The future of the Orlando Magic hinge strongly on the development of rookie Jonathan Isaac. The Magic’s front office will likely build around Isaac moving forward. But what position will he play best at, a small forward or a power forward?
Jonathan Isaac is a unicorn —in the making. Sort of.
By height, Jonathan Isaac is a power forward or center. Based on his skill set, he projects more as a small forward. He is an unofficially seven footer with the foot speed of a guard — a position he played previously in his career. He is capable of guarding low post players or quickly switching out to cover a faster wings or guards on the perimeter.
Jonathan Isaac is a bit undersized weighing 205 pounds and currently does not possess the strongest body but he will surely gain weight and strength before the season’s start.
The question for the Orlando Magic is where will Jonathan Isaac be best suited to make the greatest impact for the team —small forward or power forward?
During his lone year at Florida State, Isaac’s role was to be a defensive specialist. His primary job was to grab rebounds, block shots, and finish put backs or lobs. He stepped out for the occasional three-pointer but never made a home beyond the perimeter. The Florida State roster consisted of upperclassmen who carried much of the offensive load. It was natural that his length and rebounding ability would see Isaac playing at the power forward position in college. The power forward position in college is much different from the NBA with experience and size being the major factors.
Coming out of Florida State, Isaac drew lofty comparisons to Kevin Durant as his ceiling. Most of those comparisons stem from his frame and athleticism. Isaac doesn’t look to have the alpha dog scorers mentality at the moment, but he can definitely put the ball in the basket in a smaller volume but similar fashion.
During the Orlando Magic Pro Summer League, Isaac spent most of his time at the power forward position. And he played well. When he stepped out in the perimeter, he was able to make larger, slower defenders pay by knocking down open jump shots.
Summer league play is a small sample size of game play against what players need to expect during the regular season. It does however give a team the ability to gauge how a player could perform when placed in certain situations. And Isaac passed the “stretch-4” power forward criteria.
During his second summer league game against the Miami Heat, Jonathan Isaac was matched up against small forward Okaro White. Isaac was able to come away with 15 points, 13 rebounds on 7 of 12 shooting. He also added one steal and one block in only 22 minutes of play. White was one of the standout small forwards during summer league play. Isaac was able to play on the perimeter with him in a battle of small forwards.
Jonathan Isaac had a defensive play in the same game where he switched onto a Miami point guard on defense. The guard tried to dribble around Isaac, but Isaac cut him off before he was able turn the corner. He attempted a crossover move to get Issac off-balance before putting up a shot that was blocked effortlessly. It’s plays like that, that will make Jonathan Isaac a nightmare on defense. His 7’1″ wing span makes its difficult to shoot over. Issac’s anticipation keeps him on is feet and not biting on pump fakes. This game was a clear indication that Isaac should be able to play the perimeter forward position. The Magic will attempt to place him next to teammate Aaron Gordon during certain lineups.
The Magic have yet to see Aaron Gordon play to his full potential but this year should see better results from the fourth year forward. He was sidelined with a jaw injury his first season. He lost time playing behind Tobias Harris his second season. Last season, his third, he failed at playing small forward full-time. The presumption this season is to have Aaron Gordon play out a full season at his natural power forward position. If so, that means Isaac could play more minutes at the small forward spot, eventually becoming the starter.
If the Magic can find a way rotation that allows Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon to be on the court at the same time the outcome could be amazing. Gordon and Isaac would be able to switch every rotation on defense and could create offensive mismatches due to their individual styles of play.
The Magic have a gem in Jonathan Isaac. It may not matter where he is positioned on paper as it seems he can play both forward spots. If the Orlando Magic can harness Issac’s abilities, he may be their best chance to having an all-star again.