After being a longtime laughingstock of the NBA, the Orlando Magic are back in the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2020. Back then they stole Game 1 of their first round series against the Milwaukee Bucks before dropping four straight. They’ll open the 2024 playoffs on the road agains the Cleveland Cavaliers. Heading into that series against the Cavs, the Magic could have a potential X-factor in Jonathan Isaac.

The Magic come into their playoff series agains the Cavs as the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. But even so, the standings were very close as three games were all that separated the No. 2 seed New York Knicks from the No. 5 Magic.

This is a team and a city that is hungry for playoff action. After disappointing season after disappointing season, the Magic have found a foundational star in Paolo Banchero. He was named to his first All-Star appearance this season and is the face of the franchise.

He has a solid co-star in Franz Wagner who could have been the X-factor himself. Wagner arguably had an All-Star caliber season as well, and it stands to reason that he’ll show up against the Cavs.

Isaac is interesting in the sense that he actually hasn’t factored much into the Magic rotation this season. He’s dealt with injuries during his career, but he’s been relatively healthy this year. It might be time to see his minutes increased if the Magic want to have a shot at winning this series.

Jonathan Isaac is the defensive stopper the Magic need against the Cavs

A lottery pick in 2017, Jonathan Isaac was supposed to be a foundational piece for the Magic. During his second year in the league in 2018-19, he looked well on his way to becoming one of the team’s core players. He had a breakout season playing in 75 games including 64 starts. He averaged 9.6 points per game and 5.5 rebounds.

Milwaukee Bucks guard Patrick Beverley (21) drives to the basket against Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac (1) during the second quarter at KIA Center.
Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

But after that, he suffered injury woes that would limit his availability and cause him to miss the entirety of the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons. Last year, he only was able to play in 11 games. But this year he’s been healthy and a strong contributor.

Isaac has played in 58 games for the Magic this year, his most since his second year in the league. He’s played a little over 15 minutes per game. He’s been averaging 6.8 points per game, 4.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocked shots with splits of 51 percent shooting from the field, 37.5 percent shooting from the three point line and 72 percent shooting from the free throw line.

But where Isaac truly makes an impact is on the defensive end. He’s quietly put together one of the best defensive seasons this year and it’s baffling why he hasn’t been mentioned much in terms of being on the All-Defensive First Team.

The Cavs present a challenge in the frontcourt with Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley and this is where Isaac can make an impact. He’s a versatile defender. He’s quick and mobile and able to keep up with wings, but he can play in the paint as a rim protector and on the glass. Both Allen and Mobley are double-double threats. Isaac’s ability to rebound and play around the basket is going to be key should the Magic trust him.

It’s possible they could use him to guard either Darius Garland or Donovan Mitchell in spurts as well. His versatility defensively gives the Magic an edge and X-factor in the NBA Playoffs that few other teams have.