Another season has come and gone Magic fans. The 2018-19 version of your Orlando Magic provided the city and its fan base with many memorable moments to ring in the 30th anniversary of the franchise’s existence.
We were provided opportunities to celebrate big Magic road victories in Boston (twice), San Antonio, Los Angeles, Mexico City (against the Jazz and Bulls), Toronto, Milwaukee, Indiana, Charlotte, and Miami (twice). And don’t forget about those huge home wins against the Heat (opening night), 76ers (twice), Lakers, Raptors, Celtics, Rockets, Pacers, Nets, and the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
But none of that compares to the emotions all Magic fans felt after coming to the realization that the team they’ve supported through so many tough losing seasons had finally clinched their first playoff birth since the conclusion of the Dwight Howard era.
My progress reports were back for another season on Orlando Pinstriped Post in 2018-19 (third season featured on this site, I’m blessed). If you missed the first volume, Nikola Vucevic earned the highest grade in the class after the team’s first fourteen games due to his stellar shooting and solid defense. Vucevic again earned the highest grade in my second volume (which covered the team’s next fourteen games). And prior to his first career All-Star selection, Vucevic earned the team’s highest midterm grade.
Let’s explore who on the roster pulled their own weight this season. As a teacher who is used to assessing on a regular basis, “grading” is right up my alley!
Included in this series of final grade reports are statistics from Orlando’s 82 regular season games played this season, 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 NBA.com. Enjoy!
Wes Iwundu, 24 years-old (68 games played)
One of the significant changes in Steve Clifford’s rotation midway through the year that really kick-started Orlando’s season is when second-year forward Wes Iwundu was awarded regular bench minutes in place of veteran Jonathon Simmons. That move in February corresponded with Orlando’s run in the early Spring which put the team in position to make the playoffs for the first time in seven years.
It’s unclear whether this organic change would have even happened without the assist from Orlando’s front office, who dealt Simmons to Philadelphia for Markelle Fultz just moments before the NBA’s Trade Deadline passed. But the change happened nonetheless, and the Magic were a much better team for it.
Iwundu is a plus NBA defender (0.7 DBPM in 2018-19), that’s been his trademark through the first 130 games of his professional career. He has above-average to elite length for a wing defender, and he moves his feet really well on the perimeter.
The Kansas State product is wiry at 6-7, 195 lbs., but he plays much stronger than he looks. Iwundu used his length (and strength) this season not only on the defensive end of the floor, but to get to the free throw line offensively as well. Iwundu increased his free throw attempt rate (free throw attempts per field goal attempt) from 22% last season to 38% this season (FTA’s per/36 in ’17-18: 1.7; FTA’s per/36 in ’18-19: 3.0).
Iwundu became slightly more of an offensive threat for the Magic this season, although he still has a long way to go. Iwundu shot 36.7% from behind the arc in ’18-19, a significant improvement from how he shot it his rookie season (3PT% in ’17-18: 19.6%). What I find strange about Iwundu’s improvement shooting the basketball from distance is that he still struggles mightily on “corner-three’s” (career 24.5% shooter from the corner). Two out of every five three-point attempts Iwundu has taken have come from the corner; either improving from the corner or shooting less attempts from the corner (and more from wing-to-wing) next season could potentially improve his shooting numbers even more.
Iwundu’s gains this past season (compared to his rookie season) are reflected in his improved offensive rating (from 100 to 107), true shooting percentage (48% to 53%), and on-court +/- per/100 possessions (from -5.3 to +1.9). Those are all positive indicators that Iwundu’s game is moving in the right direction. His improved shooting numbers are slightly offset by the fact that he took a step-back in year two finishing at the rim; look for those numbers to bounce back next season.
Like the majority of Orlando’s young rotation players, the second-year forward looked a little over-matched against Toronto in the playoffs, but his numbers don’t necessarily reflect that. Sure, he went 6-18 from the field (3-9 on two-point field goals) - not good. But he finished the series as a +7.3 per/100 possessions, which was +30.4 per/100 possessions better than when the starters were on the floor (Offensive Rating of 111 in the playoffs, four points higher than his regular season mark). Look, Iwundu played 60 total minutes in five playoff appearances, so the sample-size is extremely small. Still, he wasn’t a complete net-negative while on the floor playing in the biggest games of his professional career.
Best performance of the season: March 17th vs. Atlanta
14 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks (25 minutes)
2019-20 Season Outlook
The Magic hold the option to pick-up Iwundu’s contract next season, which is non-guaranteed for $1.6 million. Representing just over 1% of Orlando’s total cap figure for next year, I see no reason whatsoever why Orlando wouldn’t strike on Iwundu’s option.
To be fully transparent, I’ve changed my tune with Iwundu. Before this past season, I wasn’t completely sold that he was an NBA player. I always saw his defensive potential, we’ve all seen it in him since Day 1. But I thought his offensive game was so far behind that he would have trouble staying on the floor in meaningful NBA games.
Iwundu is far from a complete player, but I think he showed enough legitimate offensive improvement in his second NBA season to (at the very least) get another look from the organization through next season.
Iwundu will likely become a restricted free agent in the summer of ‘20. He should enter next season slated-in as the team’s second wing off Coach Clifford’s bench.