It’s easy to see why Jonathan Isaac has so many fans in the Orlando Magic organization. Last season, the 21-year-old averaged 9.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 26.6 minutes. In 22 games after the All-Star break, Isaac shot 38.2 percent from three-point range and made 1.8 threes per game. He had a busy summer, training with teammates in Orlando and competing on Team USA’s Select Team, which should only help him realize his potential.
HoopsHype caught up with Isaac at the NBA Experience in Orlando’s Disney Springs to discuss his offseason training, experience with the US Select Team, three-point shooting, thoughts on Orlando’s additions and more.
There have been a number of young players who participated with the US Select Team and then went on to have a really strong season. How much did you learn from that experience and what are some takeaways that could help you in the upcoming season?
Jonathan Isaac: I think the biggest thing for me was just being in that atmosphere with a lot of the top guys in our league and being able to play well in that environment. I think that’s part of the reason why guys propel themselves into a good season, because they play well in that atmosphere and it helps their confidence. I enjoyed learning about Team USA and what they’re all about. You see how serious they are about the brand of basketball that wins internationally. I just thought it was great. I’m looking forward to seeing those guys go out and do what they do [in the World Cup].
Who were some specific players that you learned from during your time with Team USA?
JI: Kemba Walker. I was probably able to talk to Kemba the most out of all the top guys there and he’s a great dude. I was able to talk to him about all of his different experiences and things like that.
Last season, the Magic made the playoffs as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. How much did that experience help you and the team as a whole?
JI: I think it was great. I think you don’t know what you don’t know, so being able to get into the playoffs and having guys taste it for the first time was great. Tasting the playoffs made us hungrier. It’s made me hungrier, it made our guys hungrier and it made our coaching staff hungrier. Being able to do that in our first year under Coach Cliff (Steve Clifford) only speaks to where we’re headed. Now, we have another year with Coach Cliff, another year to refine ourselves and make our defense better. We finished eighth in defense and we’re looking to take that to the next level.
Magic fans are really excited about your development. What do you need to do in order to take that next step forward and what are you working on this offseason?
JI: It’s a lot of the same stuff that I’ve been focused on. I’m working on my body, first and foremost, along with being a more consistent three-point shooter and just allowing myself to make mistakes and learn from them. I think that’s exactly what this past year was, just learning from mistakes and continuing to keep that mindset that I want to get better each and every day. I allowed myself to get there and I found throughout last season that I was able to make strides from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. I’m looking forward to doing the same thing this year. I don’t think it’s a new formula; I’m just continuing to have that mindset that I’m not where I want to be and I need to continue to work to get there.
You mentioned your three-point shooting, which was much better toward the end of last season. After the All-Star break, you shot 38.2 percent from long range and made 1.8 threes per game. Was that a matter of being more confident and getting used to shooting threes in games?
JI: I think it’s all of that. It’s getting used to playing the NBA game. In my first year, I didn’t get to play very much because of injuries. There’s a confidence that comes with repetition and being in NBA games. And [it’s also from] working hard. Putting in work each and every day with that mindset that I mentioned, to move forward. I found that working out for me toward the end of last season.
You have all of the tools to be an elite defender, maybe even a Defensive Player of the Year candidate down the road. Is becoming one of the best defenders in the league one of your goals?
JI: Absolutely. First and foremost, my goal is to do whatever it takes to help my team win. I think defensively, I can do a lot to help my team win. That’s where it comes from; it’s not really wanting to win an award or the pride that comes with that. It’s just wanting to help my team win. I can be a great help and impose my defensive will in games and that’s what I want to do.
The Magic signed Al-Farouq Aminu this summer. He’s another forward who’s a good defender with a lot of length. What can you learn from a veteran like Aminu?
JI: Al-Farouq has been through it. He just went through a playoff run that went all the way to the Western Conference Finals. Having him as a defensive voice will be great. I’m sure he’s going to pick up on everything we do super quickly. He’s another asset to our team, especially to our young guys.
I know you and some of your Magic teammates have been working out together this summer. What have you seen behind-the-scenes that makes you optimistic about this team?
JI: Just seeing everybody’s work ethic. Like I said about making the playoffs, guys are hungry after tasting that and seeing what that feels like and what it means for the city. This has been a great summer of guys working really hard. Markelle [Fultz], Chuma [Okeke] coming in and getting himself ready, AG (Aaron Gordon), Evan [Fournier], T-Ross (Terrence Ross), Wes [Iwundu]… All of these guys have been getting in the gym and working really hard to taste that feeling again and take it even further.
There are a lot of questions about Markelle as well as a lot of excitement in Orlando about what he could bring to this team. What have you seen from him specifically during the workouts?
JI: I’ve seen Markelle’s work ethic and his seriousness about getting on the floor. I think that’s what going to pay off for him and that’s what’s going to make him the player that he is. He’s a great player. He had some unfortunate situations, but his mindset is to work through them.
What was your reaction to this crazy offseason with so many star players changing teams?
JI: It’s the NBA and it’s why our league, in my opinion, is the best league. There’s so much excitement and it’s such a player-driven league, with guys being able to make the decisions they want to make for their future, for their career. I think it’s going to be a super exciting year. It seems like every summer, things happen that make people want to watch. That’s what the media is all about, and I think that’s why our league is where it is.
We’re at Disney’s NBA Experience in Orlando and it looked like you had a lot of fun at the different interactive stations. What do you think of this new attraction?
JI: I think it’s fantastic. There are a lot of different stations and it’s going to be so much for the fans who come check it out. They’ll enjoy themselves and learn about the game of basketball. I think kids will have a great time here. It’s called NBA Experience and that’s exactly what it is. When I first got here and started walking up the steps, the first thing I thought was, “I need to bring my little brother here!” I kept thinking about how much fun he would have here. If I was able to come to a place like this when I was a kid, I would’ve had so much fun!