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Orlando Magic Weekly Observations: Jonathan Isaac returns to the court

Some rapid-fire Orlando Magic observations as we head to the weekend

2022-2023 Orlando Magic Media Day Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

With the working week winding to an end, let’s check the pulse of all things pinstriped.

Who won the week that was?

Westchester Knicks v Lakeland Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Nominated just last week as someone to keep an eye on, it’s difficult to be more excited at the moment for any Magic player other than Jonathan Isaac. Lacing up the sneakers for the first time in almost 900 days, JI passed a major marker in his grueling rehabilitation by stepping onto the court for the Lakeland Magic in the G League. He ultimately played 15 minutes in the contest, putting up 15 points on 6-12 shooting, hauling in 5 rebounds, and even registering a signature block in the second half.

Perhaps most importantly, Isaac looked confident and comfortable in his return. He threw down a couple of dunks. He finished through contact. He hit a pair of nifty turnaround jumpers. He played disruptive defense. He pushed the ball on the break. He was unimpeded physically and fluid in his movements. Best of all, JI flashed enough to suggest that the high-potential player he once was is still in there somewhere.

We’re a long way from knowing how Isaac’s return will ultimately play out. However, his performance on Wednesday night suggested that he’s going to be on the floor for the Magic sooner rather than later, and that when he does there’s a very real chance he’s making meaningful contributions. Considering just how difficult his journey back to the NBA hardwood has been, that alone is cause for major celebration.

Jonathan Isaac is back.

The upcoming slate

This week’s schedule: at Jazz (Fri); at Nuggets (Sun)

One of the season’s slower weeks for the Magic over the next seven days, the reward for closing out an eight-day journey through the Western Conference. The road trip finishes with games against the Jazz and the Nuggets, two sides at different points in the standings. After a surprising start Utah have tumbled below .500, with just three wins in their last ten outings. They will be rested though, with a couple of days amidst the comforts of home to prepare for the Magic. By comparison, Denver has ascended to the top of the conference, in a share of first place after winning their last four straight. They’ve barely had to leave Colorado in the month of January, although Orlando will catch them 48 hours after a tilt in Los Angeles. Still, both of these project to be difficult tasks, particularly once the potential of fatigue is factored in for the road underdog.

The crystal ball says …

The Magic have established some genuine confidence and momentum recently, but the altitude of Denver could temporarily restrict those gains. I’m calling a split.

It’s time to keep an eye on …

Orlando Magic v Sacramento Kings Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Cole Anthony. The confident point guard’s shooting stroke has seemingly abandoned him recently, with his accuracy from the field plummeting in the new year. Since the calendar turned to January he’s knocked down just 31.0% of his attempts from the field, including a woebegone mark of 11.8% from deep. Even his free-throw touch has been a little wobblier, down to 85.7% in January compared to a red-hot 97.0% in December. The net result has been just 8.0 points per-night, the lowest monthly figure (with at least 5 games played) that he has ever posted.

Because of his score-first mentality, it’s noticeable when the shots aren’t dropping for Anthony. Even though he’s been able to make up some of the missing points with his playmaking – a healthy assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.6 during this month’s offensive slump – the fact is that he’s not filling his usual role to the standard of which he’s capable. Across the last five games the Magic have been outscored by a total of 50 points with Anthony on the court, an almost unbelievable number considering the team is 3-2 and a net -4 in that same stretch.

Plus/minus is a notoriously tricky stat to parse when it comes to individuals, but unfortunately for Anthony the numbers in this case align with the eye test – across January his own play has been poor, while many of the team’s worst moments have come with him on the court. We know that he’s capable of more – he was making a leap before injuries derailed things last season, and he seemed to be settling into a real groove even as recently as December! If the Magic are going to make any sort of run in the back half they’ll need Anthony to regain his mojo.

Three from downtown

Orlando Magic v Golden State Warriors Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
  • Wendell Carter Jr. is undoubtedly the Magic’s unsung hero. He’s no longer featured on offense in the same way (or to the same degree) that he was last season, but he continues to be an almost metronomic contributor. His value is felt even more keenly at the defensive end, where he provides Orlando with a level of stable resistance that can often go missing in his absence. He has established himself as a rock-solid starter in this league.
  • Markelle Fultz’s defensive activity seems to have increased of late, with more in the way of deflections, steals and general physicality with his individual matchup. It’s fun to think about the havoc that could eventually be created at that end of the court when he is once again paired with JI as a running mate.
  • There’s been a few too many first and third quarters recently in which Franz Wagner has been either restricted to just one, or even held without a shot attempt from the floor. Even accounting for the rotation patterns that see him usually exit around the six-minute mark of these periods, it’s something that both team and player need to address – the Magic with their playcalling and Franz with his assertiveness.

A figure for thought

259. The total number of fourth quarter points that Franz Wagner has racked up this season, eighth-most league-wide.