Sloppy, uninspiring play has marred the Orlando Magic throughout the early portion of their season, prompting a lineup change from coach Scott Skiles. While Skiles could've shaken up the lineup in a big way, he chose to only make one change, inserting Channing Frye into the starting lineup for guard Victor Oladipo. The moved shifted Evan Fournier and Tobias Harris back down to their more customary positions, and gave the Magic a real threat off the bench.
While moving Oladipo to the bench could've been considered questionable -- some believe the third-year man is the teams best player -- the move proved to pay off against the New York Knicks, giving the Magic an added dimension they were desperately needing off the bench. On top of that, Oladipo put together his best performance of the season, hounding Knicks players on the defensive end, and relentlessly attacking them offensively.
The move shifted the balance of the two lineups, giving the starters more spacing and shooting with Frye, and the bench a more proven slasher and finisher than they had. While Oladipo carried the load for the bench -- he scored 24, while the remainder of the bench combined for 19 -- finding a true scoring option off the pine will pay huge dividends for the Magic in the long-run.
Coming into play on Wednesday night, the Magic were in the bottom half of the league in bench points per game, averaging 32.9 per contest. With C.J. Watson missing extended time with a calf injury, the team has missed a true veteran off the bench to steady the lineup and give them some scoring, which Oladipo did on Wednesday night.
Even though Oladipo didn't shoot the ball well -- he finished the contest 5-of-15 -- he was able to get to the line 15 times, coming close to doubling his attempts on the season in a single game. His ability to get into the paint and draw fouls was important, with his teammates getting in on the action as well, finishing with 32 attempts, their most in a game endingin regulation this season.
Following the game, Skiles, along with teammates raved about Oladipo's play, and what it brought the team.
Skiles was pleased with how aggressive the guard was on the night. "He was definitely in attack mode," he said. "It seemed like we were trying to serve the up a ton of blocks after a while, but we stayed in attack mode. You live with that and we've sorely needed to be able to get to the free throw line and he did a great job with that for us. "
The first-year Magic coach had hinted he felt Oladipo would play well earlier in the day. "Vic's a consciousness guy, he's on all the time. Even in practice or talking to him, he has a great personality. Like I said, I knew he was disappointed, but I also really felt he would respond and he did."
"It's been pretty easy to see that he likes to compete," he later added.
Oladipo's teammate, Tobias Harris, who put together an efficient 17 points on only six shot attempts, was also very complementary of the guards performance. "Truthfully, Victor was a spark for us tonight," said Harris. "Without him and that effort we whouldn't have won that game. I'm super proud of just the way he handled it. Vic is a starter, but at the same time he came off the bench and he accepted that role.
"We know we look for Vic as one of our best players on this team. It's not about starting or coming off of the bench, it's about accepting what you have attached for the greater goal for the team. Vic did that and it says a lot about him as a person. I'm super proud of him and the way he played today."
Likewise, Nikola Vucevic was pleased with Oladipo's play, despite the circumstances. "It has to be tough for him to know that he had to come off the bench," said the seven-footer. It's not an easy adjustment when you start for so long and everybody wants to be starting in this league and he's a player that has the quality to start.
"Coach had to make an adjustment and he accepted it for the better of the team. He stayed positive, and he came out tonight and really had a great game. That shows a lot about him, that he's unselfish, that he cares about his team, and I respect that a lot about him. I knew he was going to do that and it shows a lot about a guy."
Oladipo said he "grew up a lot" in the last 48 hours -- citing what people were saying about him, as one of the main reasons -- and returned to playing his brand of basketball. He knows when he's playing well and attacking, the team will have a great chance of winning, much like they did on Wednesday night. His ability to, as he said, "mix it up" and "keep the defense on their heels" was one of the big reasons he was able to have the impact he did.
The Indiana product quickly shot down a question about his minutes, saying that it's all about winning. "It's about winning. Plain and simple," he said.
While the change in the starting lineup might be one that isn't permanent -- Skiles said before the game it's a fluid situation, and things could change based on how the team performs -- it proved to give them something they on Wednesday. They found balance that they have so desperately been searching for, helping them win and ever so important game against a Knicks team they're close to in the standings.
As has been the case for the entire season thus far, the Magic have to show an ability to put it together for more than one game. With two more games at home before heading out West for the first time this season, the Magic need to build the consistency with their lineups, if they want to be able to keep their season in check.