By John Denton
June 29, 2017
ORLANDO – Jonathan Isaac’s boyish smile, floppy hair and rail-think frame repeatedly remind those watching the Orlando Magic’s summer-league sessions that the forward is still a teenager.
Then again, there are many times on the basketball court when Isaac – who is still four months away from his 20th birthday – plays like someone with a maturity and understanding well beyond his years. Magic assistant coach Chad Forcier, Orlando head’s coach for the upcoming Mountain Dew Orlando Pro Summer League, remembered one specific moment from practice when Isaac impressed with his high basketball IQ and his willingness to be patient and pragmatic.
“He ran a basic pick-and-pop, someone threw it to him and he didn’t like the look that he had and he took (the ball) right away to the second side and the ball didn’t stop,’’ Forcier recalled. “He got right into a (dribble-hand-off play), turned right around and flipped it back into a step-up pick-and-roll (for a basket). It sounds a little scientific probably to some, but it was sophisticated to someone who is 19 years old and in his third pro practice. We appreciated it.’’
The prep for the upcoming summer league play has served as the official start of Isaac’s pro career with the Magic, who drafted the versatile forward with the No. 6 pick in last week’s NBA Draft. Orlando practiced twice on Wednesday, twice on Thursday and it will go once on Friday before facing the Indiana Pacers on Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Amway Center practice court. The six-team, 20-game Mountain Dew Orlando Pro Summer League – which is closed to the public – runs from Saturday to Thursday.
Isaac, who has had a whirlwind of activity in his life since last Thursday night’s draft, admitted that the magnitude of being in the NBA has started to fully sink in this week.
“After every practice, you sit down in your hotel room and you think over the day and it’s surreal that I am here,’’ said Isaac, a product of Florida State who has lived in the Sunshine State the past nine years. “I think I’ve played really well so far. I’ve given everything that I’ve got every play and I’ve been able to score some and play great defense.’’
Orlando drafted Isaac because of a skill set that includes a 6-foot-10-½ inch frame, a 7-foot-2 wingspan, and a 9-foot-2 standing reach while also possessing the ball skills and fluidity of a wing player. He used those tools to average 12 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals a game in his lone season at Florida State.
Combine those physical gifts with his advanced maturity and the Magic like what they have seen so far from Isaac. President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman, GM John Hammond and head coach Frank Vogel attended Thursday morning’s practice session and they – like Forcier – had to be happy with what Isaac has shown to this point.
“He’s just a sponge right now. He’s absorbing things, he asks questions and you coach him on something or tell him something and he’s able to go out and apply it pretty quickly,’’ Forcier said. “He plays with his teammates, he’s very unselfish and he tries to make the right play all the time. Overall, I’m very impressed to see him.’’
Isaac said he is trying to walk the fine line of wanting to show off his massive potential while also acknowledging the need to mesh with new teammates he just met on Wednesday. Adjusting to the pro game is another factor ahead for him this week and he admitted that there are few times when he can relax because of the expectations being asked of him on both ends of the floor.
It is a challenge he openly welcomes, he stressed.
“The hardest thing of this whole thing is that you want to be perfect, you want to get it right every single time and you don’t want to get stopped and you hope to hear the coach say that you did it great every single time,’’ Isaac admitted. “But it is a learning process. It’s hard to fathom that I’m a rookie and all these guys have been through this before and they’re getting stuff quicker than me. So it’s hard to not get frustrated.
“For me, really, it’s just about getting these nerves out of the way, the 19-year-old continued. “It’s tough because this is so new and you can’t prepare for it. You can’t prepare for a pro-level game, so it’s just about getting the nerves out and having some fun and showing what I can do.’’
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