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Orlando Magic Progress Reports, Volume 4

Two-thirds of the way through the ‘17-’18 season, Aaron hands out player performance grades

NBA: Orlando Magic at Chicago Bulls David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

It doesn’t seem possible that the Magic have already completed nearly 70 percent of their 2017-18 schedule. Let’s re-visit who on the roster has been pulling their own weight as of late, and who needs to start playing better sooner rather than later.

As a teacher who is used to assessing on a regular basis, this is right up my alley! Included in this report are statistics from the last ten games along with some comments from yours truly that hopefully explain why I graded the guys the way that I did.

In the comments section below, please feel free to agree or disagree with any of my assessments, or simply just let me know if this is something that interests you. Credit for statistics goes to Basketball Reference and as always. Enjoy!

Evan Fournier (10 GP), Grade: C+

30.4 17.2 2.6 2.5 1.0 47% 37% 58% -1.7 -3.5

I’m still not sure Evan is completely recovered from the ankle injury he was dealing with earlier this season. He doesn’t seem to have much explosiveness with the ball off the dribble, which pretty much makes him exclusively a jump shooter on offense. Fournier has shot the ball admirably enough of late, although nothing spectacular in that department. Some of his attempts late in games in this last ten game stretch have been questionable.

Fournier’s shot was off against the Hornets in Orlando’s final game before the break, but he had eclipsed over 20 points in three consecutive games before that.

He’s one of only three Magic players in the last ten games to have a negative plus-minus and negative net rating (ORtg-DRtg).

Best game in the last 10:
2/12 @ Chicago - 22 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds

Mario Hezonja (10 GP), Grade: A- (Top of the Class)

29.3 16.1 5.5 1.8 1.3 50% 43% 63% 0.2 1.0

I’ll admit, those numbers don’t jump off the page for someone who has been playing nearly 30 minutes per game. But this is Mario Hezonja we’re talking about here, yes I’m grading on a curve. It’s astounding to watch Mario grow before our eyes on the floor, seemingly gaining more and more confidence each night. Actually, I’m not sure he ever lacked confidence, even during the worst of times in his career. It was just the production and results that weren’t there.

Lately, he’s been efficient (8% higher FG% than career average, 10% higher 3PT% than career average, 11% higher TS% than career average), he’s been aggressive (combined 2.5 STL/BLK per game). Again, I can’t forget to credit Frank Vogel here; Vogel was willing to carve out a role at power forward for Hezonja, something that seemed very strange to a lot of us at the time. At the big forward position, Mario has been afforded a lot more opportunities to beat his man off the dribble and attack the rim. He’s knocking down shots, he’s limiting his turnovers. I would still like to see his assist numbers slightly higher, I know he’s capable of making a few more plays for others out there.

But overall, best stretch of basketball in his young career for Mario Hezonja over the last ten games. Hezonja sprinted to the All-Star break with three consecutive 20+ point games.

Best game in the last 10:
2/12 @ Chicago - 24 points, 6 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 blocks

Jonathon Simmons (GP 10), Grade: C+

28.7 14.1 2.8 2.1 1.9 49% 39% 59% -3.6 -5.5

We’ve seen both the good Simmons and the bad Simmons in this last ten game stretch. Simmons has seemingly regained his shooting touch as of late, confidently knocking down shots like we saw him do earlier this season. The team Offensive Rating of 108 that has been posted with Simmons on the floor the last ten games is considerably higher than his season mark (ORtg: 102), but he’s still been the second-worst guy in the regular rotation when it comes to plus-minus and net rating during that same stretch. His defense has just been really not good.

Simmons was a key cog during Orlando’s recent three-game winning streak, which of course included his career night against the Cavaliers. But he limped into the All-Star break with a couple dud performances against the Bucks and Hornets.

Best game in the last 10:
2/6 vs. Cleveland - 34 points, 7 rebounds

D.J. Augustin (10 GP), Grade: B

25.3 11.7 2.4 3.8 1.5 41% 38% 58% 2.0 3.6

The point guard keys have officially been turned over to D.J. Augustin for the rest of the season. I foresee things looking differently for the Magic as far as what they’re going to get from their starting point guard. I wouldn’t imagine the team continues to play at the frenetic pace it did with Elfrid Payton at the helm; Augustin seems like more of a half-court pick-and-roll dominant lead guard. Augustin is not the distributor Payton was, but he will provide the Magic with a lot more spacing. Look for the offense to run through Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, and Aaron Gordon more now that Payton has moved on.

Something to watch with Augustin for the rest of the season will be his durability. D.J. hadn’t logged 30 minutes in a game this season before the Payton trade, he’s played 30+ minutes in two of the four games since. Augustin has scored in double figures in seven of the team’s last ten games.

Best game in the last 10
2/8 vs. Atlanta: 18 points, 9 assists, 3 rebounds

Shelvin Mack (10 GP), Grade: B+

24.0 9.9 4.0 5.0 1.7 49% 32% 59% 3.6 8.3

It’s been the “return of the Mack (sorry had to)” to Orlando’s regular nightly rotation for Shelvin; Mack has played 20+ minutes in nine of Orlando’s last ten games. Vogel was sending Mack out there alongside of D.J. Augustin in a rather interesting two point-guard lineup. Believe it or not, if you look at the data, this was actually working. But with starting point guard Elfrid Payton now in Phoenix, Mack has settled in as the team’s backup point guard moving forward.

Mack dished out 6 or more assists three times in his last ten games, that’s getting it done in terms of the production a team should expect from its back-up point guard. The Magic have been playing really well with Mack on the floor; his +8.3 net rating (ORtg-DRtg) while on the floor in the last ten games is second on the team during that stretch. He’s been converting field goals with much higher efficiency than his career averages, and he’s taking care of the basketball - Vogel trusts Mack with the ball in his hands.

Best game in the last 10:
2/10 vs. Milwaukee - 19 points, 10 assists, 4 rebounds

Bismack Biyombo (10 GP), Grade: D
Khem Birch (10 GP), Grade: B+
Marreese Speights (10 GP), Grade: B

Biyombo 23.1 8.2 6.4 1.5 1.2 1.4 55% n/a 58% -3.6 -5.9
Birch 17.7 4.3 4.9 1.0 1.0 0.9 59% n/a 60% 4.6 13.4
Speights 15.2 11.3 3.5 0.6 1.1 1.2 45% 40% 62% 2.0 1.4

Coach Vogel has gone with a “three-headed monster” rotation at center for the last ten games, which has seemed to work out relatively well. I thought grading each center together, displaying their stats over the last ten games in the same chart, would be the most worthwhile method to examine how they’ve done.

Biyombo, the $17 million dollar man, has been awarded all the starts at center while Nikola Vucevic has been out. With Vucevic scheduled to return after the All-Star break, it will be interesting to see who Vogel takes out of the rotation. I’m sure Vogel will bring Nikola along slowly, but regularly playing Biyombo, Birch, and Speights will be impossible. Vogel likely won’t be willing to cut into Hezonja’s minutes at the power forward position; Hezonja’s minutes are going to be harder to come by as it is with the imminent return of Aaron Gordon to the lineup.

The numbers through the last ten games suggest it should be Biyombo who is taken out of the roation. Biyombo’s Defensive Rating of 113.2 over the last ten games is horrific (for comparison, Birch’s DRtg has been 96.9). Biyombo ranks last on the Magic in net rating and plus-minus over the same stretch. Biyombo has posted six double-doubles in his 23 starts since Vucevic went down with his left hand injury.

Speights is a boom-or-bust guy that Vogel has been playing early in games. We all get a pretty good sense what kind of night it’s going to be for Speights after he lets his first few shots fly. Speights has connected on multiple three-points attempts in seven of his last ten games, averaging nearly a point per minute. His performance off the bench against the Lakers specifically helped lead the Magic to victory a few weeks ago.

But it’s actually been Birch who has been on the floor when Orlando has been at it’s best lately. Birch has easily led the team over the last ten games in net rating and plus-minus. He’s not producing a prolific amount of counting stats, but he’s clearly doing things on the floor that effect the team’s play in a positive way. Of the three centers, Birch has been the best rebounding the basketball and defending the painted area.

Best games in the last 10:
Biyombo, 2/14 vs. Charlotte - 11 points, 11 rebounds
Birch, 1/27 @ Indiana - 11 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals
Speights, 1/31 vs. Los Angeles - 21 points, 4 rebounds

Wes Iwundu (10 GP), Grade: C-

18.0 3.4 2.8 1.2 0.6 0.5 41% 51% 1.1 4.2

Iwundu played sparingly through the first 25 games of Orlando’s season, but due to numerous injuries that have wreaked havoc to the depth of the roster, he’s been a regular part of the rotation since early December.

Iwundu does a lot of positive things on the floor that don’t show up in the box score. He has really solid defensive instincts, and seems to make good decisions when the ball is in his hands. But he still seems like a severely limited offensive player, hindered primarily by a lack of any kind of an outside shot. Remember, Iwundu is already 23 years old; he’s older than Gordon and Hezonja, both of whom have already played in the NBA for numerous years.

Best game in last 10:
1/31 vs. Los Angeles - 6 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks

Incomplete: Arron Afflalo, Nikola Vucevic (injury), Aaron Gordon (injury), Terrence Ross (injury), and Jonathan Isaac (injury)