June 3, 2019, 2:04 am
Stuck in obscurity since Dwight Howard left O-town back in 2012, the Magic were one of the pleasant surprises of the season in what turned out to be the first playoff appearance in seven years, ending the longest postseason drought in the 30-year history of the franchise.
Our Post-Mortem series continues with a look at what changed for the Magic this year and whether this season was simply a fluke or the beginning of a new era.
2018-19 record: 42-40
2017-18 record: 25-57
Back in May of 2017 the Magic formally introduced Jeff Weltman as their President of Basketball Operations, putting an end to a few years of Alex Martins, a non-basketball executive, running basketball operations for a basketball club. He immediately named longtime NBA executive John Hammond as the club’s new General Manager in his effort to establish a well-respected front office around the league. The duo had worked together in Milwaukee and Detroit a few years ago and were considered well-respected, veteran NBA front office figures.
Not many promises were made as the team was in desperate need of simply turning the page after a devastating five-year tenure under Rob Hennigan where the Magic failed to make the playoffs or develop the franchise’s next star.
Even though Hennigan clearly won a four-team trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers, Orlando had three top-five picks and four lottery picks in the span of four seasons but ended up with Andrew Nicholson, Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon and Mario Hezonja while selecting Dario Saric and Domantas Sabonis but giving them instantly away.
Poor roster decisions that included trading Ryan Anderson for Gustavo Ayon, giving away Moe Harkless to the Blazers and dealing Tobias Harris for essentially nothing came up to a conclusion when Hennigan, under pressure to save his job, traded away Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and Ersan Ilyasova for one season of Serge Ibaka who was then flipped to Toronto for Terrence Ross in a mid-season deal where the former Magic GM simply admitted his mistake.
The new regime also inherited $72 million owned to Bismack Biyombo and very little financial flexibility after rewarding Evan Fournier and D.J. Augustin with multi year contracts in the summer of 2016.
Even though Weltman and Hammond gave a vote of confidence to Frank Vogel and allowed him to continue coaching the team, a disappointing year with just 25 victories didn’t leave much room and the Magic made the quick change to Steve Clifford, who led the team to an NBA-best 17-win improvement this season.
Orlando struggled mighty at the beginning of the year and a brutal schedule had the team once again questioning its direction in January but the Magic won 11 out of the final 13 games of the season to lock up the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference only to surrender to the appetite of the Raptors.
Here is what the advanced stats had say for the Magic:
NETRTG: 0.6 (14th)
Offensive Rating: 108.1 (22nd)
Defensive Rating: 107.5 (8th)
Pace: 98.69 (24th)
REB%: 50.4 (11th)
AST%: 63.2 (5th)
EFG%: 51.8 (20th)
Steve Clifford’s teams tend to be balanced on both sides of the floor and the Magic followed that trend by playing a slower pace with plenty of ball movement while quickly running back on defense and focusing on rebounding and eliminating turnovers.
The Magic were among the best defenses in the league while all five of the Magic’s regular starters played in at least 75 games this season, further validating how consistency can be boring but often brings results.
Bench production was an issue throughout the season and Clifford was hesitant to shuffle his rotations but late-season contributions from Wes Iwundu, Khem Birch and Michael-Carter Williams proved in the team making the playoffs.
Steve Clifford signed a four-year deal, becoming the fifth Magic head coach in the past seven seasons for a team desperately looking for some stability and continuity. He was no stranger to the organization as he had been an assistant under Stan Van Gundy from 2007 to 2012, helping Orlando to make five playoff appearances, including a trip to the NBA Finals in 2009.
The truth of the matter is that Clifford resembled a tremendous upgrade to Frank Vogel, Scott Skiles, James Borrego and Jacque Vaughn, all of whom lacked the necessary experience and/or focus on player development while they were also overwhelmed with the monumental task of rebuilding the franchise.
Clifford’s success has to do with the fact that he brought what the Magic were seeking for years – an identity – and he did that by assigning roles and emphasizing strict discipline and preparation, helping the team build trust and a sense of togetherness. The on-court difference was obvious since day one as the Magic were well prepared, played hard and didn’t quit.
The knock on Clifford since his Hornets days was that his strategies on both sides of the floor haven’t caught up to the modern NBA while he carries the reputation of an old-school coach whose schemes involve traditional playcalling like defenders hanging way back against the pick-and-roll, clogging passing lanes and blocking off the paint.
Reality proved to be a lot different, further proving that the failure in Charlotte had to do more with the assimilation of personnel rather than coaching. Here is what Clifford had to say about the style of basketball the team was going to play at the start of training camp:
“I think it’s the things that win in this league. You want to play with pace. You want to be inside-out. We want to be low-turnover. Then you look at the things that work in the league: Triples, layups, getting to the free-throw line. And all of that is determined by helping the better offensive players play to their strengths and having multiple ways where you can get them so they can play to their strengths. That basically is what every NBA team tries to do.”
The veteran coach empowered his veterans and adjusted to the team’s strengths while pushing the right buttons for everyone to overperform. He was also quick to recognize what the Magic’s troubles were all year long: bench production and turnovers. He seemed to care about his players and took the time to figure out how to put them in the best position to succeed but he was also not afraid to sit them if they didn’t follow the game plan.
On top of everything Clifford validated how good of a teacher he is by getting the best out of Vucevic and Augustin late into their careers, by empowering Aaron Gordon and helping him grow as a team member, by developing the franchise’s biggest hope in Jonathan Isaac and by protecting rookie Mo Bamba when his flaws were apparent.
Clifford received minimal recognition for COY, despite helping Orlando to a 17-win improvement in his first season, but he successfully balanced the need to develop young players with a focus on winning basketball games, all while implementing a defensive identity that will likely stick with the Magic for years to come.
ADP: 71/56 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 10/5 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 14/11 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 80
2018-19 averages: 80 G | 31.4 MP | 20.8 PTS | 1.1 3PM | 12.0 REB | 3.8 AST | 1.0 STL | 1.1 BLK | 2.0 TOV | .518 FG% | .789 FT%
Vucevic’s limitations were already known around the league as the big man has been an eight-year veteran but Clifford was able to maximize his offensive skill and defensive potential, helping him average career-highs while becoming an All-Star for the first time ever.
The Magic didn’t treat him as a workhorse but simply made him the point of emphasis on the offensive side of the ball, allowing him to operate to his strengths, something that is obvious by a 55.5 effective field goal percentage and 1.1 3-pointer per game on .518 from the field.
Vucevic was one of the fantasy MV’s of the year as, even though he was drafted in the top-50 range, he returned top-15 value and became the best player selected in the middle-rounds this year. The biggest surprise of course were the 1.0 steal and 1.1 block as again, Clifford managed to inspire Vuc to play more aggressively and be a willing defender.
The playoffs offered a good reality check as he struggled in half-court sets against above average defenders like Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka and the Raptors decided to put more emphasis on him by using
consistent double-teams. It was a predictable strategy as the Raptors opted to let the surrounding cast beat them and they constantly clogged up the paint, challenging shooters to make their shots. It’s a similar strategy as to what they applied on Giannis Antetokounmpo it worked aside from Game 1 where D.J. Augustin hit a buzzer-beater to give Orlando a surprising 1-0 lead.
Vucevic will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and even though the Magic have said that he is their No. 1 priority in the offseason he will be turning 29 in October and it’s likely that he commands a max salary. The Magic drafted Mohamed Bamba last year but he is obviously still raw and not ready to take over as the team’s future starting center while the team will have to go over the cap if they are to re-sign their All-Star.
ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 73/61 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 108/91 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 81
2018-19 averages: 81 G | 26.5 MP | 15.1 PTS |2.7 3PM | 3.5 REB | 1.7 AST | 0.9 STL | 0.4 BLK | 1.1 TOV | .428 FG% | .875 FT%
Ross came into the season as the forgotten man after an MCL sprain and a non-displaced right tibia fracture 22 games into the 2017-18 season forced him to miss nearly the entire rest of the year.
Coming into a contract year though, Ross spent the entire summer at the gym trying to get himself at the best shape of his career. He attended most of Summer League with his teammates and put in the extra work in order to set himself up for a make-or-break season both personally and team-wise.
After experimenting with the idea of putting Ross into the starting lineup and realizing that the Achilles of this team was going to be the bench production, Steve Clifford figured out a bench role for his swingman that allowed him to enter the game and attack.
The result was a career year for Ross, who validated his nickname and was able to win the Magic a few games just by getting hot. The fantasy production was nothing outstanding as he contributed only 0.9 steals and 0.4 blocks and along with his poor percentages managed to finish just inside the top-75 in total value.
The Magic reportedly had a couple trade offers on the table during the February deadline that included a first-round pick but they opted to keep him as he brought value to the team and is a good teammate. Ross is also an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career and Orlando holds his Bird Rights, meaning they can ultimately offer him more money (and years) than other clubs.
ADP: 71/42 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 61/73 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 80/95 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 78
2018-19 averages: 78 G | 33.8 MP | 16.0 PTS | 1.6 3PM | 7.3 REB | 3.7 AST | 0.7 STL | 0.7 BLK | 2.1 TOV | .449 FG% | .731 FT%
Expectations were high for Gordon after a career year in which his team struggled to win and the versatile forward took a quiet jump forward after signing a four-year, $84 million deal. His numbers saw a slight decline but that was expected as Clifford emphasized Gordon’s development more in the context of a true team, as evidenced by a career-high 3.7 assists per game.
AG has been labeled as a fantasy sleeper for the last few years and this was yet another season where he let down owners who drafted him in the top-50. Gordon relied too much on his mid-range shot, while he often tried to do too much on the ball, overdribbling and forcing up bad shots. The 2.1 turnovers were a career-high and his free throw shooting was below average, leaving much more to be desired.
Coach Clifford challenged the fifth-year pro to make the All-NBA Defensive team and even though he failed to receive any votes, Gordon defended the best player on the other team on a consistent basis.
The San Jose native is just 23 years old, he is a hard worker and has added elements to his game during every offseason and if Vucevic walks he might become the team’s best player as soon as next year. The Magic are heavily invested into Gordon and they want to see him reach his full potential in Orlando but he is clearly their best trading chip at this point and I wouldn’t be surprised if the front office moves him for the right deal at some point in the future.
ADP: 140/98 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 104/90 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 127/108 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 75
2018-19 averages: 75 G | 26.6 MP | 9.6 PTS | 1.1 3PM | 5.5 REB | 1.1 AST | 0.8 STL | 1.3 BLK | 1.0 TOV | .429 FG% | .815 FT%
Health was the one constant the Magic were looking for after Isaac appeared in just 27 of Orlando’s 82 games in his first year in the league due to a bothersome right ankle that he injured multiple times.
Eight games into the season, Isaac turned his ankle again in what many feared was the end of another promising year but the lanky forward recovered nicely with the help of the medical staff and showed the ability to make a difference in a variety of ways, proving why many teams were intrigued with his skill set on draft night.
Isaac is simply the type of player that every coach loves to have on their roster as he is a versatile defender that can cut off the passing lanes and protect the rim while also attacking the paint and stretching the floor on the offensive side of the ball.
Not surprisingly, he struggled in the first half of the season as his lack of confidence made him more of an observer and less of a contributor but Clifford stuck with him and opted to overwhelm him with defensive assignments while instructing him to cut down on mid-range shots.
Isaac is the type of fantasy player than can turn heads with his ability to contribute across all the categories and deliver plenty of money-counter stats but patience should preached after what was basically his rookie season in the league.
Clifford repeatedly acknowledged the lack of touches for Isaac but his was more due to the presence of veterans like Vucevic, Fournier and Ross and less the lack of assertiveness from Isaac. As long as the Magic maintain the same core it’s hard to envision a change in his usage next year but he has shown the maturity to become the team’s anchor on the defensive end of the floor.
He obviously needs to continue to improve his shot-making, offensive awareness, and overall strength while I’m not sold on the idea of him playing next to Aaron Gordon, so the Magic might eventually have to pick one out of the two going forward.
ADP: 117/142 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 82/91 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 128/136 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 81
2018-19 averages: 81 G | 28.0 MP | 11.7 PTS | 1.6 3PM | 2.5 REB | 5.3 AST | 0.6 STL | 0.0 BLK | 1.6 TOV | .470 FG% | .866 FT%
In his eleventh NBA season Augustin proved to be a reliable starting caliber guard for the Magic even when most experts had pinned the point guard position as the biggest area of concern for the team coming into the season.
The veteran proved capable of running an effective offensive system with limited turnovers and enough shooting to make defenders think. The truth of the matter is simply that Augustin provided the shooting that the Magic desperately lacked with Elfrid Payton as their starter for three and a half seasons.
The lack of size didn’t really prove to be an issue for the Magic as they were able to compensate for that with the speed and length that Gordon and Isaac provided, while the toughness he brought to the table was a nice addition for a team that was missing some major intangibles the previous years.
Augustin shot the ball extremely well and his veteran leadership and guidance proved to be a part of the identity this team was able to build throughout the season. The numbers were equally good as he played in 81 games and returned solid fantasy value for everyone who took a flier on him in the late rounds.
Augustin has an expiring deal at $7.3 million and even though I expect him to be the starter coming into next year I believe regression is coming as long as Markelle Fultz is able to step on the court and become the team’s future point guard. The Magic will likely find themselves in a position similar to the one with Terrence Ross where teams were calling and asking for him in the trade talks but the stability he brought was invaluable and he looks like an affordable transition piece as the team turns the page.
ADP: 127/87 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 87/108 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 125/145 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 81
2018-19 averages: 81 G | 31.5 MP | 15.1 PTS | 1.9 3PM | 3.2 REB | 3.6 AST | 0.9 STL | 0.1 BLK | 1.9 TOV | .438 FG% | .806 FT%
No other player is more frustrating to Magic fans than Fournier, who entered the season again as the team’s starting shooting guard. The coaching staff put the ball in his hands in their effort to empower him as an additional playmaker rather than be a one-dimensional offensive threat and he responded well by averaging a career-high 3.6 assists per game.
The additional responsibilities hurt his percentages though, as he often found himself with the ball in his hands and time running out, forcing him to take low-percentage shots from all over the court.
In a somewhat stunning development, which has to be credited to Steve Clifford and his coaching staff, Fournier evolved into a competent defender, showing the desire and the focus to be a contributor on the other side of the ball as well. The French guard often found himself defending the top guards of the league and he did just fine, contributing to the Magic establishing a defensive identity that guided them through the playoffs.
Fournier plans to use the upcoming offseason to improve his perimeter shooting after a year in which he made 43.6 percent of his shots from the field overall and 34.0 percent from behind the arc. It was a major setback after the 2017-18 season during which he shot 45.9 percent from the field and 37.9 percent from the 3-point line and his dip in efficiency had an impact on his per-game fantasy value as he ended up finishing just inside the top-150 in standard 9-cat leagues.
Fournier now has two more years left on his contract at $17 million each year and I believe the Magic might try to move him in any deal they make in order to clear some cap space. Fournier seems more and more like a placeholder for a Magic team transitioning to a super athletic group of guys that run the floor but his shooting will remain valuable regardless of his situation.
ADP: 128/110 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 277/270 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 236/230 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 47
2018-19 averages: 47 G | 16.3 MP | 6.2 PTS | 0.4 3PM | 4.9 REB | 0.8 AST | 0.3 STL | 1.4 BLK | 0.9 TOV | .481 FG% | .587 FT%
Bamba was the consensus lottery pick for Weltman and Hammond, who both have proven to be enamored by long, athletic prospects that can protect the paint and stretch the floor. Hammond is going to go down in the books as the executive that drafted Giannis but my belief is that he has somehow let that decision navigate all his basketball decisions thereafter.
Following his draft selection, which brought a lot of excitement, Bamba struggled mighty at the NBA level against bigger opponents who were able to outmuscle him and he ended up playing in just 47 games before undergoing surgery for a stress fracture in his left tibia that ended his season.
He was able to deliver the shot-blocking ability that followed him at the high school and collegiate levels but other than that his defensive presence was a disappointment as he struggled with positioning and switching and found himself often on the wrong side of the ball. With Bamba on the court, the team was a team worst minus-14.1 per 100 possessions which is all you need to know about his effectiveness.
Clifford was committed into giving him minutes, even after he proved to not be ready for the big stage, and he experimented briefly with both him and Vucevic on the floor but the results were underwhelming.
Bamba has reporteld progressed really well from his injury and the challenge will be for him to add strength in his lower body while continuing to improve his shooting and passing.
The impending free agency of Vucevic might bring even more responsibilities for the lanky center, who is clearly not ready to start and needs more time to develop his game. Drafting Mamba ahead of Wendell Carter Jr. might go down as a fatal mistake in the Magic’s rebuilding process since the latter has proved to be far more ready to play at the NBA level and Orlando might be forced to overpay Vucevic since they really don’t have a starting caliber center on their roster.
ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 308/295 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 313/281 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 50
2018-19 averages: 50 G | 12.9 MP | 4.8 PTS | 0.0 3PM | 3.8 REB | 0.8 AST | 0.4 STL | 0.6 BLK | 0.4 TOV | .603 FG% | .699 FT%
A fan favorite who established himself as a quality NBA player this year, Birch was the defensive anchor of Orlando’s second unit and someone who challenged the coaching staff for more minutes due to his outstanding play regardless of his limitations.
Birch is being used as a center in the NBA even though he is a little bit undersized, but without a consistent jumper and a versatile offensive game it’s hard to play him at the four where he has to go against a lot more athletic bigs. Unfortunately for him, the Magic were loaded at the center position with Vucevic and Bamba receiving the majority of the minutes at the beginning of the season.
The Canadian big seized the opportunity when a sore left foot sidelined Bamba for the year.
Birch proved to be the best pick-and-roll defender on the team, an area where the Magic have struggled badly the last few years, and his addition to the rotation late in the season gave the team an unexpected boost while producing numerous highlights in the meantime.
Birch will be a restricted free agent this summer and I expect the Magic to have competition in their efforts to re-sign him, either from NBA teams or EuroLeague contenders. Keep in mind that Birch had a successful stint overseas before coming to the NBA where he has proved that he belongs. His energy and defense are skills that teams always admire and a potential departure of Vucevic could leave a major gap in the team’s frontcourt so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Magic are willing to overpay him.
ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 286/280 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 357/352 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 68
2018-19 averages: 68 G | 18.1 MP | 5.0 PTS | 0.4 3PM | 2.7 REB | 1.1 AST | 0.4 STL | 0.3 BLK | 0.6 TOV | .412 FG% | .812 FT%
Entering his sophomore season with the Magic, Iwundu was able to take a step forward, even if that was not really obvious on the statistical front. The Magic drafted a similar player to him in Melvin Frazier, maybe in their effort to apply even more motivation for the second-round product who came into the league with questions about his shooting.
Iwundu made a good impression on Steve Clifford and earned himself rotation minutes from the beginning of the season, and as the year progressed he was able to develop into a more confident shooter and a strong wing defender.
Iwundu played mostly next to Terrence Ross as Orlando tried to use his defensive skills and pair him with enough scoring to avoid getting overwhelmed with responsibilities on both ends of the floor. He responded well.
The mid-season trade of Jonathon Simmons to the Sixers opened up even more playing time for the Kansas State alumn who saw an uptick in his usage that helped his confidence grow as he was able to deliver consistent bench production for a team desperate for help when the starters had to sit.
Unfortunately, the positive impact Iwundu has on the court doesn’t really translate to a valuable fantasy contribution. His length and strength don’t produce strong defensive numbers and his sub par shooting makes him a liability as he is working toward becoming a 3-and-D option in a league where his skills are the standard and not the exception.
The Magic hold a non-guaranteed $1.6 million option for him which they will most likely exercise but with impending free agents Terrence Ross and Nikola Vucevic the money is tight and the Magic might be forced to cut ties with him even though he was a Clifford favorite.
ADP: 114/122 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 393/395 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 285/321 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 21
2018-19 averages: 21 G | 22.5 MP | 8.2 PTS | 0.2 3PM | 3.6 REB | 3.1 AST | 0.9 STL | 0.3 BLK | 1.3 TOV | .419 FG% | .568 FT%
The Markelle Fultz saga is hands down one of the strangest situations the NBA has seen in recent years. Considered to be the top prospect in the country back in 2017, a dynamic and versatile guard who averaged 23.0 points, nearly 6.0 assists and 6.0 rebounds in his lone season at Washington, the Sixers traded their third overall pick and an additional first-round pick to the Celtics in order to draft him. His tenure in Philadelphia ended up disastrous.
The fit looked questionable on paper since Fultz is a point guard that needs the ball in his hands to be effective, his shooting was average at best and Ben Simmons was considered the point guard of the team, but he joined a young nucleus and Brett Brown was optimistic about his long term development within the system.
What started as “shoulder soreness” ended up being a disagreement between the from office, the coaching staff, the player, his trainer and his agent about the reason for the change in his shooting motion, producing multiple unpleasant highlights in the meantime.
Fultz was eventually shut down with what was described as a “thoracic outlet syndrome” and with questions about his future in Philadelphia surrounding him the team felt that there was no turning back, opting to trade him for a protected first-round pick (top-20 in the 2020 NBA Draft) and a second-round selection in the upcoming June draft. Fultz now gets the opportunity for a fresh start in Orlando in an environment of a smaller market where he won’t be under nearly as much scrutiny.
The Magic have made it clear that they will be extremely cautious with him and the young guard has let it be known that he feels happy and comfortable in Orlando. It’s not a guarantee that Fultz will be ready for training camp but the gamble is well worth it and if things things work out, he might end up being a steal for the Magic’s front office.
ADP: NA/149 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 287/290 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 322/334 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 60
2018-19 averages: 60 G | 15.6 MP | 4.2 PTS | 0.7 3PM | 1.7 REB | 2.6 AST | 0.7 STL | 0.1 BLK | 0.9 TOV | .418 FG% | .650 FT%
Grant was clearly the most disappointing addition to the Magic roster even though he got plenty of opportunities to lock down the backup point guard position. Orlando took a flier on him and he looked ready to bring the stability the team was looking for, especially after a career year with the Bulls in 2017.
Grant looked slow and didn’t quite gel with his teammates as the Magic looked lethargic and out of sync whenever he stepped on the court, reminding many of us of the years when Orlando had Elfrid Payton run their offense.
Grant struggled shooting the hall behind the arc, his assists were down and most importantly, the team had a minus-7.6 net rating with him on the floor, better than only Mo Bamba. Clifford eventually gave up on him and handed the backup job to Isaiah Briscoe but when the rookie went down with a meniscus tear he got another chance at the job until the Magic signed Michael-Carter Williams to a series of 10-day contracts.
Grant saw his rookie deal expire and it’s almost certain that he won’t be back with the Magic as the franchise is moving on with a clear intention to make Markelle Fultz their starting guard of the future.
It remains to be seen whether Grant has a place in the league.
ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 371/369 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 332/338 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 28
2018-19 averages: 28 G | 13.3 MP | 4.8 PTS | 0.4 3PM | 2.5 REB | 2.5 AST | 0.7 STL | 0.6 BLK | 0.7 TOV | .374 FG% | .604 FT%
MCW was a surprising late-season addition that proved to be extremely valuable for a Magic team that lacked consistent production from their bench.
His performance with the Rockets where he failed to crack the rotation in a thin backcourt left little room for optimism but the former ROY showed up in Orlando as motivated and as ready as ever, feeling the urgency of potentially never getting another chance at this level. And it definitely didn’t hurt that Clifford had coached MCW in Charlotte and still had faith in his ability to have an impact on both ends of the floor.
Carter-Williams provided the Magic with a spark off the bench with his ability to attack and push the pace while averaging almost a steal and a block at the same time. His shooting of course remained his Achilles hell but the team was able to compensate by constantly moving the ball and pairing him with Ross and Fournier at all times.
MCW was able to overcome expectations but his future with the team is totally up in the air with D.J. Augustin and Markelle Fultz locked in as the team’s point guards for next year. Still, his Magic stint probably saved his NBA career.
ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 449/437 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 429/405 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 12
2018-19 averages: 12 G | 5.7 MP | 2.3 PTS | 0.0 3PM | 1.8 REB | 0.3 AST | 0.3 STL | 0.3 BLK | 0.1 TOV | .625 FG% | .875 FT%
Jefferson is a former three-time Duke captain from the Blue Devils’ 2014–15 NCAA Championship team and the only player in the program’s history to be named to the All-ACC Academic Team four times, finishing his career tied for seventh in NCAA history with 150 games played. Still, his college success hasn’t really translated at the NBA level where he went undrafted in 2017 and ended up with the Wolves on a two-way deal. He dominated in the G-League, finishing second in rebounding with 12.9 per night.
The Magic liked what they saw and signed him also to a two-way contract after he failed to secure a guaranteed NBA deal.
Jefferson lacks the size to be a defensive force and is limited offensively but he is a smart player with the appropriate work ethic and someone the coaching staff felt they could trust.
Regardless, the opportunity never showed up and he was stuck behind Jarell Martin for most of the season, again spending most of his time in the G-League where he averaged a double-double. He will likely explore the market again this summer and I wouldn’t rule out a return to the Magic but Jefferson is a fringe NBA player at this moment and he might soon find his way overseas.
ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 397/391 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 454/445 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 42
2018-19 averages: 42 G | 7.8 MP | 2.8 PTS | 0.5 3PM | 1.8 REB | 0.4 AST | 0.1 STL | 0.2 BLK | 0.3 TOV | .413 FG% | .846 FT%
Martin is simply one of those guys that always have the “what if” tag written all over them. One of the top prospects in the country and a former first-round pick by the Grizzlies back in 2015, he is someone whose seriousness about basketball has always been questioned by scouts and coaches. His size, athleticism and hustle have always been intriguing but injuries slowed him down at the beginning of his NBA career and Memphis eventually gave up on him the last summer in a salary dump move for Dakari Johnson.
There were rumors about him not making the final cut but Martin showed up healthy and motivated entering the last year of his rookie deal, securing a roster spot after he proved that he could stretch the floor from the power forward position.
The Magic were never in need of his offensive versatility and his lack of defensive stats didn’t help him beat Khem Birch or Mo Bamba for the backup frontcourt spots. His minutes were sporadic as inconsistency and poor shooting didn’t help him make a play for time even after the injuries the Magic sustained up front.
With Martin’s contract expiring it’s highly unlikely that the Magic extend him a qualifying offer and I expect him to become an unrestricted free agent who should be able to land elsewhere on a minimum deal.
ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 530/530 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 527/525 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 10
2018-19 averages: 10 G | 4.4 MP | 1.5 PTS | 0.0 3PM | 0.5 REB | 0.1 AST | 0.1 STL | 0.0 BLK | 0.1 TOV | .333 FG% | .250 FT%
The rookie from Tulane was another draft pick that fits the mold of length and athleticism, a key ingredient in John Hammond’s scouting reports in recent years.
Frazier made the most out of his opportunity at the NBA Draft Combine last year, measuring at an absurd 7-foot-1.75 wingspan and ended up getting drafted by the Magic with the 35th overall selection. It was clear since day one that he had fundamental issues with shooting mechanics, ball-handling, dribbling and playmaking but the defensive versatility that allows him to block shots, force turnovers and steal the ball is definitely worth the gamble.
The playing time was not there for the rookie as Fournier, Ross, Simmons and Iwundu avoided major injuries and played consistently throughout the season. The NBA sample was minimal but Frazier did get to play in 18 games with the Lakeland Magic where he averaged 4.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals, playing mostly as a shooting guard.
The fantasy potential is there but shooting is the main area where he needs to take a step forward if he wants to push himself into rotation minutes next year and establish himself as a potential 3-and-D guy.
The Magic are definitely invested into his development and I will be keeping an eye on him during Summer League where he should be able to show what a year practicing in an NBA environment can help him accomplish. He still has one more guaranteed year left on his deal.
There is no doubt that the 2018-19 season was a success for the Magic and not simply because the team was able to finally make the playoffs. Orlando was able to accomplish both short- and long-term goals and the future looks bright for the franchise for the first time in many years.
The Magic achieved what probably seemed too wishful at the beginning of the year as they were able to make the playoffs while developing their young core and adopting a much-needed identity for a team that seemed to be lost in mediocrity for an extended period of time.
The young core of Jonathan Isaac, Mo Bamba and Markelle Fultz is what the Magic are going to build around in the next couple years but the upcoming offseason will be critical to their strategic planning. My expectation is that the front office will try to bring back both Vucevic and Ross on short-term deals but in the event that the Magic are unable to re-sign them they might have to take a step back due to the lack of financial flexibility.
The Magic have never had any problems attracting major free agents to Florida and I expect them to try and clear the books in order to hit the market at some point in the next few years while developing their young core.
June 3, 2020, 4:39 pmDerrick RosePG, Detroit Pistons
The Pistons announced that they plan to reopen team facilities on Thursday, allowing voluntary individual workouts while following all the social-distancing guidelines.
Although the Pistons' season is likely over as they are not one of the 22 teams that will continue to play if the Board of Governors vote to ratify the plan on Thursday, this will allow players to stay in shape for the 2020-21 season which is expected to start in December.
Source: James Edwards III
June 3, 2020, 11:41 amZion WilliamsonPF, New Orleans Pelicans
Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the Pelicans, Blazers, Suns, Kings, Spurs and Wizards will be the six non-playoff teams resuming action when the NBA restarts.
This makes complete sense, as they're the only non-playoff teams that can sniff the postseason. Woj backs up an earlier Shams Charania report about a potential play-in tournament for the final playoff spot in each Conference as well. If the ninth seed trails the eighth seed by more than four games when the league's truncated regular season wraps up, the eighth seed makes the playoffs. If the deficit is under four games, however, the two teams will compete in a play-in tournament that is double-elimination for the eighth seed and single-elimination for the ninth.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
June 3, 2020, 11:36 amLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the NBA will have an eight-game regular season for the purposes of playoff seeding upon its return while Shams Charania reports that there will be a play-in tournament for the eighth seed.
This applies to the NBA coming back with 22 teams, as the league's bottom eight are well out of playoff contention and bringing them to Orlando would only negatively affect the league's pursuit for player safety. As for the play-in tournament, Charania describes it as such: "If the ninth seed is more than four games behind the eighth seed, the eighth seed earns the playoff spot; if the ninth seed is four or fewer games behind, then the eighth and ninth seed will enter a play-in tournament that is double-elimination for the eighth seed and single-elimination for ninth." Expect another announcement about the league's format in the coming days.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
June 2, 2020, 10:02 pmCorey BrewerSF, Sacramento Kings
Corey Brewer, a veteran of eight different NBA teams, is still hoping to sign another contract before he calls it a career.
Brewer, 34, seems to think he has enough in the tank for one final stint in the NBA. “We had some talks with a few teams, but nothing really happened. My agent is still working on it, so we’ll see,” Brewer said. “I feel like I can still help a team and I feel like I have a few good years left. But you never know, man." Brewer has not suited up for an NBA team this season and, with a waning jump shot and increased age, his chances of securing another pact in the NBA are pretty unlikely.
June 2, 2020, 9:47 pmDeMarcus CousinsC, Los Angeles Lakers
Kings broadcaster Grant Napear stepped down from his position with the Kings on Tuesday after he said 'All Lives Matter..Every Single One!' when asked about his thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement during a Twitter interaction with former Kings center DeMarcus Cousins.
This is the first domino to fall in American professional sports in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement, even if it's a relatively insignificant one. Napear said of himself and the interaction, "I’m not as educated on BLM as I thought I was. I had no idea that when I said 'All Lives Matter' that it was counter to what BLM was trying to get across," he said. "I’m in pain. I’m 60 years old and I still have a lot to learn." The Kings will evidently have to find a new play-by-play man for their radio broadcasts to accompany Doug Christie when games resume.
June 2, 2020, 8:45 pmJohn WallPG, Washington Wizards
John Wall, who has long been rumored to have absolutely zero chance of returning to the court even if the current season is resumed, said in a conference call last week that he feels "110 percent."
Wall and the Wizards both maintain that he will not return to action this season, regardless of the outcome of the vote on Thursday by the NBA Board of Governors. This is good news, obviously, for the team as they set their sights on next season. As of late, trade rumors have been swirling around the franchise's two top assets: Wall and All Star guard Bradley Beal. Moving forward, there is a high possibility that the Wizards will decide between the two, as Beal's contract will expire after next season. Which player will the Wizards keep? Who will they trade, or will they trade them both? They are hoping to have some time to evaluate how the pair plays in tandem early next season, as Wall has missed significant time with a torn left Achilles he suffered during the 2018-19 season. But it may be too late to negotiate an extension with Beal at that point, so they will have to play their cards with extreme care.
Source: The Athletic
June 2, 2020, 8:27 pmBradley BealSG, Washington Wizards
Wes Unseld, a Hall of Famer and Washington Bullets legend, passed away on Tuesday due to complications with pneumonia and other illnesses. He was 74 years old.
An outstanding rebounder, Unseld is also one of only two players to ever be awarded Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same season in 1968-69. He guided the Bullets to the NBA Finals four times, winning once in 1978, a series where Unseld took home MVP honors. Hornets' GM and former teammate Mitch Kupchak said of Unseld, “As a teammate, he was tough, dependable and competitive to no end.” Unseld was a fearless competitor and highly respected across the league during his 13 seasons with the Bullets franchise. Former Knicks center and fellow Hall of Famer Willis Reed recently recalled their battles against one another, "He was most consciously a rebounder — he could shoot, but he didn’t emphasize that part of his game — and felt that if he did his job right, by getting the defensive rebound and making the quick outlet pass, they would score quickly.” Unseld was undoubtedly a pioneer for the game of basketball and means a great deal to the city of Washington D.C.
Source: Rick Bonnell on Twitter
June 2, 2020, 7:58 pmLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
ESPN's Adrian Wojanrowski is reporting that Adam Silver and the NBA Board of Governors, who are planning to vote Thursday on how to continue the season, would like the NBA Finals to conclude no later than October 12.
With July 31 being the widely-reported restart date and the league tentatively planning to start 𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘵 season by Christmas Day of this year, it would make sense to crown a league champion as early as possible. The meeting with the NBA Board of Governors on Thursday will (finally) bring some clarity to the rest of the NBA season, as they will hold a vote to decide how to proceed. NBA fans have been waiting since the middle of March for some resolutions. This week will provide them.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
June 2, 2020, 12:28 pmStephen CurryPG, Golden State Warriors
The Warriors opened their practice facility on Monday, per Anthony Slater of The Athletic.
Slater adds that five players showed up for voluntary workouts. It's the first time that Golden State's gym has been open in over two months, and there are only three teams who have yet to get players back into team facilities. While it must be nice for the players to get back to some kind of business, the Warriors are not expected to be playing any more games this season given their league-worst record and the likelihood that the NBA trims the fat rather than ask every team to play out the season.
Source: Anthony Slater on Twitter
May 31, 2020, 8:10 pmKz OkpalaF, Miami Heat
Kz Okpala's offensive game has come a long way since January according to Heat Vice President and Assistant GM, Adam Simon.
Okpala is already viewed as an NBA-ready defender, and once his offensive game is up to speed the Heat will have a hard time not getting him into the rotation. He spent 20 games in the G League and five with the Heat before the suspension slowed down his progression in 2020. Okpala got off to a slow start due to injuries, and a trade on draft day took away his chance to play in summer league. While this season is unlikely to amount to anything, Okpala is someone to watch in deeper leagues next year.
Source: Miami Herald