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Winners and Losers, Part III: Mo Bamba, Dwayne Bacon and the reality of rebuilding the Orlando Magic

The rebuild generated both blessings and blues by season’s end

Orlando Magic vs. San Antonio Spurs Photos by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

We’re here today with the third installment in this trilogy, anointing another handful of winners and losers covering everything Orlando Magic in 2020/21. In the rear-view already is a balance of good and bad amidst the wreckage of a re-calibrated rebuild, and we’ll continue today with a similarly balanced ledger of winners and losers. Let’s jump in and dissect things!

Loser: Hopes and dreams related to the Draft Lottery

Let’s not talk about it, okay?

Loser: Dwayne Bacon, beloved teammate

Orlando Magic v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

In hindsight, twelve preseason minutes were all we should have needed to see this coming. With teams looking to shake off the rust in their opening hitout, Dwayne Bacon made his intentions for the season clear to all. Surprisingly elevated to the starting unit, the new face in pinstripes opted not for the subtlety of deference to established teammates. Instead, he went to work in the way that he knows best: with guns blazing.

He opened his account with a dunk in transition just 2:18 into the game. A few possessions later he rattled home a mid-range jumper from the elbow. Emboldened, he fired away from a similar spot a couple of minutes later, finding the bottom of the net. After a brief breather he re-entered the game with two minutes remaining in the period, dominating the ball on the next available possession and finishing a strong drive to the hoop. He did something similar almost exactly a minute later, hoisting a 13 foot floater that he generated for himself out of isolation. It too dropped home.

Bacon finished his first period as a member of the Magic with 10 to his name on 5-5 shooting from the field, pacing the team in both points scored and shot attempts. It was almost certainly more minutes, more points, and a higher usage rate than anyone would have predicted for the fringe free agency edition. Oh, and he had zero assists.

This forgotten performance in an eminently forgettable preseason tilt turned out to be horrifyingly instructive. Considering all of the ways in which Bacon’s first season in Orlando could be classified as a stinker — and there are many! — it’s perhaps this that is the most galling. Bacon is an inefficient black hole on offense, with either entirely too much self-confidence or some of the worst peripheral vision ever seen in the sport. The dude is going to get his shots up come hell, high water or hero ball.

Of the 17 players who accumulated more than 300 minutes of court time for the Magic this season, Bacon ranked 16th in assist percentage with a tally of 7.9%. The only player less likely to dish out a helper for a teammate was Gary Clark (remember him?!) at 6.4%, but he arrived at this figure on the back of a usage rate almost half that of Bacon’s 19.8%.

In fact, a consideration of these two metrics alongside each other — essentially assist frequency relative to opportunity — reveals that there were only three non-bigs in the whole league less likely to generate an assist than Bacon: Gary Trent Jr., Kelly Oubre Jr., and Michael Porter Jr. It was literally almost impossible to find a player at his position who was a less willing passer!

It wasn’t just the lack of playmaking that was uninspiring. As mentioned before, the Magic had 17 different players record 300 or more minutes for the side this season. Bacon, with 1853, was far and away the team leader in court time. Worryingly, from this group he ranked 12th in PER (9.9), 13th in true shooting percentage (.490), 15th in box plus/minus (-5.1), 12th in win shares per 48 (.013), and 17th in VORP (-1.4). By any measure he was far and away one of the worst players to pull on the pinstripes this season. We can be confident in this assessment because, horrifyingly, we saw way more of Bacon than anyone else. His ineffectiveness was on all-too-regular display.

Bacon didn’t really contribute to winning basketball during the 2020/21 campaign, nor did he seem all that interested in finding out if his teammates might be able to succeed where he was failing. For those reasons it’s difficult to envision him returning next season.

Loser: Mo Bamba

Orlando Magic v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Year three, much like his first two professional campaigns, was a bit of a bust for Mo Bamba. The hope within the franchise would have been that he finally started to cash in on the potential that catapulted him to the sixth overall selection in 2018, particularly after the mid-season moves that realigned the team’s timeline and removed the All-Star sized roadblock that had been playing in front of him. Instead of seizing the opportunity Bamba just kind of … kept on much as he had before: underwhelmingly.

8.0 points and 5.8 rebounds on a true shooting rate of .556% were all career best figures. A usage rate that crept up to 21.8% of all on-court possessions was partnered with a reduced turnover rate of just 9.8%. He attempted more three pointers (2.6) while seeing only a minor slide in accuracy (32.2%) compared to last season. Block and steal rates (7.3% and 0.9%, respectively) dipped a little over the career highs of the previous campaign, but an improved defensive rebounding rate (28.0%) goes some way towards making that up. The advanced metrics, as they are wont to do, liked the look of these counting stats; PER (19.3, second), VORP (0.4, fourth) and win shares per-48 (.117, second) all placed him among the Magic’s leaders for those who played more than 200 minutes.

Even though it’s possible to view these limited numbers with optimism, to do so would be a little disingenuous. The eye test, unfortunately, frequently tells a different story about Bamba’s impact when on the floor. He noticeably lacks for energy and effort. He can be slow up and down the court, even for a center. He can often be caught out of position on defense, whether it’s in terms of ceding post position or falling behind on rotations. He still has a bad habit of not getting his arms up to contest shots. He has an unrefined offensive game closer to the hoop. He has very few examples of game-changing stretches on his current resume.

Perhaps most worryingly of all, the big man accumulated less court time and fewer games played than in any of his seasons to date — just 725 minutes across 46 contests. Health has been an ongoing concern for Bamba, and it’s apparent to even the most casual of Magic fans that this has stymied his development as a player to some degree. However, this can’t be the only explanation as to why, on average, he’s playing less now than he did as a rookie. He just hasn’t been good enough to demand more.

It’s undoubtedly been a tough transition to the NBA for Bamba. His slow development is painfully accentuated when one looks to the peers in his draft class, whether it’s his new teammate Wendell Carter Jr. usurping his expected spot in the rotation or DeAndre Ayton shining for the Suns on the stage of the Western Conference Finals. Expectations obviously aren’t the same for every player, but it’s fair to say that more has been fairly expected of Mo than he has delivered to date.

Year three wasn’t Bamba’s year. Maybe — hopefully — next year will be.

That wasn’t pretty! But we’ll be sure to close out this “Winners and Losers” series with some positivity in the fourth and final installment.