Magic Select Jonathan Isaac With Sixth Overall Pick
By John Denton, NBA.com
ORLANDO – Four years after Jeff Weltman and John Hammond pulled off one of the biggest coups in NBA Draft history, the two executives charged with rebuilding the Orlando Magic’s roster took a chance on another lanky, under-the-radar forward loaded with big-time potential.
Possibly channeling their success in landing All-NBA forward Giannis Antetokounmpo back in 2013, Weltman and Hammond – Orlando’s new President of Basketball and GM, respectively – selected 6-foot-10 forward Jonathan Isaac with the No. 6 pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft.
Isaac, a product of Naples, Fla., and a standout freshman at Florida State this past season, brings a rare combination of speed, length and fluidity to the Magic. Still four months away from his 20th birthday, Isaac is thought to be a long-term project who has superstar potential because of his jaw-dropping physical tools.
Isaac, a rail-thin 2010-pounder, averaged 12 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.5 blocks in 32 games this past season for the Seminoles. His 7.8 rebounds were the most among any freshman in the ACC and he helped FSU approach school records for victories (26) and ACC wins (12).
In the days leading up to the draft, Weltman and Hammond stressed again that they prefer picking players with great length and long wingspans. They also said they wanted players with talent who are willing to play for others on the team – qualities that fit the teenaged Isaac.
“I feel like I’m coming home to somebody who knows who I am and what I’m capable of and where I can be in the future,’’ Isaac said of the comparisons that have been made between his body type and that of Kevin Durant and Antetokounmpo. “I think that’s huge because my progression is going to be different than a lot of other players, and I know I have a lot of untapped potential. I feel like I went to the perfect team to (tap) it.’’
Showing the maturity of someone much older, Isaac didn’t shy away from the fact that he is most likely a project that could take some time to fully blossom.
“I understand that it’s a process and I’m not where I want to be. I don’t think momentum just shifted in a split second. It takes times to turn things around and it’s going to take time because it’s a process,’’ a philosophical Isaac said via conference call from Brooklyn – site of Thursday’s draft. “I’m not saying it’s going to take five years and I have no intention of it taking five years, but I know it’s going to be a process and I’m going to work every day to help this team.’’
With the No. 25 pick, compensation acquired by the Magic following the Feb. 14 trade of Serge Ibaka to the Toronto Raptors, Orlando selected 7-footer Andzejs Pasecniks – a Latvian center that they traded the Philadelphia 76ers. In return, the Magic will get the Sixers’ 2020 protected first-round pick (protected 1-20). The pick becomes a second-round selection if the 1-through-20 protection voids it.
Isaac gives the Magic positional versatility in that he can play either power forward or small forward. That could come in handy with the Magic already possessing projected starters at power forward in Aaron Gordon and a couple of talented small forwards in Terrence Ross and Evan Fournier.
“My first impression is that we’re young and we just got a lot younger,’’ said Isaac, referring to the Magic’s youth-filled roster. “There’s a lot of room for growth, and there’s a lot of things to do to grow. Just getting in and seeing what I can do, showing that I can be a hard-worker (who) comes in and doesn’t have an agenda, is humble and can just do whatever he has to do.’’
The first five picks went as most draft experts projected, including Boston’s selection of Jayson Tatum at No. 3 instead of Isaac, giving the Magic a variety of choices at No. 6. Orlando could have opted for sweet shooting forward Lauri Markkanen, electrifying point guard Dennis Smith Jr. or prolific scorer Malik Monk. Instead, they bet on the seemingly limitless potential and bright future of Isaac, a player who was at his best in some of FSU’s biggest games this past season.
“I know about (the Magic’s) track record, and I know they know about turning teams around,’’ Isaac said. “I feel blessed that they thought I could be a part of that.’’
Thursday’s draft was the first conducted in Orlando by Weltman and Hammond, both of whom were hired in late May to help break the Magic out of their worst stretch in franchise history. Former GM Rob Hennigan was fired the day after the Magic’s 29-53 season – the fifth straight that the franchise missed the playoffs.
Weltman and Hammond, who are working together for a fourth time at the NBA level, bring tremendous credibility to the Magic’s front office with their decades of experience at a variety of levels. Weltman has worked for the Clippers, Nuggets, Pistons, Bucks and Raptors, serving most recently as Toronto’s GM.
Weltman was with Hammond in Milwaukee when the franchise uncovered 6-foot-10 forward Antetokounmpo in 2013. This past season, the player nicknamed “The Greek Freak’’ evolved into one of the NBA’s most complete players and the Bucks reached the playoffs for a second time in three seasons.
Philadelphia, which traded with Boston for the No. 1 pick, selected University of Washington point guard Markelle Fultz with the first selection. The Los Angeles Lakers then chose controversial UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball second, apparently showing little concern for having to deal with Ball’s outspoken father, LaVar.
The Celtics, owners of the East’s best record this past season and in possession of a top pick thanks to a deal with the woeful Brooklyn Nets, selected Duke forward Jayson Tatum at No. 3. Rumors abounded throughout the day on Thursday that the Celtics were strongly considering selecting Isaac, but they instead went with Taytum and his potential as a do-everything forward.
Kansas forward Josh Jackson went fourth to Phoenix, while Sacramento selected speedy point guard De’Aaron Fox at No. 5. That allowed the Magic to get Isaac – the player that they have targets in the months, weeks and days leading up to the draft.
The Bulls pulled off the shocker trade of the night, shipping all-star forward Jimmy Butler to Minnesota for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 pick. The trade reunites Butler with Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau, the head coach previously with the Bulls.
The Magic have three other picks in Thursday’s draft – No. 25, No. 33 and No. 35.
Isaac was at his best in some of Florida State’s biggest games this past season. He had 23 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks against Notre Dame and hurt Louisville with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Against Syracuse, he notched a 19-point, 12-rebound game and he had another 15 against Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament.
Isaac is the third FSU player chosen in the top 10 of the NBA draft, including George McCloud and Dave Cowens. He played at Orlando’s Amway Center twice in March in the NCAA Tournament – with dramatically different results. In FSU’s 86-80 defeat of Florida Gulf Coast, he filled the stat sheet with 17 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals and three blocks. However, two days later, Isaac was ineffective in the ‘Noles’ 91-66 loss to Xavier, contributing eight points and 12 rebounds in 33 minutes before fouling out.
In high school, Isaac starred first at Naples’ Baron Collier and later at Bradenton’s IMG Academy. As a senior, he contributed 17.6 points and 10 rebounds a game while drilling 51 percent of his shots.
“I’ve definitely got to get stronger,’’ Isaac said. “That’s the first thing that I’ve got to focus on. I’m going to gain weight with time, but that (added strength) is the first thing that I’ve got to focus on.’’