Jonathan Isaac has been lost for at least the next two months for the Orlando Magic, but it could have been a lot worse.
Wednesday night brought with it the lowest point of the Orlando Magic‘s uninspired season so far, despite picking up a win in the nation’s capital against the Washington Wizards. After only two minutes in the contest, third-year forward Jonathan Isaac went down in a heap, clutching at his knee.
The way in which he hit the floor and the yells of pain that he let out, not to mention the fact a stretcher was required to take him off the floor, had Magic fans and personnel alike fearing the worst. Which was why when an MRI scan on Thursday revealed no structural damage to his knee, everybody let out a sigh of relief.
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Isaac wasn’t going to be lost for the season and his blossoming career was going to be able to continue with a less troublesome injury to navigate. Isaac is still injured though, with the early diagnosis being that he will be off the court for at least eight to 10 weeks. This is a blow to the organization, not least because of how important Isaac has been so far this year.
Though the Magic haven’t had the season they would have liked to this point, Isaac currently leads the league in “stocks,” a combination of total steals and blocks, with 128. It was a steal and breakaway by Isaac in the early going against the Wizards that ultimately led to the injury he now has.
Without Isaac, the team are sure to regress even more, and this is troubling. They have already dealt with losing key members of their rotation this season, with Nikola Vucevic missing time because of a sprained ankle and Aaron Gordon just returning Friday after missing time with a sore Achilles out as well.
Even Michael Carter-Williams has been forced to sit, taking some of their depth away from them.
Losing Isaac is the biggest blow of all, however (with respect to Vucevic), because he has come to personify how they play defensively. Right now the Magic rank 11th in defensive rating (106.2). A good place to be, but disappointing by the team’s standards. They had hoped to be top-five in this category and Isaac’s potential and improved play was supposed to be central to this.
They have a rating of 105.1 when he is on the court, which is that bit closer to being top five (it would put them eighth if applied to the whole team). There is no doubt they are now going to take another hit on that end, which is troublesome because of how poor they are offensively (104.6, 26th in the league).
Regressing to league average defensively without Isaac — a likely outcome — combined with their poor offensive play, does not bode well for their hopes of clinging onto a playoff spot as the season continues.
The 33 percent Isaac was shooting from deep was hardly a lights out number either, but it did help spread the floor when the shot was falling and was another outlet for one of the more ugly offenses in the league this year.
But while this is tough to take, it is worth trying to find the positives from this situation. Namely, this could have been a lot worse for Isaac. If you were watching when he went down, you were likely fearing the worst. This is bad, but nowhere near as bad as it could have been. Isaac will return this season.
On top of that, we may finally get to see Gordon unleashed. The Magic’s best two-way player last season, he just doesn’t look like he is going to take that next step to become a star in his sixth year.
He is still just 24 though, and through the drafting of players like Isaac and trying to find minutes for Mo Bamba, Vucevic, Al-Farouq Aminu and even previous players like Bismack Biyombo, has never had an extended run as frontcourt first option.
Gordon also has the continuity of having a head coach in Steve Clifford, who was not only there last season, but who clearly believes in him as well. He will get a chance to take over now that he has returned and really being given the chance to sit and rest an Achilles that has been troubling him will have benefited him hugely as well.
Amile Jefferson is another player who could play a role, although not in the way you might expect. He is not a straight swap for Isaac, however he could have a similar function to that of Khem Birch last season. Jefferson is fighting for security in the league and plays with the kind of energy and enthusiasm which shows that.
Birch did the same thing last season, when he replaced Bamba once the young center went down with a season-ending leg fracture. Some more of Jefferson off the bench is no bad thing for a rotation that has looked worryingly lethargic in many games so far this campaign.
Wesley Iwundu too, will look to use this opportunity to establish himself more. Iwundu had 10 points in the win over the Wizards, way up on the 3.3 he is averaging so far this season. He showed flashes last season, but has struggled for consistency and minutes with the way the rotation is currently constructed, even with Aminu out himself.
Is that an ideal fix for an Orlando Magic organization still trying to get back to .500 and push on as they did in the second half of last season? No, but injuries are never a good thing anyway. This is making the best of what’s been thrown their way, while also acknowledging that, for Jonathan Isaac, it could have been a lot worse.
They will now need to work even harder to remain competitive.