It’s been two weeks since the Magic shipped Tobias Harris, once thought to be a crucial part of the team’s young core, for Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings. The initial reaction to the trade was that it was a move to free up cap space, and it will certainly do that this summer, even if either of the new arrivals re-sign. (It’s unlikely either would command the money they got on their last contracts.) But eight games in, how are Ilyasova and Jennings producing for the Magic on the court?
The pair may yet serve its purpose as cap relief this summer, but Jennings and Ilyasova have also addressed some of Orlando’s immediate needs.
In the words of his coach, Jennings has been up and down since joining the Magic, but he’s shot decently from three (38 percent), despite taking some ill-advised looks. He gives the Magic another ball handler off the bench, though, and someone who can facilitate. Scott Skiles says Jennings is still adjusting to Orlando’s playbook and personnel.
It’s important to note we’re dealing with a small sample size here, but Ilyasova has definitely helped with the Magic’s spacing. Channing Frye was one of the only players capable of doing that for Orlando before the trade deadline, when he was shipped off for next to nothing, but Ilyasova has filled his shoes as a stretch big since. Over the last two weeks, the Turkish forward has shot 56 percent from beyond the arc – about 10 percent better than his overall field goal percentage.
Granted, he’s only taking a little over two threes per game, but his presence seems to have had a noticeable impact on the Magic’s bench. Prior to Ilyasova’s arrival, the Magic bench was 23rd in the league on shots less than five feet from the rim, shooting 55 percent. In the eight games since, Orlando’s backups are shooting 65 percent from that range, tied for fifth in the league. Now, Orlando’s been scoring a lot more recently, and Ilyasova’s spacing probably isn’t the only reason for the better shooting at the rim, but his hot stroke has certainly been a contributing factor.
So far, Skiles likes what he’s seen out of Ilyasova, but said the recent success of Aaron Gordon has prevented him from playing the newly-acquired forward more.
"We know what we’re going to get out of Ersan. He’s going to play hard; he’s going to take a charge if he can; he’s going to make his threes at a good rate; and he’s going to know what we’re doing out there, and that’s important," Skiles said of Ilyasova, who’s averaging 18 minutes per game with the Magic.
Orlando’s 3.5 games out of the playoffs, and there’s still a chance they could sneak in. They’ll need bench production to do it, so Ilyasova and Jennings could play a role there.
Capturing the eight-seed is a bit of a long-shot, though, so the rest of the regular season is essentially an extended tryout for the two. So far, Ilyasova’s faring much better. If his shooting keeps up, he could be a discount option for the Magic to target this summer. Signing players who can space the floor will be one of the team's top priorities.