Orlando Magic thankful for good news on Jonathan Isaac's injury

Jonathan Isaac left the Orlando Magic's loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday in the first quarter after an awkward fall that left him clutching his left knee. After years of recovering from an injury to that left knee, just a strain feels like the best news possible.

Jonathan Isaac has returned and made a huge defensive impact for the Orlando magic this season as he tries to put injury behind him.
Jonathan Isaac has returned and made a huge defensive impact for the Orlando magic this season as he tries to put injury behind him. / Rich Storry/GettyImages

Everyone associated with the Orlando Magic had the same response to the end of the first quarter on Sunday in Atlanta.

Jonathan Isaac was driving to the basket when he bumped into Jalen Johnson. Isaac fell and his knee slipped on a wet spot on the floor. Instinctually, it seemed, Isaac grabbed his left leg as the team's medical staff rushed onto the floor.

Everyone had been there before. They had seen this story. It was hard not to feel some emotion. The good news was that he walked off the court under his own power.

Even after the game Sunday, there was some sighs of relief.

"You pray the best for that one," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Sunday's game. "My heart dropped when I saw it happen. But again, he is such a tough, resilient kid. He's in the back. Everyone went to talk to him and make sure he was OK."

And the team got some better news Monday when an MRI returned no structural damage. He is officially QUESTIONABLE for Tuesday's game against the Brooklyn Nets with a left knee strain.

Isaac may miss some time. But this is good news in years of bad news when it comes to Isaac and knee injuries.

There is almost a certainty that this is not a serious injury and Isaac will be back sooner than later.

Isaac's comeback story has still been pretty incredible. He has already played 40 games this year averaging 6.2 points per game, 4.2 rebounds per game and 1.9 stocks per game. He is shooting 47.9 percent from the floor and 29.9 percent from three.

The Magic have been fairly cautious with him still and you can expect them to be cautious with him coming back from any discomfort he might have with his knee this time as they prepare for the Playoffs.

There are plenty of sighs of relief because the Magic understand that despite how much the team has limited him and been cautious with him this season, he is vitally important to their playoff hopes.

"You never want to see that happen, especially JI knowing how hard he has fought back multiple times," Franz Wagner said after Sunday's game. "Hopefully everything is going to be all right. We definitely need him."

Isaac may not be hitting the numbers he hit before his original knee injury in 2020. But even in his limited minutes since returning from injury last year, he was still a dominant defensive player.

That has continued this year and the team has started to ramp up his minutes. Isaac has been played more regularly despite using caution on back-to-backs and the team wants to play him at the end of games to hold onto leads.

The Magic have a rotation-player-best 101.1 defensive rating with Isaac on the floor. The Magic are one of the best defensive teams in the league with an overall defensive rating of 112.2. This is an incredible difference and a signal of Isaac's defensive importance.

Lest you think Isaac is an offensive drain -- and his offense has been inconsistent this year with plenty of wayward 3-point shots and a constant diet of putbacks and cuts to the basket -- the Magic have a 112.9 offensive rating with Isaac on the floor. The team's overall average is 113.0 this year.

The Magic are 25-15 in games Isaac plays. There is simply an added confidence when he plays.

A lot of that comes on the defensive end. According to data from NBA.com, opponents shoot 40.5 percent when Isaac is the closest defender, 7.7 percentage points worse than expected.

Isaac is in the top 10 percent of the league with 1.9 steals per 75 possessions, 3.83 deflections per 75 possessions and 2.83 blocks per 75 possessions. According to Basketball-Index, opponents shoot 22.60 percentage points worse than expected at the rim when Isaac is defending. He saves 1.83 points at the rim per 75 possessions, placing him in the 99th percentile in the league.

Opponents shoot 45.1 percent at the rim against Isaac on 2.1 field goal attempts per game, according to data from Second Spectrum. Isaac is second in the league in that mark among players who have played at least 10 minutes per game and appeared in 21 games (a quarter of the season).

In the catch-all stats, Isaac is in the 98th percentile in D-LEBRON and 97th percentile in defensive box plus-minus.

Isaac is playing limited minutes still. He does not run with the starters a ton. But the numbers merely support the eye test and his incredible defensive effort. The Magic are trying to expand his usage.

The team has started using him in more lineups with Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner as he has cleared the 20-minute hurdle and faces fewer maintenance restrictions. The trio of Magic forwards have played 102 minutes together with a +8.3 net rating (100.5/92.2 offensive/defensive rating split).

That group is especially strong in the clutch, when the team typically deploys that group to protect leads. The Magic know Isaac can be a wild card for any potential postseason matchup. When Isaac is in, the other team does not seem capable of scoring.

That is not all on Isaac. But he clearly makes plays for the team.

There is obviously the personal fears when the Magic saw their teammate go down on Sunday. Everyone felt it, having gone through the starts and stops of Isaac's career so often. Losing what he means for the team's playoff push is secondary, but still important.

This has been a dream season for Isaac. One that suggests a healthy summer could elevate his game even further. He remains an important piece for the Magic as they ponder their future and the ways their roster can grow.

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This was the best news possible for the team.