The Orlando Magic drafted 6’10” forward Jonathan Isaac 6th overall in 2017. They re-signed forward Aaron Gordon to a four-year, $76 million deal earlier this month. With the 6th overall pick in this year’s draft, the Magic drafted a potential future Defensive Player of the Year in 7’0” big man Mohamed Bamba. Shooting guard Evan Fournier still has three years left on his current contract.
Isaac has the potential to be a star for the Magic at the small forward position with his length, athleticism, versatility, and defense. Although he’s got room to grow on the offensive end, he’s not a project. Despite being injured or battling injuries for most of the season, Gordon is coming off a career season in which he averaged 17.6 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game. The part I love the most about Gordon is that he’s only 22 and thanks to a new four-year deal, he’s going to be spending the majority of his prime in Orlando. Current Magic center Nikola Vucevic still has a year left on his contract, so Bamba won’t be fully unleashed yet, but we might be looking at the next star center in Orlando since Dwight Howard. Fournier may not be the most consistent two-guards in the league, he’s also undersized and has trouble defending larger, faster, and athletic guards on the wing, but he’s a capable shooter so there isn’t an urgent and immediate need for the Magic to make an upgrade at shooting guard.
The one position in need of the upgrade that Magic fans have been aching for and losing sleep over is point guard.
With tradeable assets in Vucevic and their 2018 6th overall pick, the Magic seemed to be in position to make a move fill that need. When Steve Clifford got the head coaching job, Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker emerged as an ideal candidate to end up in a Magic jersey and team up with Clifford once again. Maybe Oklahoma’s Trae Young would still be on the board at 6th overall? A handful of starting point guards would be available on July 1st and there was no way the Magic wouldn’t make a move. Isaiah Thomas was reportedly negotiating a deal with the Magic (ultimately proved to false information), and that was a win-win situation, right? Offer him a one-year deal with an option, give him a chance to prove his season with the Boston Celtics wasn’t a fluke and his hip isn’t an issue.
The only factual news Magic fans ended up receiving this summer about point guards was the acquisition of Jerian Grant, who they received from the Chicago Bulls in a three-team deal. The Magic also received center Timofey Mozgov from Charlotte in exchange for center Bismack Biyombo and two future second-round draft picks. To disappoint any fans still optimistic that the Magic had a move left up their sleeve to sign a point guard, Orlando Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman told the Orlando Sentinel on Tuesday that the team was likely done adding players through free agency this summer, per Josh Robbins.
Fear not, I’m here to tell Magic fans that there’s no reason to get sour just yet. Current starting point guard D.J. Augustin is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, but he doesn’t have the ability to be a star at the point guard position, especially with his defensive liabilities. The 25-year-old Grant, who may seem like just a back-up or ordinary role player, has the potential to much more than that.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t pay much attention to Grant until I started utilizing him as a low-budget option in my FanDuel lineups this season. For a vastly low price, I was getting more than 20-25 fantasy points from him a night when I knew he had a good match-up or favorable factors in store for him that night (more minutes, more shot attempts, more usage, etc.).
Grant averaged 8.4 points per game, 2.3 rebounds per game, 4.6 assists per game, while shooting 41.6 from the field in just 22.8 minutes per game this year. Those aren’t star point guard numbers, I realize that, but when he was given more minutes, whether it was because of Bulls starting point guard Kris Dunn being injured or another factor, he showed me glimpses of a starter.
From February 3rd to the 12th, he averaged 12.4 points, 7 assists, 5.8 rebounds per game in Dunn’s absence. He also shot 42 percent from beyond the arc. Although he was playing 37 minutes per game in that time span, his overall efficiency improved which is the most important part. Of course, his points per game and other per game stats will rise given nearly 40 minutes a night, but when you’re able to still do it in an efficient way, as in, your shooting percentage, assist ratios, usage, player impact estimate are all sky-high, that’s worth noticing.
Grant - at 6’4” and almost 200 pounds - is long and athletic. Clifford has stated once before he loves size and length at the point guard position because they’re usually great defenders and can overwhelm their match-ups on the offensive end. And that’s another strength of Grant’s: his defense. He’s great on the perimeter especially, holding his opponents last season to at least 37 percent shooting from the field.
As for Grant’s passing ability, he averaged nearly five assists per game this season but what I find most intriguing is that if you include only those that played at least 60 games and averaged at least 22 minutes per game this season, Grant’s 33.6 percent assist ratio was the sixth best in the league. Assist ratio is the percentage of a player’s possessions that result in an assist. In contrast, Augustin boasts a 27.8 percent assist ratio despite having a higher usage, starting more, and playing more minutes. Grant also had a 3.84 assist/turnover ratio last season, which was third best in the league (Players that: 60 games +, 22 mpg +)*. This stat is very effective at measuring ball control. A player who passes the ball and gets an assist without causing a turnover will have a higher ratio (Augustin has a 2.33 ratio). Grant also had a higher ratio last season than Chris Paul (3.57) and Rajon Rondo (3.53), both of whom played at least 10 less games than Grant.
*(The reasoning for the filtering is because it accounts for the players who played bench minutes, garbage time minutes, or only played a few games, that have inflated assist ratios)
Although his shooting consistency still needs improvement, Grant can play both ends of the floor at the point guard position, distribute and handle the ball as well as any starting point guard in the league, and is great at attacking the basket (scored nearly 60 percent of his points driving to the hoop last season). With more minutes and new players (better ones, as well) around him, Grant’s higher usage rate could result in not only personal career-highs but also victories for the Magic.
The Orlando front office got more than just a backup point guard from Chicago. All Grant’s missing is an opportunity. Once you analyze these factors, it’s clear Grant isn’t just an absolute upgrade from D.J. Augustin, but he also has the potential to explode on the scene in Orlando.