Jonathan Isaac’s return to Magic cut short but he remains optimistic for future
After 29 months, Jonathan Isaac made his long-awaited return to the Orlando Magic during the 2022-23 season.
Unfortunately for Isaac, his time back on the floor ended abruptly because of injury — though he expects to be healthy and available for the start of next season.
Isaac made his return with the Magic’s G League affiliate, the Lakeland Magic, on Jan. 11 and played three games for Lakeland before making his return to Orlando in a Jan. 23 win over the Boston Celtics.
He had been sidelined since Aug. 2, 2020, after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the league’s restart in its Disney World bubble.
Isaac averaged 5 points, 4 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 11.3 minutes (11 games) before his season was abruptly cut short when he had season-ending surgery on March 3 to repair a torn left adductor muscle (inner thigh).
He said during his April 10 exit interview that he expects to be “full go” with basketball activities — running up and down at full speed in workouts and playing with guys — by mid-May. This would give him most of the summer to focus solely on his game and not rehabilitation for the first offseason since 2019.
“This is really going to be the first summer I have to fully work,” Isaac said. “Every other summer I’ve been rehabbing trying to get back onto the court. So I’ll hopefully in the next few weeks be a full go. And doing everything I need to do to have a healthy next season.”
Even after missing so much time, Isaac still showed flashes of the player he was becoming before the knee injury and what he could provide.
Isaac developed into a high-level defender before tearing his ACL and displayed a part of the skillset that made him special on that end.
He’s active with his hands and takes advantage of his size (6-foot 10 1/2 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan) to disrupt passing lanes. His 5.5 deflections per 36 minutes were the second most among players who played at least 100 minutes.
Isaac showed great defensive anticipation, leading to 1.3 steals per game in his limited minutes. He stopped plays from happening by picking the offensive players’ pockets (on-ball steal) or being disruptive as a help defender.
Offensively, Isaac displayed more polish compared to before the knee injury. He leaned on his turnaround jumper in the halfcourt and was the team’s top offensive rebounder in the games he was available.
“I kept that hope and belief alive that I’m a unique player and I got a lot of [things] I bring to the table to help the team win,” he said. “Once I was able to get back on the floor, I was confident I’d be able to translate those abilities and I know there’s so much more for me to be able to do. Once I get to a place where I’m — this summer I’m 100% ready to go — it’s going to be exciting.”
Concerns regarding health and on-court availability will continue to surround Isaac.
He’s struggled with lower-body injuries since being drafted with the No. 6 pick in 2017. Isaac has played in 147 of 473 possible regular-season games, including 45 of 309 since the start of the 2019-20 season.
He showed in limited time this past season he can have a positive on-court impact and that there can be a role for him with the Magic as they look to take the next step in their collective development.
The question, as reductive as it is, remains whether Isaac will be available and stay available enough to provide that on-court value.
“I know what our team is capable of, just from watching,” he said. “And then being integrated into it is like knowing I have something to offer to this team getting better. And continuing to get over the hump to make our mark on the league. I’m just focused on that and having a good summer, doing everything I need to do to tighten up my game.”
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.