It was less than two weeks ago that the Magic looked cooked. Despite a defense that had largely continued the fine form established down the stretch last season, they couldn’t win games; an outcome tied to their horrific offensive form. The team just wasn’t able to put up enough points to compete in the current NBA, with a lack of shooters and an inability to get to the free-throw line -- two common criticisms from recent Magic memory -- again blighting the side. They entered a five-game homestand with an alarming 2-6 record and it was starting to look like the wheels may have already fallen off.
Instead, Orlando got back on track. They won 4 of the 5 home contests, a pace which if maintained is good for a 65 win season! They scored 100 or more in six straight contests, despite playing at the league’s slowest pace! They attempted 155 free throws within a seven-game window, a free-throw rate in the league’s top third! The offensive woes are solved! Right?
Well, probably not. In the same way that the Magic were never going to be as bad as their early form suggested, so to is it true that they’re probably not as good as the most recent stretch suggests. The team still can’t shoot, as their last place ranking in effective field goal percentage (just 47.7%) demonstrates. The three-point percentage is similarly abominable, with a clip of 30.3% ranking them 30th in a league with 30 teams. They’re not much better inside the arc, where a two-point field-goal percentage of 48.9 places them 25th overall. The number of assists per game has shrunk accordingly, dropping from last season’s 12th placed finish to 22nd this year. And, despite the uptick in trips to the charity stripe, the side’s free throw rate still ranks just 19th (.257).
This is a team that finds scoring hard, and it could be worse for the foreseeable future with Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon suffering sprained ankles on Wednesday. The Magic don’t generate easy points, and they lack a reliable go-to scorer that can break down an opponent one-on-one when the game slows down. Markelle Fultz is the closest thing the Magic have to a dynamic playmaker, but he remains a work in progress and will continue to be brought along slowly after such an interrupted start to his career. It’s unlikely that the solution to the side’s offensive woes will reveal itself internally, so how about rosters elsewhere around the league? Might a trade be brewing?
Is a DeRozan trade the answer?
Let me state the answer to this question firmly: no. This particular rumour gained some traction last week, with The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reporting that the Magic had already expressed an interest in acquiring the San Antonio two-guard. Despite a solid list of accomplishments that includes four trips to the annual All-Star Game and two All-NBA team nods, DeMar DeRozan’s offensive repertoire doesn’t plug the holes that the Magic so desperately want to fill.
Since landing in San Antonio courtesy of the Kawhi trade, DeRozan has somehow attempted a miniscule total of 49 three-point shots, making just seven. That’s an arctic 15.6% for a player who has converted at a clip of just 28.2% throughout his career. As he makes his living in the mid-range game -- he routinely attempts more than 50% of his total shots between 10 and 23 feet -- he would offer zero spacing for an already cramped Orlando side, particularly once you factor in that such a transaction would likely see Evan Fournier -- a career 37% shooter from deep currently converting at 45% on 5.3 attempts per game -- heading out of town.
The threat of a DeRozan triple won’t stretch the floor. It won’t open driving lanes for Markelle Fultz. It won’t create space that athletes like Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac can leverage. It won’t lead to more accurate shooting from deep. Even considering his free-throw rate of .368 -- a figure that would comfortably be among the team’s leaders -- and his improved playmaking in recent seasons, his addition wouldn’t be enough to effectively buoy a sometimes moribund offense. His addition to the roster would be more likely to send the team back to 1995 than to the playoffs.
What else might be out there?
Outside of DeRozan, chatter related to specific names is relatively muted at this still-early juncture. There’s evidence that the Magic are active in surveying the field and in making known their willingness to deal, but any current rumored proposals are more the product of message boards and Twitter threads, as opposed to well-placed league sources. Are there any ideas that make sense and might potentially eventuate should the stars align?
Injuries have cruelled Brooklyn’s season to this point, so it’s not yet clear what the ceiling (or floor) of the team is right now. However, once the roster returns to something approximating full health it appears there may be a logjam of minutes in the backcourt that could be the impetus for a move. With Kyrie Irving entrenched as the starter and Caris LeVert partnering him in the backcourt it means that it’s hard for the Nets to extract maximum effectiveness out of their other dynamic guard, Spencer Dinwiddie. Would a trade with the Magic make sense?
Dinwiddie would seem a much more logical fit for the current Orlando roster than DeRozan. He’s a scorer and playmaker with the capacity to slot in at either guard spot, a position of relative weakness for the forward-heavy Magic. He doesn’t have the same per-game averages as DeRozan, but that’s a function of opportunity, not ability. When on the court Dinwiddie is more likely to attempt and make a three-point shot (a career 32% shooter currently connecting on 30% of long-distance shots this season), get all the way to the hoop (30% of his attempts come within three feet of the rim), draw a free-throw attempt (a free-throw rate of .456), and create a scoring opportunity for a teammate (assist percentage of 28.5%). That reads like a list of attributes the Magic are chasing.
Dinwiddie wouldn’t come cheap. The Nets are hoping to have a legitimate contender on their hands next season, which means any move has to add to their overall ceiling. It’s clear they like Taurean Prince and Joe Harris on the wings, but would they bite at an offer to add more athleticism and defensive presence? If so, Aaron Gordon - despite the Magic’s reluctance to even entertain the notion of his trade -- might be the starting point for any such discussion.
It remains to be seen how much else is out there for the Magic on the trade market. Chris Paul doesn’t fit the team’s timeline. D’Angelo Russell would make for an awkward backcourt dynamic when considered alongside Markelle Fultz. Victor Oladipo is the old flame that ain’t walking back through that door. Someone like CJ McCollum could potentially shake loose if the Blazers season doesn’t turn around, and Orlando would be right to go hard after him if he does. For now, however, it’s merely an interesting hypothetical.
Orlando clearly aren’t out of the woods in terms of their early-season offensive woes just yet. We’ll need to see evidence of consistency at this end before we can deem the problem solved, and injuries to AG and Vucevic during Wednesday’s game in Toronto will only make that more difficult by exacerbating existing problems. Expect the Magic to remain active in trade discussions; a move sooner rather than later wouldn’t surprise.