Another season has come and gone Magic fans. The 2018-19 version of your Orlando Magic provided the city and its fan base with many memorable moments to ring in the 30th anniversary of the franchise’s existence.
We were provided opportunities to celebrate big Magic road victories in Boston (twice), San Antonio, Los Angeles, Mexico City (against the Jazz and Bulls), Toronto, Milwaukee, Indiana, Charlotte, and Miami (twice). And don’t forget about those huge home wins against the Heat(opening night), 76ers (twice), Lakers, Raptors, Celtics, Rockets, Pacers, Nets, and the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
But none of that compares to the emotions all Magic fans felt after coming to the realization that the team they’ve supported through so many tough losing seasons had finally clinched their first playoff birth since the conclusion of the Dwight Howard era.
My progress reports were back for another season on Orlando Pinstriped Post in 2018-19 (third season featured on this site, I’m blessed). If you missed the first volume, Nikola Vucevic earned the highest grade in the class after the team’s first fourteen games due to his stellar shooting and solid defense. Vucevic again earned the highest grade in my second volume (which covered the team’s next fourteen games). And prior to his first career All-Star selection, Vucevic earned the team’s highest midterm grade.
Let’s explore who on the roster pulled their own weight this season. As a teacher who is used to assessing on a regular basis, “grading” is right up my alley!
Included in this series of final grade reports are statistics from Orlando’s 82 regular season games played this season, along with some comments from yours truly that hopefully explain why I graded the guys the way that I did.
In the comments section below, please feel free to agree or disagree with any of my assessments, or simply just let me know if this is something that interests you. Credit for statistics goes to Basketball Reference and NBA.com. Enjoy!
Jonathan Isaac, 21 years-old (75 games played)
In his rookie season, Jonathan Isaac appeared in only 27 of Orlando’s 82 regular season contests. All that missed time was the result of what was described (at the time) as a “mild ankle sprain”.
When Isaac stepped on Dario Saric’s ankle during a preseason game at the beginning of this year, causing him to miss a couple contests, concern started to once again brew among Magic fans. And when Isaac re-injured his ankle, rolling it this time after stepping on massive 7-3 center Boban Marjanovic’s foot, full-on alarms were sounding around the organization regarding Isaac’s durability (Isaac missed six games).
However, when Isaac returned to action just under two weeks later, he would incredibly go on to play in Orlando’s next 60 consecutive games. Isaac sat out Orlando’s season finale against the Charlotte Hornets as he recovered from a mild-concussion.
Isaac’s best ability this season was in fact his “avail-ability”, rebounding in a resounding way from his shortened rookie season in ‘17-18.
The Bronx-native improved across the board in his second NBA season, showing flashes at times of what can make the former sixth overall pick (‘17 Draft) so special in the NBA.
Isaac turned the ball over a little less in year two, fouled less frequently as well. He took a minor step back converting at the rim compared to his rookie season (much larger overall sample-size), but he improved his overall two-point field goal percentage significantly in his sophomore professional season.
Isaac displayed exceptional defensive instincts from Day 1 in the NBA (DBPM of 3.1 his rookie season), but it was his offensive game that had nowhere to go but up in year two. He improved his offensive rating from 87 his rookie season to 107 this past season. Isaac also took measurable steps forward improving his true shooting percentage from 46.5% (his rookie season) to 53.7%, and his offensive box plus/minus metric from a -4.9 to -1.9. Isaac cut-down on his long two-point field goal attempts considerably within Steve Clifford’s offensive scheme (37% of his field goal attempts last season came from the mid-range, 18% of his attempts came from that same distance this year).
At just 21 years-old, Isaac didn’t exactly dominate in one single area this year, but he showed his ability to make a difference in a variety of ways. He is capable of rebounding in traffic (especially on the offensive glass), he has the ability to get to the free throw line off the dribble, and he’s improving in the open-floor (in transition).
Isaac had an absolutely brutal introduction to NBA playoff basketball. Like was the case for most of Orlando’s starters, the second-year forward was completely over-matched. Not only did Isaac struggle getting anything resembling an offensive rhythm going against Toronto, but he also fell short defensively trying to slow down Pascal Siakam all series.
In five playoff games against the Raptors, Isaac posted an offensive rating of 82, a true shooting percentage of 38%, a player efficiency rating of 6.2, and an offensive box plus/minus rating of -7.2. The Magic were -12.8 points per/100 possessions worse when Isaac was on the floor against Toronto’s starters (who happened to feature Kawhi Leonard, hence a lot of the reason behind some of these ugly numbers).
Clearly, Isaac still has a long way to go with his game. But he made some positive strides this season, there’s no denying that. If he continues to improve his shot-making, offensive awareness, and overall body/strength, he will have a chance to become a winning-player that helps a team in this league for a long time.
Best performance of the season: October 22nd at Boston
18 points (8-12 FGA’s), 12 rebounds, 26 minutes played (+7)
2019-20 Season Outlook
Isaac benefited, and in turn the entire organization benefited, from his continued efforts getting his body in NBA physical-shape last off-season. This led to Isaac playing in over 90 percent of Orlando’s regular season games - a huge turnaround from where he was at in his development at this point one year ago.
Simply being available is just the first step in Isaac’s professional development; he still needs to come back next season even stronger, both in his upper and lower body. Added strength to his upper-body will help Isaac finish both in transition and in the painted area; lower-body strength can assist Isaac with providing more defensive resistance against defenders down on the block.
One area Isaac must improve upon is his efficiency from the corner. Nearly 40 percent of Isaac’s career three-point attempts have come from “the corner”, yet he’s only a 31.9% shooter from one of the most valuable/efficient spots on the floor. In Clifford’s offensive scheme, it seems as if Isaac will get all the looks from the corner that he wants. Now he just needs to start knocking them down more regularly. Hitting corner-three’s at even a 38%—40% clip would open a lot of things up for Isaac. Defenders would close-out on him harder (respecting his shot), which would allow him to shot-fake and get to the rim.
As long as veterans such as Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, D.J. Augustin, and Terrence Ross are on the team, Isaac’s role on offense will be more of a complementary one. Coach Clifford mentioned many times this past season not to confuse Isaac’s lack of shot attempts as passiveness. Rather, Clifford chooses to charge Isaac with more of a leading-role on the defensive end of the floor, and shoulders other veteran players on the roster with more of the offensive burden to manage. If Vucevic or Ross (or both) were to walk in free agency, then Clifford’s offensive game-plan would have to be completely revamped. In that sort of situation, Isaac’s 2019-20 offensive outlook would look completely different, as the young forward would be front-and-center as the next in line to takeover more responsibility for the Magic.
The question is, is he ready for that kind of role yet?
Previous “Season in Reviews” in this series: