The Jekyll and Hyde of Rebuilding Orlando Magic: Part II
Yesterday in Orlando we recorded some upward trends and now we have set ourselves the task of figuring out what is going in the opposite direction. There have been some uninspiring remarks lately that were expected from a team in recovery mode but are still worth considering what they reveal about the direction of the team. Let’s dive in and find out where our reservations are currently resting.
The Free Bamba Movement
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Mo Bamba’s return from his last stint on the sidelines apparently couldn’t have been better planned. The all-star center he was constantly stuck behind was no longer in town, the team’s focus had shifted from “win now” to “youth movement” and he would certainly get a chance to prove he was Solid counts per minute Statistics could be repeated if greater responsibility is taken. The train rumbled in the right direction!
As you can probably guess, it didn’t work out that way at all. In the six games after the deadline, Bamba has been largely overwhelming as he couldn’t work out a major portion of the rotation for himself and generally had many of the same shortcomings that have hurt his chances in recent years. The aforementioned counting stats, which he put up in limited minutes, have remained okay, especially his hit rate, but he hasn’t really shown the impact the team is hoping for from game to game. Some lethargic possessions, some slow rotations, some poor insult awareness … we’ve seen this before.
The other problem the Bamba Bandwagon is currently facing is the emergence of Wendell Carter Jr. as a valuable contributor. When Khem Birch was struck by an illness, it was indeed the newcomer who grabbed the starting position and in the three games since he made his way into the top five with his strong offensive presence and energy and defensive efforts seemed secure. There’s a reason Bamba saw a nearly 10 minute drop from the Portland game to the last game against the Nuggets – it was pitted.
During his first three professional campaigns, the Bamba experience was a roller coaster ride, moments of optimistic projection inevitably followed by the impaling of any star potential. What we’re seeing is hopefully just the newest valley, with a high point still to be found somewhere among the season’s 22 remaining competitions. However, at this point it is difficult not to feel a little disappointed by the lack of momentum created by the Free Bamba movement.
Photo by Bart Young / NBAE via Getty Images
Let’s get one thing straight right away: this is a critical assessment of a job that is obviously being done under incredibly difficult circumstances. Terrence Ross is without a doubt the most established and respected veteran on Orlando’s roster and basically the only player known as an offensive force. As such, he had to take on a tremendous burden to keep the scoreboard going. For a team that scores as few points as the Magic, he often has options A, B, and C.
Still, he hasn’t been great since returning from an injury. In four competitions he has to shoot better than 38.9% off the ground and score over the distance 20 for 62 (32.3%). During this time, he only made 4 of his 21 three-point attempts (19.0%), a miserably cold mark that is well below his season and career averages. Although he leads the team in the standings, it is without a semblance of efficiency, as his ninth place effective field goal percentage (35.5%) and his seventh place in real shooting percentage (44.8%) confirm. There’s also a bit too much gun hunting and hero ball sneaking into his game; Ross is most dangerous when attacking the nail and keeping the defense in two heads, as opposed to those possessions when he footworks poking around the edge just to create the daylight needed to shoot from the depths.
And yet the case can be cited that he is easily the main offensive contributor to the site! Magic’s offensive rating of 109.3 when lying on the ground easily surpasses any of his teammates, and he’s one of only two players (the other is Otto Porter Jr.) who currently has a positive net rating (4.4 Points per 100 possessions). He also caps his sales – only 5 total in the last four games – despite using a massive 27.1% of all magical possessions.
Ross is in a difficult position. The offensively anemic magic needs him as a human torch every night, but such ignition is a temperamental state with few guarantees. The more you seem to try to hit a light, the more difficult it is for the flame to assert itself. For now, all we have to do is trust the process and hope it will shoot its way through the process.
Dwayne Bacon, beloved teammate
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It’s only the players in the locker room who can know for sure, but Dwayne Bacon has to be a damn good guy who’s not into the hardwood. Why such a conclusion? Simply put, the guy can’t get past basketball.
The single-mindedness the two-guard routinely demonstrates – while averaging nearly as many field attempts per game (9.7) as points (10.7) – is often joked and sometimes even greeted by a Magic team that is troubled can collect points. A missed shot can be just as damaging to a crime as a forced shot attempt, and at least Bacon made sure the team had a chance to cross the scoreboard with his aggressive offensive play. That’s a good thing, isn’t it?
Well, the recent implosion of the trading deadline has made it clear how ball-hungry Bacon is as a black basketball hole. In the first game of the refocused rebuild, he actually established a career for assists at 6 in competition, due to spending long stretches of the game as point guard for a woefully understaffed team from Orlando. But in the five games since then? Just 7 templates total for an average of 2.2 per game, an astonishingly low number for a player using 22.4% of all offensive possessions he’s on the court for.
Please don’t think this is because Bacon’s teammates missed shots and accidentally kept him away from the box score. He only ranks eighth on the team for passes per competition (21.8), despite playing the third most minutes (31.4). That observation is backed up by the meager 3.8 potential assists he generates each night. That number also puts him in eighth place on the team, behind any non-core player who accumulates meaningful minutes. Finally, there’s his assist percentage to consider: 10.5% in his last six games, good for only 10th place in magic that time. This is a phenomenal increase from its seasonal mark of 7.4%. It’s frightening right now to see Dwayne Bacon doing his best to impersonate John Stockton.
To his credit, Bacon recently maintained an excellent sales support rate of 3.25. At least he comes to the end of his property in his limited way. Even so, the numbers confirm the eye test: on any property, this is a guy who has little interest in making the extra pass and any intention of firing away.
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If it feels like the magic has been battling injuries for nearly two years, it’s because it’s true. The blessed health of the 2019 playoff indictment is only a distant memory. Most of the two seasons have since been undermined by all sorts of complaints from key staff. Unfortunately, it is not a phenomenon that has shown signs of subsiding.
When it comes to Orlando’s health, it’s hard to start anywhere but with Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz’s two torn ACLs, even though they were barely the end of bad luck. Both Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon missed large periods of time, often at the same time, which undoubtedly contributed to the team’s decision to move on to rebuilding. The absence of others could also be felt: Chuma Okeke missed the time early, as did Cole Anthony. Mo Bamba had to pause several times. Michael Carter-Williams could not get well. Neither James Ennis nor Al-Farouq Aminu. That’s basically the entire rotation!
Perhaps the most incredible thing of all is the fact that the team just kept tumbling, taking hit after hit. Terrence Ross, the team’s top veteran after the deadline, missed the first few games after the trading season and was regularly featured in pre-game lineups with a questionable designation. Khem Birch was struck by an illness shortly after assuming a starring role and has not been seen since. MCW missed the last three competitions. Otto Porter Jr. has already been paused. Mo Bamba did not finish a game due to illness. Chasson Randle appears to be playing on one leg. It’s brutal.
In the grand scheme of things, it probably doesn’t play a big role. The Magic are not going anywhere this season and, in fact, are better off losing games bravely, one thing a crowded Emergency Room actually helps with. Still, one would hope that the Injury Curse that has so cruelly and extensively decimated the team over the past twenty-four months will eventually wear off. Orlando is seriously lucky in this regard.
And we’re done with that. The Magic will be back in action tomorrow night against the Wizards, a team that is relatively close in the overall standings. We’re almost at the point where wins and losses are checked every night, but until then we’ll be on the lookout for good and bad trends. Let’s hope to see more of the former than the latter, while maintaining the lottery position that will be so important in the months and years to come.