Bench gives a lift
It might've been a losing effort Sunday against the Charlotte Hornets, but the Orlando Magic's bench once again gave them some very solid minutes. Led by Andrew Nicholson, Willie Green and Maurice Harkless, the Magic's reserves wreaked havoc on the defensive end, while chipping in some on offense.
Despite the loss, the Magic's bench combined for 31 points, 15 more than the Charlotte bench produced. Nicholson and Green did most of the damage, combining for 22, but that isn't to say the rest of the unit didn't help.
Harkless, playing because of injuries to Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon, got after on the D, forcing his matchup into tough shots, while also crashing the boards, finishing with five rebounds on the night. The definition of high energy, Dewayne Dedmon, once again shored up the Magic's interior defense by giving them a real shot-blocking force, and someone who works every trip down the court, no matter the situation.
Prior to the game, coach James Borrego praised his bench unit. "They just have a nice rhythm right now," he said. "They’re moving the ball, sharing the ball, they’re really active defensively."
The interim coach singled Green and Nicholson in particular. "He’s made shots, he’s made the right play, he’s moving the ball well, he’s really been active defensively," Borrego said of the veteran Green. "He can guard the point guard, he can guard two guards, he can guard some small forwards. So, he’s very valuable to us on both ends of the floor."
As for Nicholson, Borrego is happy with what he's given them on the defensive end, and knows that his offense will turn the corner soon as well. Referencing their game on Friday night against the Atlanta Hawks, Borrego said, "I thought Andrew Nicholson was big too. When he came in he gave us great defensive effort and he hasn’t scored it like we thought he would, but I think he’s still trying to find his offensive rhythm and he’ll get that with more minutes as we go."
This isn't the first time this season we've talked about the Magic's bench and the impact they've had. However, since Borrego took over, it's been a recurring theme.
With the season dwindling down, it's big for the Magic to find out which pieces might fit, and which might not moving forward. The play they've gotten off the bench recently may highlight some players who could be extremely important pieces to the puzzle moving forward.
After putting together a Rookie of the Month campaign in January, things have been a bit rougher for point guard Elfrid Payton. Payton, who put up averages of 10.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.9 assists, and 45.2 percent from the field in January, saw his scoring, assists, and shooting percentages drop over the next month. In February, Peyton averaged 7.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 41.9 percent shooting from the field.
While those numbers are more than respectable for a rookie still trying to find his way in the league, his last few games have been a couple of his worst all season.
After flirting with a triple-double against the Philadelphia 76ers, Payton has shot just 3-of-20 from the field for seven points, seven rebounds, and 15 assists during the Magic's three-game losing skid. After a rough night against the Hawks on Friday, it got worse for Payton on Sunday, as he played just 13 minutes, none in the final 20 of the game. The 13 minutes which Payton played were the second-fewest he saw this season, coming in behind the six minutes he played in the Magic's win against the Detroit Pistons in November.
With 60 games under his belt, the struggles for Payton can be understood some. He's still adjusting to playing an 82 game season, and every rookie, no matter how good they are, hits that "rookie wall" at some point or another. For Payton, this seems like that time, and something that he should easily be able to overcome.
The Magic's confidence in the 21-year-old signal caller hasn't wavered. As with every young player and team, you have to go through learning pains, and that's what this stretch should be considered as for Payton.