With San Antonio and Orlando being linked in various trade rumors, Jonathan Isaac should be the young prospect the Spurs are focused on acquiring.
The 2019-20 NBA season has not gotten off to the start that the San Antonio Spurs were hoping for. San Antonio has a 7-13 overall record, ranks 12th in the Western Conference and has lost 10 of their last 12 games, including an 8-game losing streak that marked the longest skid since Coach Pop’s first season at the helm in 1997.
The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor recently reported that the Orlando Magic are “scouring the trade market for scoring help and have already expressed interest in trading for [DeMar] DeRozan.” Further, with reports circulating that the team and DeRozan are far apart in contract extension talks, the chants for DeRozan’s exodus from the Alamo City are reaching a crescendo.
If the Spurs do decide to deviate from their traditional ways and opt to make a mid-season trade the player they should be looking to secure is third-year swingman, Jonathan Isaac. Although players like Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, and Mo Bamba are the names that have been tossed around in the rumor mill, it’s Isaac that should be the Spurs’ primary target.
Drafted 7th overall by the Magic in 2017, the former Florida State Seminole largely underperformed over his first two seasons in Orlando and many were beginning to wonder if he was the proper fit for the system. However, Isaac has more than silenced those doubters with his defensive prowess and much improved offensive game.
During his first two years, Isaac was averaging just 8.5 points, 5 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks while shooting just 41.9 percent from the field and 32.7 percent from three-point range. Through 14 games this season, the third-year pro is posting 13.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and is second in the NBA with 2.9 blocks per game, just behind Anthony Davis. Isaac has also significantly boosted his shooting percentages, converting 48.9 percent of his field-goal attempts while hitting three-pointers at a 38.5 percent clip.
While the strides Isaac has made on the offensive end are impressive, it’s his defensive versatility that will be the most intriguing for the Spurs. Just a DeRozan-for-Isaac swap in it’s purest sense would significantly improve San Antonio’s defensive efficacy, which currently ranks 27th in the league.
The integration of a 6’11” forward who can switch virtually every position as well as stroke the three-point shot would be monumentally significant for the roster even if it seems like a downgrade from a raw talent perspective.
Additionally, the benefit of subtracting DeRozan from the roster would be two-fold. Taking DeMar off the roster would alleviate the logjam at the guard position that was exacerbated by the return of a healthy Dejounte Murray.
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With DeRozan’s team-leading 34 minutes per game being shipped out, it would allow more minutes to flow freely to players like Derrick White, Bryn Forbes and Lonnie Walker IV, who’s averaging just 4.5 minutes, which ranks fourth-fewest on the team just ahead of Chimezie Metu, Drew Eubanks and Keldon Johnson. While the team would surely miss DeRozan’s 22 points a night, the defensive shift this would trigger would allow the Spurs to get back to the basics.
Because of Isaac’s versatility, he’d make a seamless transition to this Spurs roster. At 6’11”, the Magic forward has had to navigate playing alongside the likes of players such as Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, Mo Bamba, Al-Farouq Aminu, and others, but has still found a way to make an impact on both sides of the court.
Although he is not an elite scorer, Isaac can fill up the stat sheet when he gets hot and has been admirably carrying the load since Vucevic and Gordon have been out due to injury. Through 14 games, Isaac has registered three games scoring 20+ points, something he had only done once during his first two years in the league.
Although he’s still just 22 years of age, Isaac is beginning to round out into the top 10 prospects the Magic believed he could be when he was first drafted. With the continued maturation of both his offensive and defensive games, Isaac could solidify himself as one of the preeminent two-way forwards in the league for years to come.
With the signs pointing towards DeRozan’s time in San Antonio coming to an end and the emergence of the Magic as a willing trade partner, the Spurs should have their sights set on making a move for Isaac if he’s available.