By John Denton
June 22, 2017
ORLANDO – Jonathan Isaac won’t turn 20 years old for another four months and his basketball career is still in its infancy, however the lanky forward already speaks with the maturity and poise of someone well beyond his years.
Isaac, the No. 6 pick of Thursday’s NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic, is aware that he is considered a long-term project because of the rawness of his game. However, he is thought to have superstar potential because of the rare physical gifts that he possesses as a 6-foot-10, 210-pound, do-everything forward. However, Isaac isn’t about to boast about that potential because he knows of the work that is ahead for him in his NBA career.
In some ways, Isaac sounds more like a seasoned NBA executive or a coach asking for time to build instead of a cocky basketball player brimming with confidence and swagger.
“I understand that it’s a process and I’m not where I want to be. I don’t think momentum just shifted in a split second. It takes times to turn things around and it’s going to take time because it’s a process,’’ a philosophical Isaac said via conference call from Brooklyn – site of Thursday’s draft. “I’m not saying it’s going to take five years and I have no intention of it taking five years, but I know it’s going to be a process and I’m going to work every day to help this team.’’
Isaac, 19, was one of a record 16 college freshmen selected in the first round of Thursday’s NBA Draft. Following his high school career in Naples, Fla., and a year at Bradenton’s IMG Academy, Isaac spent one season at Florida State, leading the Seminoles to 27 victories and 12 wins in the always rugged ACC. He averaged 12 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals a game while shooting 50.8 percent from the floor, 78 percent from the free throw line and 34.8 percent from 3-point range.
Despite his towering size and expansive wingspan, Isaac sees himself as more of a perimeter player instead of one who plays out of the post. That could be because he lacks strength and weight, but it also could be because he is simply more comfortable facing the basket.
“Right now, I just see myself as a good basketball player,’’ Isaac said. “I’m someone who can come in and fill spots. I’m definitely more comfortable facing the basket than having my back to the basket, but I do have a mid-range game and a mid-post game. I can do a lot of things – I can hit open shots and make plays off the bounce.’’
Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman, who was conducting his first draft with the franchise following his hiring on May 22, agreed that there were lots of factors that convinced him Isaac was the right pick of Orlando.
“I don’t know what’s not to like about him,’’ Weltman said, adding that the Magic nervously hoped that Isaac would still be available when they drafted No. 6. “Ultimately, the chalk will say that he fell to us at No. 6, but he was rumored potentially anywhere because that’s how talented he is. He’s a terrific kid by all our accounts and we think he’s going to grow into a spectacular player.’’
Orlando went into the night with four draft picks – Nos. 6, 25, 33 and 35 – but it never had an intention of adding that many rookie players to the roster. The Magic dealt the No. 25 pick to Philadelphia for a heavily protected 2020 first-round selection and it shipped No. 35 to the Memphis Grizzlies.
At No. 33, Orlando picked Kansas State forward Wesley Iwundu, a four-year college player who is best known as a tough, versatile defender. The 6-foot-7, 193-pounder averaged 13 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 35 games this past season for K-State.
“With Wesley, you’re talking about a guy who looks like a NBA player because he’s got the length, the quickness and he handles the ball well,’’ Weltman said. “He’s an intelligent player and person and he’s a gym rat. Those are really good ingredients.
“He’s going to be a multi-position player and he’s going to be a guy that we can grow,’’ Weltman added. “We feel he can be a guy that we look back on and say, `We got a steal at that part of the draft.’’’
The Magic are hopeful that the same can be said for Isaac, but they are willing to wait on the lanky teenager to mature physically and mentally in the coming years. Weltman said he told the FSU product that his goal in his first season should be “being the hardest worker on the team.’’
Isaac vowed that his work ethic or desire to be great will never be questioned. Again, however, he vowed that it might take some time for him to grow into being a dominant, difference-making player. He said his long road to this point has taught him the value of patience.
“It’s been my life, literally my life and my journey in this game,’’ Isaac said. “I started as a nobody and had to understand that it’s a process and if I wanted to get to where I am now that I’ve got to put the work in. I understood that I had to put the work in and a day at a time I could get a little bit better.
“I rose in rankings, I showed up on the scene and I surprised everybody because I had that mindset of, `OK, it’s a process,’’’ Isaac continued. “I’m not so pleased with myself in a sense where I think I do anything fantastic or great. I think I have the capability to be an amazing defender and I think I have the capability to be an amazing offensive player. But I have a lot of work to do. I think I’m on the right track.’’
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