The Orlando Magic stayed rather quiet when NBA Free Agency initially began on July 1st, and when considering the amount of money the organization spent last summer to try and improve the roster, it’s probably a good thing. The Magic had some space under the cap to work with, but it wasn’t enough to attract the elite Free Agents on the market. One got the sense that Orlando’s new management was very comfortable simply sitting back and assessing the current roster over the course of this upcoming season. 2017-18 will be an important season for many Magic players (Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton are eligible for extensions, Mario Hezonja is heading into his third season looking for any kind of success, etc.).
However, it’s clear now the Magic were just being patient and letting the market slow down a bit. Orlando came to terms with guard Shelvin Mack (most recently of the Utah Jazz) on a deal worth $12 million over two years (an estimated 6M per year). The second year of Mack’s deal with the Magic is partially guaranteed, similar to the situation Orlando just went through with C.J. Watson. And then after a surprising move in which the San Antonio Spurs pulled their previously rewarded qualifying offer to Jonathon Simmons (making him an unrestricted free agent), the Magic swooped in and signed Simmons to a three year deal worth $20 million (the final year of the contract is partially guaranteed).
Still, if there’s one very obvious thing this current roster could still use a dose of, it’s more experienced players who can shoot and score the basketball. Mack and Simmons will absolutely help the Magic, there’s no question about it. Improving Orlando’s defense at the point of attack, whether it be in the backcourt or on the wing, was obviously something the Magic’s new management wanted to address (and they did). But Mack and Simmons are not shooters, they weren’t brought in to stretch any defenses. About 30% of Shelvin Mack’s field goal attempts last season came from behind the arc (he shot 31% from “3”), his career average distance on attempts is 14-feet. Simmons is a career 32% shooter from downtown; only 24% of his field goal attempts last season were 3PTA’s (his career average distance on attempts is 10-feet).
I must admit, my idea for this piece came from Nicholas Sciria of Nylon Calculus, who put out a piece in early July on a floor-spacing metric system he created. Check out the article, it’s pretty good stuff. Basically, he assessed each NBA starting lineup’s spacing last season based off of their estimated attempt rates and 3PT%’s. Not surprisingly, Orlando’s starting lineup they began last season with (Payton, Fournier, Gordon, Ibaka, and Vucevic) was one of the most offensively challenged units in the NBA when it came to creating space and stretching defenses (8.4%). According to Sciria’s rating, Orlando’s spacing improved slightly after they traded Ibaka, slid Gordon down to the power forward position, and inserted Terrence Ross into the lineup (13.5%).
I realize there is an entire training camp and plenty of preseason games to be played before a legitimate discussion about next year’s starting lineup should commence, but one would assume that Orlando’s spacing will again take a hit if Jonathon Simmons is placed in the starting unit at the expense of Fournier or Ross. And perhaps even more concerning, who’s going to be able to provide spacing and scoring on Orlando’s second unit; a unit that needs spacing with Bismack Biyombo and Jonathan Isaac (somewhere) on it? Last season, the Magic had someone in Jodie Meeks who filled that role perfectly. But he’s moved on to Washington, and the organization hasn’t really done anything to replace what he provided for the Magic.
Keep in mind, Orlando has roughly two million dollars worth of cap flexibility left to work with this summer after the Mack and Simmons signings. They also still possess their estimated $4.5 million per/year mid-level exception, and can create more space if needed by waiving either Patricio Garino and/or Marcus Georges-Hunt (I hope not, I like him). Also, Orlando still has pending decisions and announcements left to make this summer regarding Derrick Walton Jr., Wesley Iwundu, and Khem Birch.
The Magic have put together a roster loaded with athletic, (some) long, defensive-minded players. However, will the Magic be able to create enough floor-spacing to allow Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton to get to the rim? Who can the coaching staff lean on to create some spacing for others? Is it too late to bring in a veteran shooter to provide spacing? Here are some unassuming, but I think realistic, options Orlando should look into to help generate some more shooting, spacing, and scoring options heading into next season:
1. Bring in a veteran wing shooter/scorer on a short-term deal
Gerald Henderson, SG - Unrestricted Free Agent (30 years old)
Arron Afflalo, SG - Unrestricted Free Agent (32 years old)
Anthony Morrow - SG, Unrestricted Free Agent (32 years old)
Gerald Henderson is certainly not the first person that comes to mind when you’re thinking about floor-spacers at the wing position. For his career, Henderson has only taken just over one three-point attempt per game. However, Henderson just completed a season in which he attempted just under four attempts per/36 from behind the arc, the highest rate of his career. Henderson’s three-point attempts accounted for over 30% of his attempts from the field; again, by far the highest rate in his eight year career (35%). Henderson would check a few boxes for the Magic if they wanted to take a flyer on the Duke alum. First of all, he would of course bring leadership and experience to a team that is flooded with relatively green 20-somethings. Secondly, he could potentially provide some scoring and spacing possibilities from the wing position. And perhaps most importantly, he could come cheap.
Henderson was waived in late June by the Sixers before the second year of his $9 million dollar per/year contract became fully guaranteed. Since Henderson is technically still getting some money from Philadelphia, that could mean theoretically that he would be willing to take a little less this year. Henderson’s NBA career is seemingly winding down, his best basketball days are clearly behind him. But Henderson could still feasibly offer Orlando a little bit of what they need, perhaps on a one-year deal for the right price.
I know an Arron Afflalo reunion in Orlando should be considered more than a long shot at this point, I get it. Been there, done that (that’s probably what he would say to the idea at least). I only mention Afflalo to exemplify again the type of player Orlando should be after to replace what Jodie Meeks brought to the table last season. Afflalo’s defense has regressed to a point of no return, we began to see some of that while he was still in Orlando (although, he unfairly was stuck with the task of guarding forwards too often for the Magic). But he can still shoot it rather efficiently, and that is what the organization needs the most.
In fact, that’s about all Arron Afflalo brings to the table anymore as an NBA player. Afflalo just finished his age 31 season in the NBA by attempting nearly 3.5 3PTA’s per/36, which represented over 35% of his overall field goal attempts. Afflalo finished the season at 41% from downtown, the fifth time in his career he’s achieved the feat of shooting over 40% from deep over the course of an entire season. In ‘16-’17, Afflalo posted a TS% of 56%, which is right where he was at during his two-year stint in Orlando. Afflalo can’t guard anyone anymore; he’s not the player he once was. But Orlando desperately needs more shooting/spacing; that he can still do. It’s just an idea, an idea I don’t think Afflalo would ever consider. I think he will latch on for close to the veteran minimum in Minnesota, Oklahoma City, maybe Utah - somewhere that’s a little closer to competing than the Magic are. However, Orlando could do a lot worse than an Arron Afflalo on a one-year contract to come in and shore up the shooting on their second unit.
I don’t know if Anthony Morrow has anything left in his proverbial NBA tank. For the first time in his nine year career, Morrow shot under 40% from the field this past season. Morrow is coming off of a year in which he posted career lows in FG%, 3PT%, PTS per/36, PER, and TS%. I’d certainly classify Morrow as a “buy-low” candidate. Could (or should) the Magic possibly be curious if this is in fact “it” for Morrow? It’s hard to dismiss his 41% career 3-PT% on just under 6 attempts per/36. Couldn’t he potentially slide into the bench rotation for the Magic somewhere and provide his NBA-proven floor-spacing ability?
Morrow’s name came to mind for me when I read about what he took part in this past week. Morrow, like many within the large NBA contingent, was in Las Vegas last week. I’m sure Morrow took in some games, but more importantly he was there on behalf of the NBA Players Association. The Players Association Leadership Development Program set up some time for Morrow to speak to other NBA players about how to be better professionals, how to communicate more effectively with coaches and teammates, and about the importance of starting to think about their careers after they are through playing basketball. Sounds like Morrow could be the type of player brought in by the Magic that would pay-off handsomely off the court as much (if not more) than he would on the court. I also read a great piece Morrow wrote in late June through the Players’ Tribune entitled “An Open Letter to the Undrafted”. I can’t stand sports cliches, but if there ever was a “pro’s pro”, it sounds like it would be Anthony Morrow. Maybe he regains his shot; maybe his play is solid enough to warrant some rotation minutes. If not, it doesn’t sound like the Magic would regret for a moment the guidance and leadership Morrow could provide guys like Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon, and Elfrid Payton if he was signed to a one-year deal for next season.
2. Encourage Nikola Vucevic to attempt more three-point field goals
This one sounds crazy, am I right? Why would I be suggesting that a 7-foot center who shot 30% from long range last season attempt more “3’s”?
Honestly, it’s just the direction a lot of centers around the league are going. Marc Gasol had only attempted 66 three-point attempts in his eight year career heading into last season. In ‘16-’17, Gasol fired away to the tune of 268 attempts from behind the arc. Brook Lopez had attempted 31 three-point attempts in his entire career heading into last season; a season in which he attempted 387 “3’s” . Al Horford attempted a total of 65 three-point attempts through the first eight seasons of his career; he’s attempted a combined 498 three-point attempts the last two seasons.
In Frank Vogel’s system, Vucevic enjoyed the best defensive season of his career last year. He improved last year from a very poor defender to a league average defender (at worst), all most of us ever wanted from him defensively. But, his shooting suffered greatly last season; Vucevic’s true shooting percentage (50%) was the worst he’s produced since his rookie season. For me, the most frustrating thing about Vucevic’s offensive game (especially when it’s not clicking - which it wasn’t for long stretches of last season) is the amount of long two-point attempts he takes. The long two-point attempt is one of the worst shots in the NBA, and Vucevic has attempted nearly a third of his attempts from 16-21 feet over the last two seasons. Last season was the first time in a Magic uniform Vucevic shot under 50% on two-point attempts for a season.
Still, if one were to look past Vucevic’s poor shooting season last year, there’s still promise that he could become a floor-stretcher. Vucevic shot 47% from 16-21 feet in 2014-15, and 48% from the same distances in 2015-16. If Vucevic can fully commit next season to taking more three’s, while still maintaining the same level of defense he displayed in 2016-17, he could open up a completely new dimension in Orlando’s offensive attack (and make himself a lot more valuable to the team in the process). I would encourage Vucevic to take somewhere in the range of 150-175 three-point attempts next season (he attempted 75 last year) while hoping he would connect on them at a rate of 33-35%. That would be huge for Orlando’s starting unit.
3. Stagger Ross and Fournier’s minutes
This option isn’t the most exciting, but it could prove to be a likely direction the Magic end up taking heading into next season. Without signing anyone to help space the floor for the Magic off the bench, what Orlando could do is simply stagger Ross and Fournier’s minutes. There are 96 combined minutes available at the “2” and “3” positions; the Magic could start newly acquired Jonathon Simmons at one of the two wing positions, or they can elect to go with their starting lineup from the end of last season (Ross/Fournier). Either way, all three guys will get plenty of minutes; the Magic staff just needs to roll the balls out at camp and figure out which configuration is going to work best.
Like I mentioned above, Fournier (career 38% from 3PT, 40% of his FGA’s are from deep) and Ross (career 37% from 3PT, 51% of his FGA’s are from deep) together in the first unit offers the Magic optimal spacing, but it would be at the expense of a second unit that would be severely deficient at shooting/scoring. Having Simmons in the starting lineup would negatively effect Orlando’s spacing on that unit, but one would assume Simmons was brought in for his defensive aptitude which would be almost wasted on bench opponents if he wasn’t starting. Orlando may be forced due to the current roster construction to split-up Ross and Fournier’s minutes.
I worry about spreading the shooting/spacing out too thinly; we all saw how Fournier handled being the primary scoring option on the floor last season. But I also worry about the scoring and spacing ineptitude of a potential Mack, Simmons, Isaac, Biyombo unit; that would be a tough group to score on, but it would also set offensive basketball back a few decades in the process. If Orlando instead elects to bring either Ross or Fournier off the bench next season (I would prefer Ross as the sixth man, he’s been in that role before), they can be assured that one of their two legitimate proven floor-spacers is always on the floor.
4. Turn to D.J. Augustin and Mario Hezonja
When the Mack signing was announced a week or so ago, I think most Magic fans assumed that was the end of the D.J. Augustin era in Orlando. Mack was brought in on a more team-friendly contract to shore up Orlando’s defensive identity in the backcourt, something that was greatly missing last season.
The Magic very well may be attempting to move Augustin’s contract, even as I write this at the moment. $7.25 million per/year is not a horrible contract, but it’s guaranteed for the next three seasons, and that’s not so great. Certainly not the easiest contract to move. If Orlando does retain Augustin, I think most conventional thinkers believe he’s the underdog to earn back-up point guard minutes in 2017-18 (and Mack is the favorite).
The organization may prefer Mack to Augustin at this point, but the coaching staff may be forced at some point next season to turn to Augustin for more shooting and spacing. I can’t envision (or maybe I’m choosing not to) a second unit next year of Mack, Simmons, Isaac, and Biyombo having a whole lot of offensive success. D.J. Augustin had one of the worst shooting seasons of his career last year, but he’s still a career 37% 3PT marksman who eclipsed 40% from long range two of his three seasons prior to his time in Orlando. Augustin is a proven NBA shooter from distance (over 50% of his FGA’s came from 3PT last season), teams are forced to at least come out and respect his shot.
Like Augustin (because of the Mack signing), Mario Hezonja is another guy that seems to be out of the mix as of late. That’s really been the story for Hezonja in Orlando his entire career, but a window seemed to be open heading into next season for Mario to have a more regular role with the team. Now, after the draft and free agency, Hezonja once again finds himself pretty far down the minutes totem-pole behind Fournier, Ross, Gordon, Isaac, and newly acquired Jonathon Simmons.
I’m not arguing against others getting minutes over Mario at this point; Hezonja was one of the least productive and efficient players in the whole league last year. He had an absolutely atrocious sophomore season. I haven’t completely written off Hezonja’s NBA career, though I do realize he will be fighting next season to preserve it (either in Orlando, or elsewhere). I do have much lower expectations about Hezonja and the trajectory of his career at this point, he’s probably never going to be an impact starter in the NBA. I do think he can still be an NBA rotation-level player who can space the floor. Hezonja isn’t afraid to let it fly, he’s averaged over 5 3PTA’s per/36 in his career. Hezonja connected on nearly 35% of those attempts his rookie season, which was promising.
If Mario can return to (or even slightly improve on) his rookie success from downtown, he could at least present the Magic with a viable alternative if they find themselves struggling to shoot, space, and score. He’s not a quality defender, his overall floor-game leaves a lot to be desired, but if Hezonja can just shoot even close to the rate in which he was advertised (43% on corner 3PTA’s his rookie season is a nice statistic, small sample-size), that could be enough to steal some minutes from Simmons (or Gordon/Isaac, although that’s less desirable for obvious reasons).
The 2017-’18 season will be an important one for the Orlando Magic. Numerous players on the roster will have plenty to prove to new management, the coaching staff will be looking for more consistent results in Year 2 of their system, and the Eastern Conference seems more manageable than it has in a long time.
However, for optimal success to even have a chance of occurring for the Magic, the organization must face the reality that their lack of floor-spacing must be addressed.