They haven’t exactly set the world on fire, but there have been plenty of positives to take out of what was always expected to be a development year for the Orlando Magic.
A team whose best finishes in the past decade have been a pair of 4-1 defeats in the first round of the playoffs, they entered this season on the back of a couple of seasons with sub .300 records and bottom two finishes in the East.
This year, they’ve added more than ten wins to their record – they recently won their 34th game for the season and still have four to go – and have seen either the addition or development of numerous players who are capable of leading them back to the postseason.
Last year’s number one pick and potential Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero’s season has been a highlight, Markelle Fultz has enjoyed his best season in the league, Franz Wagner has continued to develop while Wendell Carter Jr has solidified his standing as a solid two-way starting center.
They’re well-positioned to continue to advance up the standings next year, but they certainly can’t afford to rest on their laurels. They need to continue to add to their roster, and the reality of doing that is that for talent to come in, talent needs to leave. For the Magic to improve their roster next year, there’s one player who stands out as a clear potential piece of trade bait – even if Magic fans don’t want to admit it.
Why the Magic should trade Jonathan Isaac
Jonathan Isaac is arguably the most talented player on Orlando’s roster. The number six pick from the 2017 draft looks every bit a Defensive Player of the Year candidate when healthy, and is capable enough to get by at the other end of the floor, too.
Steals and blocks are certainly not the be all and end all of defensive production, but his 1.6 steals and 2.3 blocks per game in the last season in which he played more than a handful of games is indicative of his prodigious talent at that end of the floor.
Unfortunately, that season was in 2019-20.
After playing 27 games in his rookie year, Isaac had close to full season in 2018-19, and all was going well close to halfway through the following season. Since, then it’s all gone haywire. Isaac injured his left knee on the first of January, and didn’t play again until the NBA bubble began in July. In his second game back, he did his ACL. That kept him out for the remainder of that season and the next, and after finally returning following more than two-and-a-half years off the court earlier this year, he managed just 11 games before suffering a groin injury at training and undergoing season-ending surgery to repair it.
Isaac is supremely talented and if he ever gets a decent run at it, could be a perennial all-defensive player, and will likely develop his offensive game too. The reality remains, however, that he has played 13 games this decade, and on top of that is currently Orlando’s highest paid player.
Isaac is this season earning over $17 million, a figure he’ll continue to earn over each of the next couple of seasons, too. If he’s on the court it’s possible, albeit not guaranteed with how little basketball he’s played in his NBA career, that he’s worth that, if not more. As we’ve seen over the past few years, however, that’s a big if, and with a solid core in place, a more reliable piece could see them in playoff contention as soon as next year.
Who should the Magic bring in?
One of Orlando’s most glaring deficiencies is their lack of outside shooting. 78 games into the 2022-23 season, they are shooting the fourth lowest number of threes per game, but despite that selectivity, are ranked 24th in the league for three-point percentage. It’s easy to see why they don’t take many.
A player of Isaac’s potential, but with the caveat’s which come with him, makes for a tough trade evaluation, but regardless of how much they can get for him, someone who can contribute some outside shooting should be high on Orlando’s shopping list. One of those two-way shooting wings – you know, the kind that literally every team in the NBA wants more of – would be ideal.
One player who is sure to be on the receiving end of plenty of trade talk this off-season is Bojan Bogdanović. The main issue the Magic may have with the 33-year-old Croatian is that he’s not exactly in their optimal age profile, but a bit of experience could help this young squad, and in terms of fit he is close to perfect. ‘Bogey’ shoots just under 40% from long range in his career and was at 41.1% this season while averaging 21.1 points, is more than capable of putting the ball on the floor and getting to rim and even making basic passes, and is not exactly in his ideal scenario in Detroit.
Elsewhere, a guy like Grayson Allen may also be shipped around and would provide some valuable offensive potency, and from Milwaukee’s perspective, the prospect of a fit Jonathan Isaac slotting into their already elite defense would be mouth-watering. Duncan Robinson is another who could use a new home, and though his salary of nearly $17 million will make most teams wary, if Isaac continues to struggle to get on the floor, Robinson will obviously provide them with a lot more productivity for much the same price.
Of course, NBA trades are complicated and rarely is it as simple as a one-for-one deal, but the above names could certainly form part of a package for Isaac. Letting him go would not be easy for a team which has invested so much in his development and recovery from injury, particularly with the lofty heights he’s capable of reaching. However, it’s now been six seasons since the Magic first drafted Jonathan Isaac, and the NBA is a ruthless industry. His potential means that somebody will be willing to take the risk of taking him on, but for the Magic, maybe now is the time to cut their losses.
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