By John Denton
Oct. 2, 2017
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – On Tuesday, baby-faced Orlando Magic rookie Jonathan Isaac will hit a major milestone when he moves out of his teenaged years and celebrates his 20th birthday.
However, that milestone will most likely pale in comparison to the momentous moment that the highly touted forward out of Florida State University celebrated on Monday night.
The 6-foot-10, 210-pound Isaac made his NBA debut on Monday in Orlando’s 92-84 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, and he was easily one of the night’s bright spots with his stellar play. Despite battling nerves all afternoon and early in the game, Isaac finished with 15 points, three rebounds and two steals in nearly 29 minutes of play in the preseason game.
The debut was strong enough to earn some well-deserved praise from Magic coach Frank Vogel, who is already quite impressed with the rookie’s aptitude offensively and defensive instincts that are well beyond his years.
“He looks like he belongs – right now,’’ Vogel said with excitement. “Obviously, he’s going to get his butt kicked a few different times this year because he’s young and he still has a lot to learn, but his instincts, raw talent and ability are exciting.’’
Isaac played almost exclusively with Orlando’s second and third-teamers, but he still found ways to exert his influence upon the game. He made six of 10 shots, one of four 3-point tries and two of four free throws. He ducked inside on an out-of-bounds play for a dunk that were his first NBA points. Seconds later, he had another high-flying dunk in transition and he was off and rolling. Isaac said he might not have looked nervous, but that belied the jitters churning inside of him all throughout the game.
“After I got my first buckets, I had no wind whatsoever. After you get all of that anxious energy out, then I couldn’t breathe, but once I got to my second wind I was OK,’’ Isaac said. “I can’t wait for the moment that’s not so nervous for me and I can just walk into games and be OK.’’
Isaac said there’s really no comparison between the excitable feelings he had after Monday’s NBA debut and how he will feel on Tuesday morning when he wakes up and he’s no longer a teen.
“Honestly, it’s (Monday’s NBA debut) because I’m not one who puts a lot of emphasis on birthdays,’’ he admitted. “I’m not going to be able to do anything because we have an Open Practice (for Magic fans on Tuesday night at the Amway Center), so I will just chill.’’
Isaac joked that he “faked it a lot’’ when it came to masking how nervous he actually was in Monday’s game. Still, he had high expectations of himself and he was delighted that he found a way to leave a big imprint on his first NBA game.
“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised, but I’m just really happy that it went well,’’ he said. “It’s just what I expect from myself – to play well, calm down and play.’’
What Vogel liked most of all was how Isaac stayed within himself and didn’t force the action – something that often gets rookies into trouble as they are attempting to prove themselves against pro players. That was never the case on Monday with Isaac, and that’s something that is worthy of a celebration, Vogel vowed.
“I love that about him that he’s not going to be out there forcing things,’’ Vogel said. “He’s got a good feel for the game on the offensive end and he’s very versatile. He can knock down open shots, he can put the ball on the deck, he can score on guys and he can make appropriate passes when help comes. I’m excited about what he looked like.’’
Isaac said recently something that has helped ease his transition from college to the NBA has been the sound advice that he’s gotten from management and teammates. Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and GM John Hammond have talked to Isaac about staying patient and positive, while forward Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier have been more technical with their advice. Those words of encouragement have helped him not be so critical of himself.
“Everybody seems to be pleased with me, but I’m the one who is the most not pleased with myself,’’ he said with a laugh. “My teammates have just been telling me to not take myself too seriously, don’t press, just play and focus on the process and the rest will take care of itself. And in terms of the game, just get there and see what happens instead of overthinking it.’’
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