Jonathon Simmons drained a three in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers that gave the Magic a 32-point lead. As the ball splashed through the net, Simmons stood in place, his hand frozen in the air as he admired the site.
A timeout was called by Cleveland. Simmons walked back to the bench, a clear bounce in his step. (Much to the chagrin of the Cavs’ television broadcasters).
Beyond what Simmons adds to the Magic in terms of fundamentals on the court, he has brought other intangibles that the team had sorely been lacking: attitude and swagger.
Granted, it’s obviously far too early to analyze the impact free agents have had on their new team. And let’s be honest, the Magic’s performance on the court in the post-Dwight Howard era has not exactly warranted a swagger of any kind.
But with an impressive season-opening win over the Heat and a shocking rout of the Cavaliers – albeit with that disheartening loss to the Brooklyn Nets sandwiched in between – and with the offensive numbers the team is putting up, Simmons and the Magic have some reason to strut for the time being.
Simmons - who signed a team-friendly three-year, $18 million deal with the Magic after two seasons with the San Antonio Spurs - is averaging 13.7 points through the first three games. Again, with such a small sample size, a deeper analysis of the numbers will have to wait, but Simmons’ field goal attempts per game has nearly doubled compared to his time with the Spurs, climbing from 5.3 per game last season to 9.0 in the first three games this season (aided in part by Aaron Gordon’s absence for two games).
But seeing Simmons beat defenders off the dribble and attack the rim has been a welcome site for the Magic, who were in need of a swingman capable of creating his own offense. After shooting just 29.3 percent from three-point range last season with the Spurs, down from 38.3 percent as a rookie, he has converted on five of nine attempts this season (again, small sample size). By being able to defend multiple positions, the 28-year-old will also provide the Magic some much-needed defensive versatility. Even watching his hustle while closing out on three-point shooters has been fun to watch.
The eclectic skill set he offers may ultimately raise questions as to whether Simmons is better suited to be starting, perhaps in place of three-point specialist Terrence Ross, or if he is best utilized as a spark off the bench. With the Magic playing well in the early going, and with this season’s advanced lineup stats in their infancy, that debate can wait until the season progresses.
Simmons’ story, had it not actually been true, would make for a bad Hollywood script. After going undrafted, he paid a $150 registration fee to participate in an open tryout for the Spurs D-league team. He made the team and was ultimately brought up to the big leagues. After playing behind Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, Simmons’ shined during the postseason while filling in for the injured Leonard, averaging 15.3 points per game in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors.
A success story of that nature breeds confidence. And swagger. Simmons has shown just that early on with the Magic.