When the dust settled after a hectic opening weekend of NBA free agency in July, the Orlando Magic appeared on their way to building one of the best defensive teams in the league. With the additions of Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo, the Magic had acquired two of the top shot blockers in the game.
Fast to October and the duo had begun seeing time together on the floor for the Magic during the preseason, mainly on Sunday night against the Atlanta Hawks. With Nikola Vucevic getting the night off to rest, Biyombo was inserted into the starting lineup aside Ibaka, giving everyone their first long look at the potentially terrorizing front court.
As many had hoped, the duo was seemingly unstoppable on the defensive end, altering and blocking shots and crashing the boards all night. Nothing made their potential to be one of the best defensive duos in the league more clear than back-to-back possessions in the second quarter.
After a layup from Ibaka gave the Magic a six point lead, the 6-foot-10 big man blocked a layup from the Hawks’ Kris Humphries, bringing the Magic bench to their feet. On the following possession, Biyombo swatted a Mike Scott layup attempt, and then proceeded to chase down Scott following an Elfrid Payton turnover for another rejection, wagging his finger as if to say not in his house.
The series of plays shows just how good the Magic could be on that end, especially when they turn to the Ibaka-Biyombo combination.
“I thought those two guys were really good,” said Magic coach Frank Vogel. The first-year Magic head man went on to say he saw the rim protection that he wanted to from the duo. “Those two guys are great, and that lineup is going to be tough to score on in the lane. There’s no other way to put that, and that’s going to be solid for us.”
On the night, the duo combined for seven of the Magic’s 10 blocked shots, and 21 of their 35 defensive rebounds, 15 of which came from Biyombo.
Aaron Gordon, who once again struggled on the offensive end, thought the lineup with the two shot blockers worked well. “It was crazy,” he said. “It was a block party all night. It worked well.”
Despite the unit working well, the Magic’s defense as a whole still left something to be desired at times. Gordon himself was upset about getting beaten on a back-door play early in the second half, and went as far as to say the teams performance after halftime was “sluggish.”
“It’s probably where I would expect it to be, but not where I want it to be,” said Vogel when asked if he thought the defense was where he wanted it to be.
With two games remaining in the preseason, the team has some time to continue to workout the fine details defensively before the games start to count. Vogel pointed to some schematic things, like Ibaka and Biyombo switching onto smaller players, as something the team needs to work on and get more on the same page.
Nevertheless, the defense is building towards where they want to be, and the players are excited about it. “It’s going to be fun,” said Ibaka when asked about the defensive potential of the team. “When you’ve got Biz, when you’ve got AG [Aaron Gordon], and when you’ve got myself, and also Nik [Vucevic], I think it’s going to be fun out there.”
With Biyombo and Ibaka patrolling the paint, as well as Vucevic who has shown some improvement early on in preseason, the Magic have the potential to be one of the best shot blocking teams in the league. Even when they aren’t blocking shots, they’re changing them time and time again, which is also highly valuable for a team yearning to be a top defensive team.
Magic waive three players
Following the loss to the Hawks, the Magic made their first round of roster cuts, waiving big men Branden Dawson and Cliff Alexander, and swingman Kevin Murphy. The trio, which were all training camp invitees, saw limited time in the first five preseason games.
With the moves, the Magic’s roster is now down to 16 players. Before the start of the regular season, they’ll have to waive at least one more to get down to the leagues maximum roster size of 15. Damjan Rudez, Nick Johnson and Arinze Onuwaku will be fighting it out for the last spot or two, with Rudez likely the favorite.
Despite being waved, it’s still possible the likes of Dawson, Alexander and Murphy will be in the Magic pipeline still. With the NBA D-League’s affiliate rule, the Magic can claim up to three players they waived and send them to their D-League affiliate.
With a need at power forward still, Alexander could have an inside track for a potential call up later in the season as well.