Keys to Unlocking Jonathan Isaac’s Potential

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The major key to unlocking Jonathan Isaac‘s potential will be assistant coach Chad Forcier. Forcier joined the Magic coaching staff after a nine year stint with the San Antonio Spurs. The Gregg Popovich coaching tree is strong, has many limbs, and comes with proven success. Pop is able to extend his reach through his former assistants because they learn how to evaluate, develop, and create a culture of success and professionalism that is transferable throughout the league. Recently, we discovered that a superstar like Kyrie Irving is willing to leave a championship contender to find this type of culture.

Who is Chad Forcier?

Chad Forcier might not be a name that Magic fans are immediately familiar with, but they should be. Forcier served as an assistant coach for Gregg Popovich from 2007-2016, working primarily in player development. When looking at that time period someone should immediately jump to mind: Kawhi Leonard. Forcier was involved early in Leonard’s development, even though he’ll give most of the credit to Leonard’s work ethic.

Fans might assume that Frocier is a defensive guru. The reality is that Forcier is an offensive-minded coach. Kawhi came into the league with the requisite defensive skills, but was knocked early on for a limited shooting game. This is where Forcier worked some of his Magic. He recognized that with comfort shooting the corner three, Kawhi would be relieved of some pressure and allowed to naturally progress in the NBA as a small forward. I don’t need to tell the rest of the story. We know what Kawhi has become.

Forcier Taking Isaac Under His Wing

Jonathan Isaac is not Kawhi Leonard. It isn’t fair to him to make this comparison and it definitely wouldn’t be the most realistic NBA comp available. Isaac does share some similarities in terms of what needs to happen early in his development. There is no shortage of praise for Isaac. Even after a lackluster summer league showing, mostly due to a minor hip injury. Similar to Kawhi, Isaac is coming into the league with a defensive skill set that will easily translate, and a lot of questions about his shot and ability to score against NBA defenders.

Offensive Reps for Isaac

One of the most frequent compliments thrown at Isaac is that he deferred to his older teammates at Florida State. This could be the result of Isaac looking to distribute the ball and get other people involved. It could also be the lack of an offensive instinct and nose for the basket that the Magic desperately need from one of their wings. Distribution and team-first decisions are never going to be a negative. But this can’t happen at the expense of Isaac’s offensive development. Isaac will need to get better at attacking the basket and feeling contact.

Let’s take a lesson from Chad, the New Zen Master, Forcier: get Isaac comfortable with shooting corner threes. His college three point percentage won’t blow anyone away, but it shows that he does possess some range. Expect to see Forcier on the court with Isaac shagging balls before and after games to get extra shots up. Like a school teacher staying after for free student tutoring, Forcier is going to get Isaac the reps.

Don’t Stunt Isaac’s Growth for Wins

The flashes that Isaac has shown in college and summer league should excite the coaching staff. They shouldn’t make the mistake of sacrificing his development for decisions that might benefit the team in the short-term. The poster child for short-term decisions and front office failures for the Magic is Mario Hezonja. Watching the front office repeat those failures with Isaac would be devastating.

End of the Dwight Era

After the Lakers stayed in the top three of this year’s draft, the Magic officially lost the 2019 first round pick that Los Angeles would have sent. Instead, the Magic are now receiving two second round picks and are no longer “winners” of the Dwight Howard trade. This can also serve as the official symbolic end to the Dwight era in Orlando.

The Magic have been rebuilding since the Howard trade and the best they have to show for it is Aaron Gordon. Philadelphia went through a similar rebuilding phase, although Sam Hinkie went about it in a completely different way. Now they are able to trot out Embiid, Simmons, and Saric as their prizes for tanking. If the Magic end up stunting Isaac’s development fans should mentally prepare themselves for the reset button. Again.

Leveraging Isaac’s Skills

During Isaac’s brief Summer League appearance, he displayed some impressive defensive skills and instincts. Isaac’s length and footwork give him the ability to sag off on defenders when on the weak side. This allows him to provide extra rim protection and coverage on his original man if the ball quickly swings back to his assignment. Isaac will need to adjust to the pace of an NBA game, but this aspect of his defensive game isn’t going anywhere.

This, again, is where the Magic will need to see Forcier making his mark. Kawhi was ready to crack the Spurs starting lineup after the tenth game in his rookie season. Nobody should expect Isaac to produce this kind of rookie leap, but the lesson Forcier will hopefully bring along is that Isaac should get minutes. If the coaching staff isn’t comfortable having Isaac in the starting group, a second unit “platoon” could be created that would give Isaac some more control and responsibility. Unlocking Isaac’s potential should be the focus for every coach on this team, especially Forcier. Lock Forcier and Isaac in a gym together and don’t let them out until he can knock down the corner three with his eyes closed.

 

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