Nineteenth century French author Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr famously coined the phrase “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Upon embarking on one of the more critical off-seasons in recent franchise history, the Orlando Magic organization is once again finding itself in a familiar situation: change (and lots of it).
Orlando’s top executives, led by Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and General Manager John Hammond, made franchise direction-altering moves this past March, trading All-Star center Nikola Vucevic (nine seasons with the Magic), starting forward Aaron Gordon (seven seasons with the Magic), and starting wing Evan Fournier (seven seasons with the Magic) prior to the league’s trade deadline. After appearing in the playoffs for two consecutive seasons from 2019-2020, Orlando’s front office decided to change the organization’s course - at least partly due to the significant knee injuries suffered by Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac (which caused the Magic to fall considerably in the Eastern Conference hierarchy).
If that wasn’t enough change (or maybe because it was too much), the Orlando Magic organization will also be searching this offseason for their sixth head coach in the last eight years (Editors note: the Magic have their man, hiring former Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Jamahl Mosley as the fourteenth head coach in franchise history) . On June 5th, an announcement was made that the team and former head coach Steve Clifford had “mutually agreed to part ways”. Clifford, who was an assistant in Orlando under Stan Van Gundy from 2007-2012, compiled a 96-131 record leading the Magic over the last three seasons. It is widely believed that the Orlando organization’s new blueprint- with so many young players on the roster - doesn’t align with a veteran coach such as Clifford’s timeline.
So here we are, with a turned-over roster full of 20-somethings, and a new head coach set to lead the organization into its next chapter. But with so much change, why do things in Orlando still feel the same?
The draft. Once again, the Magic organization is embarking on a critically important draft - and they have to get things right. The mainstays from recent Orlando past are gone, the team is in full rebuild mode, and much of what the franchise has done over the last year hinges on hitting a homerun during this draft process.
So I’m back for my fourth consecutive offseason, putting together a series of scouting reports on players the Magic will likely be targeting, either with their first round pick or Chicago’s pick (which Orlando acquired in the Vucevic deal). Some important dates in this process to keep in mind between now and the end of the summer are: June 21st-27th (the NBA Draft Combine), June 22nd (the NBA Draft Lottery), and July 29th (the NBA Draft).
In this series, I have compiled scouting reports that include film observations, loose player comparisons, talking points, Magic-specific potential fits/needs, and more. Next in this series is a prolific scoring guard - UCONN wing James Bouknight.
18.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.8 steals
(31.7 minutes per game)
54.6% TS%, A/TO ratio: 0.60
Eye in the sky: Film study
-NBA-level run and jump athlete, will have no problem athletically at the next level; speed, athleticism, and handle allowed him to attack the rim at collegiate level
-Can score in a variety of ways, has a full bag of options to get his shot off the dribble
-Crafty ball-handler, but was also weak with the basketball when help defenders attacked him; didn’t always handle double-teams and traps as well as he should have
-Seems to over dribble at times because he’s so comfortable being able to free himself and create for himself off the bounce
-Scorers mentality, which includes ability to draw contact with a flurry of pump-fakes & body control
-Comfortable mid-range game, can get his shot using step-back, hesitation, crossover dribble, etc.
-Mentality can get him into trouble; questionable shot selection at times (especially pulling up for contested mid-range shots); is he a ball-stopper?
-Seems to be significantly more comfortable shooting off the dribble, opposed to coming off screens or when he’s wide open
-Razor thin AST/USG and AST/TO margins. Due to his role in college, or something deeper than that?
His game resembles...
Jordan Clarkson - I think Clarkson is a pretty fair comparison, and actually exemplifies rather well the kind of impact Bouknight can have in the NBA (in the right system). It took Clarkson some time to find his ideal role, but he’s always been able to score the basketball. Both players posted very similar numbers at the collegiate level.
OJ Mayo- I don’t think their bodies are similar (or a very close comparison), the former third overall pick from 2008 played 15-20 pounds heavier. But Mayo’s numbers and statistical impact over the course of his one season at USC (BPM, OBPM, ORtg, USG%) are nearly identical to Bouknight’s from this past season.
Zach LaVine (lite) - LaVine has continually elevated his game every year throughout his NBA career, it’s hard for me to imagine Bouknight ever reaches LaVine’s current level of play. LaVine is bigger/stronger than Bouknight as well (although their bodies are a lot more comparable when looking back at 20 year-old LaVine). Athleticism and ball-handling between the two are similar.
Best games/films of the season
December 20th vs. Creighton: 40 points (13-24 FGA’s, 5-12 3PTA’s, 9-12 FTA’s), 4 rebounds
December 30th vs. DePaul: 20 points (8-9 FTA’s), 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals
Video Credit: Swish
Video Credit: The Scouting Rapport
Resume/By the numbers
- AAU teammate of Orlando Magic guard Cole Anthony (PSA Cardinals)
- AAC All-Freshmen 1st Team (2020)
- All-Big East, 1st Team (2021)
- Would have ranked second in the Big East in scoring last season, but missed too many games (due to an elbow injury) and failed to qualify
- Scored 20 or more points in a single contest in seven of 15 games in 2020-21, grabbed 6 or more rebounds in a single contest on six occasions
1) Lack of shooting efficiency
There is no question that Bouknight possesses the ability to score the basketball, but I question the volume and usage it took on his end to post the numbers that he did in the American/Big East. The scoring average looks good on the surface, but digging deeper into Bouknight’s production, a couple things concern me.
Bouknight is a streaky shooter who has posted 20 or more points in a contest ten times over his two year collegiate career, but consistency shooting the basketball from the perimeter is something that has eluded him at times.
This past season, Bouknight really struggled from beyond the arc (29.3 percent, down from 34.7 percent his freshmen year). According to Synergy Sports, Bouknight ranked in the 14th percentile in the nation last season (“poor”) in ‘spot-up’ situations (0.62 points per possession), while also scoring a lackluster 0.82 points per possession coming off screens (37th percentile in the nation last season, “average”). Whether he was spacing the floor or coming off movement, Bouknight had a rough sophomore season in half-court ‘catch and shoot’ spots (23 points over 37 possessions, .622 points per possession, “poor” compared to his collegiate peers according to Synergy Sports).
Bouknight is billed by many as a “three-level” scorer, and he certainly has the ability to create for himself (and in essence, create the shot diversity that intrigues some front office executives). But is he an efficient scorer that does enough offensively to contribute to winning basketball? For me, that still remains to be seen.
2) Everything starts with the dribble
Where Bouknight does excel is of course when he’s creating for himself off the dribble. His handle is strong and allows him to explode to the rim (where he converts at a very solid clip for a guard). His bag of crossover, hesitation, in-to-out, and step-back dribbles allow him to create open looks playing in isolation, as well as enhances his ability to get to the free throw line (28 points over 28 isolation possessions last season, “excellent” according to Synergy).
Bouknight uses his dribble to turn corners and get downhill, but he’s also adept at getting defenders on their heels - and using the dribble to pull-up in the mid-range. In my view, he may have overdribbled at times where he would have been better off attacking or moving the basketball, but Bouknight’s handle is certainly one of his strengths (in isolation, was not as strong with the dribble when double-teamed).
It’s also important to remember that Bouknight is an incredibly explosive athlete with great feet. His overall quickness and athleticism enables the Brooklyn native to use his dribble to manipulate defense in a multitude of ways (getting to the rim, drive and kick, pull up off the dribble, coming around screens as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, etc.).
If a team is looking for a prospect who makes advances reads moving the basketball, or even someone who is going to create real estate for teammates by spacing the floor, then Bouknight is probably not their guy. But he certainly should hold some appeal for teams looking for another rotation piece that can create isolation offense, make things happen off the dribble, and even draw fouls/get to the free throw line.
Making a case for the Magic to draft James Bouknight in the ‘21 NBA Draft
|Does Bouknight fit the Weltman/Hammond archetype?||Somewhat, Yes|
|Would taking Bouknight in the lottery be considered a BPA/value selection?||No/Maybe, but not in my opinion (Magic pick/Bulls pick)|
|Would Bouknight provide the Magic with depth in a needed area?||Yes|
Bouknight’s draft stock has enjoyed (somewhat inexplicably, in my opinion) a meteoric rise since his season ended in March. I’m happy for him, he seems set to make more money over the first four years of his first NBA contract than I expected he would. I know he’s a name that has been very popular among Magic fans on Twitter, and a lot of that can probably be attributed to the fact that the New York City native is a former AAU teammate of Cole Anthony (and Anthony has tweeted his support of Bouknight on a couple of occasions).
Truthfully, there are quite a few things about Bouknight’s game that concern me. I think his decision-making and shot selection at Connecticut was questionable at times, although I recognize that scheme and role could’ve had something to do with it. He has all the skills and isolation moves to make it at the next-level, but I worry that he’s a bit of a ball stopper that hasn’t shown enough ability to find open teammates and make advanced reads.
He’s more of a volume scorer than he is a knockdown shooter (31.6% usage rate). Sure, games like the one he had against Creighton show how much damage he can inflict when he gets hot, but he’s pretty streaky (shot below 50 percent from the floor in 10 of 15 games in 2020-21). And Bouknight was able to get to the free throw line at a solid clip in the American/Big East (helping his scoring numbers), but his plus-athleticism won’t be as much of advantage in the NBA as it was for him in college.
I’ve had Bouknight as a first-rounder in this class for a while. In fact, I really liked his film last season after his breakout freshmen season. I just didn’t see an overwhelming amount of improvement from him this season. To be fair, his sophomore year was derailed by an elbow injury that cost him over a month of action.
I just think Orlando has better options at number eight than Bouknight (Moody, possibly even Wagner or Giddey). And some of the talk that the Magic should just go ahead and take him at five (because he won’t be available by the eighth pick) is just crazy to me. Is he that much better than RJ Hampton (who is five months younger than Bouknight)? I kind of see a decent amount of overlap in their games, but maybe that’s just me.
Orlando will likely bring Bouknight into town to see him up close for an individual workout, and why wouldn’t they? And if they ultimately decide to go with him at number eight, so be it (but I just can’t get with him at five). He has a bag of one-on-one moves, and he’s plenty athletic enough to pop in the NBA. I’m just not sure he’s the shooter/scorer that some are billing him to be (and the player that many fans think the Magic desperately need).
Aaron Goldstone has been writing for Orlando Pinstriped Post since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @AaronGoldstone.
Also, check out Aaron’s other scouting reports in this series: Scottie Barnes, Franz Wagner, Keon Johnson, Moses Moody, Jalen Suggs, and Evan Mobley.