The Orlando Magic have pieces that make them a potentially lethal defensive team.
With Mohamed Bamba, Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon in the front court, and Terrence Ross and Jonathon Simmons on the wing, the Magic have the potential to build one of the best defensive cores in the league.
A lot of that will come down to the play of the rookie Bamba, and second-year man Isaac. Isaac, in limited game time last season, showed off high levels of defensive upside, and the potential to be one of the most versatile defenders in the league. Bamba, in his lone year at the University of Texas, showed off great instincts protecting the rim, and an ability to alter shots just from being near a defender.
Having not had a true rim protector since Dwight Howard, adding Bamba in June’s draft made too much since for the Magic. Add him to Isaac —who said during the teams media day he’s up to 226 pounds, and felt like he grew more over the summer — and the Magic have, potentially, one of the best one-two punches in the league.
Having both of those guys protecting the rim will take a slight amount of pressure off guys on the perimeter, and allow them to be a little big more aggressive.
“It allows me to cheat sometimes,” said Simmons. “I can prolly get out and get some more steals and deny the ball a bit more knowing that I’ve got athletic guys behind me.”
In his time in Charlotte, coach Steve Clifford’s teams never finished lower than 16th in defensive rating, with the team finishing in the top-10 in three of his five seasons as coach. His schemes, and hard working, consistent mentality, coupled with the length, and potential talent the Magic have on the defensive side of the ball, make them an even more intriguing team defensively.
After missing much of last season with a knee injury, Terrence Ross returns, and figures to play a big role for the Magic. As one of the teams better shooters, he open things up on the offensive end, but his play defensively could be just as important.
“You don’t want to rely on that,” said Ross when asked about having Bamba and Isaac as protection. “But you definitely feel better with all those arms down there. Sometimes you can’t tell Mo [Bamba] and JI [Jonathan Isaac] apart. It’s fun. They bring a lot of athleticism, a lot of length and I think it’s going to be fun; people are going to enjoy watching this year.”
D.J. Augustin, the team’s likely starting point guard, echoed what both Simmons and Ross said about being able to pressure a little more with two shot blockers behind them.
“It gives the guards more of an opportunity to pressure more and be more aggressive on defense with our guys,” said the 11th year point guard. “If we do get beat, we want to work on team help, and we do have those guys down low ready to block shots. It does take some pressure off of us, but we just want to be an all-around better defensive team as a unit.”
While having the ability to be more physical, and take more chances will inevitably help the Magic defensively, they can’t always rely on the help to be there. There will be times where guys need to stay in front of their man, and play more cautiously, rather than try to make the hero play.
Ultimately, becoming a more complete team on the defensive end is the goal. Augustin hinted at it, even going as far as to say “[Coach] Cliff doesn’t want us taking chances.”
It’s going to take a complete team effort, but Bamba and Isaac are going to be two of the biggest keys on the end of the floor, and sometimes, they might get asked to clean up some of their teammates messes.