Had Jonathan Isaac shot 0-for-25 over his last two games, his performance wouldn’t have been quite as concerning as it is right now.
Truth is, Isaac hasn’t shot much better than that exaggerated figure, going a combined 2-for-13 over his last two games. The more alarming aspect, though, is that he has looked lost, timid and passive-to-non-existent on the offensive end.
The stats from Isaac’s last two games are concerning on their own. He had two points on 1 of 7 shooting, one rebound and zero assists in a 106-96 loss to the Clippers on Sunday. The following night, during a blowout loss to Sacramento, he had a nearly identical stat line of two points on 1 of 6 shooting, one rebound and zero assists.
Over the last two games, he has gone 0-for-7 from three, he has more turnovers (3) than rebounds (2), and owns a combined +/- of -26.
Back-to-back poor games are pretty common, particularly for a 21-year old so raw offensively who unofficially is still a rookie in the NBA. Isaac, though, over the last 48 hours or so, has passed up open looks for seemingly no good reason, he has failed to recognize and capitalize on mismatches when presented with them, and he hasn’t played with the confidence and assertiveness he first displayed during summer league and has shown in flashes during the regular season.
For a young player in the developmental stage, it’s better to take a shot and miss, than not have the confidence to take it at all. Especially for a player like Isaac, a building block on the shooting-deprived Magic (as currently constructed). Particularly when part of the team’s success is heavily predicated on Isaac’s development of a consistent outside shot and his hopeful emergence as a reliable 3-and-D threat.
Isaac - with his length, agility and defensive reads – will always make his greatest impact and contributions on the defensive end…
Averaging 7.9 points on 40.3 percent shooting, including 27.4 percent from three, Isaac clearly has a long way to go offensively.
Over the last two games though, Isaac has looked as if he had just stepped onto an NBA court for the first time.
Jonathan Isaac just hit the top of the backboard on a corner 3. That’s impressive.— Josh Phung (@jphung13) January 6, 2019
Perhaps it was that humiliating shot in particular, early against the Clippers on Sunday, that has temporarily altered Isaac’s confidence. Perhaps he has hit something of a rookie wall having now played in 26 straight NBA games. Perhaps he’ll breakout of this slump on Wednesday against the Jazz and all of this will be meaningless.
It’s pretty well-documented that the Magic have not exactly put Isaac (and others) in position to thrive.
He shares a frontcourt with Aaron Gordon, both of whom are better suited at the power forward position. While D.J. Augustin had played admirably since being forced from career back-up to starting point guard, Isaac doesn’t benefit from a traditional pass-first, penetrating, thread-the-needle playmaker. And with defenders now backing off the Magic’s non-shooters and clogging the paint to deny the inside-out game that had led to the Magic’s early offensive success, there’s less room to operate inside when the outside shots aren’t falling.
Further complicating Isaac’s development, and Orlando’s need for him to be productive, is the early-season success the Magic had as a team, which they are showing was once again nothing more than a mirage. Hovering around .500 led to hope of competing for a playoff spot, forcing a team still better suited for the lottery to think more about the postseason than the Duke trio or Ja Morant.
It’s much easier for developing players like Isaac, who will inevitably endure the growing pains he’s experiencing over his last two games, to make mistakes on a team without playoff aspirations.
That’s what the Magic should be, and that’s what the Magic, having lost three of their last four in ugly fashion, are now showing that they are. It’s time to focus less on the playoffs and more on the future. Jonathan Isaac is a big part of that.
Knowing that, he must play with the confidence he has shown in the past.