 75 possessions and opponents shoot 22.60 percentage points worse than expected at the rim when Isaac is the closest defender. He averages 1.68 rim points saved per 75 possessions.

Opponents shoot 46.4 percent at the rim against Isaac, according to data from Second Spectrum.

Among his block victims at the rim are Victor Wembanyama and Obi Toppin. He is someone who erases space after his own mistakes and can still chase down blocks.

Isaac is a game-changing defender.

But his play has picked up after the All-Star Break. Since the All-Star Break, he is averaging 7.9 points per game, 4.8 rebounds per game and 1.8 "stocks" per game. He is shooting 10 for 15 from beyond the arc after the break too, adding some offense.

Orlando has already shown its willingness to experiment with his versatility too. He finished the game successfully in the win over the Minnesota Timberwolves in February. The Magic openly began experimenting with him as the backup center during Wednesday's win over the Brooklyn Nets, a position Isaac admits he is still learning but still made plays like this one:

His agility and length with his ability to defend multiple positions and score from the perimeter makes Orlando a threat down the stretch.

The Magic are still seeking ways to expand and grow his game. In Wednesday's game against the Nets, the Magic used him as the team's backup center. That versatility and strength is what makes Isaac so dangerous. He scored 11 points and made 3 of 5 3-pointers in the game.

But more importantly, Isaac is turning into a solid veteran role player for this current team. He has the will and can defend the best players in the NBA. It will be interesting to see how the Magic use him to contain opponents because they are using him at the center position to protect the rim. Isaac is a player who can defend multiple positions at a high level.

It figures he will be difficult to keep off the floor considering how strong he is on defense and the impact and energy he brings. Isaac may end up being one of the Magic's most important players in their Playoff series.

His nickname is the Minister of Defense. This is not Lloyd J. Austin III but he is responsible for anchoring the Magic's defense. He might not have the most size as a rim protector. But his length puts him in a position to be just as effective as great rim protectors like Dikembe Mutombo or Kevin Garnett.

He is the perfect match for this young blossoming team in Orlando.

He will be needed in more ways than one when Orlando starts its Playoff run. He may need to start or play starter's minutes in some games depending on who the Magic are playing. The Magic may still be cautious with him because of his injuries, but Isaac's play is demanding he do more. At some point they will set him free and unleash him fully.

If Orlando is protecting a lead late, Isaac will be on the floor -- Isaac has played 27.8 clutch minutes this year in 11 games and the Magic are 9-2 -- to help defend the rim and make scoring hard. That is what the Orlando wants.

Isaac can defend any number of players whether that is star forwards like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown or Giannis Antetokounmpo; centers like Julius Randle, Myles Turner or Bam Adebayo; or even guards like Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell or Tyrese Haliburton.

Isaac may or may not be called upon to defend these guys individually -- Jalen Suggs probably will defend perimeter players -- but it sure helps to have a guy who can disrupt their shooting motion or be able to switch onto bigger opponents.

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Isaac will be critical to building the confidence of the second unit and ultimately the confidence of the entire defensive strategy. With him, the Magic can pretty much defend whoever. Without him, there is a gaping hole on the defensive side of the ball.