Advertisement

Jonathan Isaac serves as X-factor for Magic, who defeat Suns

As the longest-tenured member of the Magic, forward Jonathan Isaac has seen it all.

The Orlando big man has had a rollercoaster career injury-wise and has been along for the ups and downs of the franchise’s recent history from reaching the postseason to rebuilding its organization.

He’s played for three different head coaches, including current Phoenix coach Frank Vogel who guided Isaac who through his rookie season in 2017-18 with Orlando.

Now as the Magic (24-22) find themselves back in the hunt for the playoffs, Isaac serves as the team’s X-factor off the bench by offering coach Jamahl Mosley elite defense and ferocious offense.

Battling the Suns (26-20) and Vogel on the first night of a back-to-back Sunday at Kia Center, Isaac totaled 9 points, 3 rebounds, 2 blocks, a steal and an assist in 23 minutes during Orlando’s 113-98 victory over Phoenix.

Throughout the season, Isaac has been tasked in his limited time on the floor with guarding opposing team’s best players, the latest being Phoenix’s Devin Booker (44 points) and Kevin Durant (15).

Forward Paolo Banchero totaled a team-high 26 points in the win as Orlando heads to Dallas on Monday (Bally Sports Florida, 8:30 p.m.).

Against the Grizzles last Friday, Isaac played the most minutes of this season at 22, including the final 8 minutes of the game. It served as another step in the right direction as he continues to work back from missing so much time the last three years.

He played in just 11 games last season after 2-plus years off the court due to leg injuries.

This season he hasn’t been available for 18 games because of various injuries, including seven due to a right hamstring strain.

It’s been a collaborative process among Isaac, Mosley and the Magic’s training staff to make sure he’s available come April and potentially the playoffs.

“I’m getting there,” Isaac said after Orlando’s 1-point loss at Memphis on Friday. “Just talking with coach and figuring out how I’m coming along and what’s going to be the direction. I’m just telling them I’m ready to go. I’m going to continue to just take it one game at a time.”

Mosley was pleased to see Isaac be available for 22 minutes against the Grizzles. The Magic forward averaged 13.9 minutes in 27 games entering Sunday.

“We’re able to push a little bit more of the limits of what he’s able to do and that’s going to continue to happen,” Mosley said. “We’ll just look at it on a game-to-game basis more than where we’ll fully go. Because it’s also [about] how he responds to these games and what it looks like for him.”

When Isaac is available, he’s one of the best defenders in the league, even in limited action.

His 100.5 defensive rating among players who have played for 27 games or more leads the league. He’s recorded at least one blocked shot 18 times and two-or-more blocks eight times. On a nightly basis, he accounts for 55.8% of Orlando’s blocks.

In addition, he’s recorded at least one steal 15 times and two-or-more steals five times.

While it’s his defensive prowess that makes him such a game-changer, Isaac has been efficient on offense as well.

Averaging 6.3 points and 4.0 rebounds, his effective field goal percentage — a field-goal percentage formula that adjusts for 3-pointers being worth more than made 2-pointers — sits at 52.7%, which is slightly below the league average (54.7%).

His 3-pointer at the 3:59 mark of the fourth quarter put Orlando ahead by 10 points over the Suns.

Still, his impact on the defensive end is game-changing. It’s why Orlando tries to find the best portion of a game for him to be most effective on the floor.

The Magic improved to 17-11 with Isaac available this season. Orlando is 7-11 without him.

“Just trying my best to be that defensive stanchion for our team,” Isaac said.

After all, his nickname is the “Minister of Defense” for a reason.

Email Jason Beede at jbeede@orlandosentinel.com or follow him on X, known as Twitter, at @therealBeede.