By John Denton
Sept. 21, 2017
ORLANDO – The Orlando Magic had an extremely busy offseason, restructuring their front office, dramatically altering the look of the roster with the addition of several proven veteran players and drafting an elite prospect high in last June’s NBA Draft.
Now, with training camp set to open in a week, it’s time to delve deeper into the roster and evaluate the team’s strengths and weaknesses.
Orlando’s first order of business in the offseason was changing its decision makers in the front office. In President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and GM John Hammond, the Magic have more than five decades of professional basketball experience on board and two men who have long histories of success.
The Magic then stacked their roster with more experience and talent by signing forward Jonathon Simmons, big man Marreese Speights, wing Aaron Afflalo and point guard Shelvin Mack in free agency. Those veterans will be charged with mentoring promising rookie forward Jonathan Isaac, the No. 6 pick in the draft, and second-round addition Wesley Iwundu this season.
That new group, combined with head coach Frank Vogel and the returning core of Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, Bismack Biyombo, Terrence Ross, D.J. Augustin and Mario Hezonja, gives the Magic the belief that they could be a playoff team this season following a five-year absence from the postseason.
Training camp opens Monday (at the Amway Center), the first preseason game (in Memphis) is Oct. 2 and the regular-season opener (vs. Miami at home) is Oct. 18.
Today, we look at the Magic’s strengths and weaknesses at the small forward position. Orlando has tremendous depth and a variety of options at the position, something that should create great competition in practice and for minutes in games. Creating competition at each position was one of the missions Weltman and Hammond had in mind when they went to work on improving the Magic roster in the offseason.
Without further ado, let’s break down how the Magic look at the small forward position:
POSITION: Small forward
PLAYERS: Evan Fournier (6-7, 205, 5 NBA seasons); Jonathon Simmons (6-6, 195, 2 NBA seasons); Jonathan Isaac (6-11, 210, NBA rookie); Mario Hezonja (6-8, 225, 2 NBA seasons); Wesley Iwundu (6-7, 205, NBA rookie); Damjan Rudez (6-10, 228, 3 NBA seasons).
PROJECTED STARTER: Fournier (2016-17 stats: 17.2 ppg., 3.1 rpg., 3 apg., 1 spg., 43.9 FG percent, 35.6 3FG percent, 80.5 FT percent).
PROJECTED DEPTH: Simmons (2016-17 stats: 6.2 ppg., 2.1 rpg., 1.6 apg., 0.6 spg., 42 FG percent, 29.4 3FG percent, 75 FT percent); Isaac (2016-17 stats at Florida State University: 12 ppg., 7.8 rpg., 1.5 bpg., 1.2 spg., 50.8 FG percent, 34.8 3FG percent, 78 FT percent); Hezonja (2016-17 stats: 4.9 ppg., 2.2 rpg., 1.0 apg., 35.5 FG percent, 29.9 3 FG percent, 80 FT percent); Iwundu (2016-17 stats at Kansas State University: 35 games, 13 ppg., 6.3 rpg., 3.5 apg., 48.1 FG percent, 37.6 3FG percent, 76.7 FT percent; Rudez (2016-17 stats: 45 games, 1.8 ppg., 0.6 rpg., 35.2 FG percent, 31.3 3FG percent.
STRENGTHS: The Magic have tremendous depth at the small forward position – something that is a must in an Eastern Conference that features stars LeBron James, Gordon Hayward, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Carmelo Anthony. Fournier is a stellar two-way player, while Simmons proved himself to be an elite defensive stopper in the playoffs last spring against MVP runner-up James Harden. Isaac and Hezonja can both play small forward or power forward and shooting guards Terrence Ross and Aaron Afflalo can certainly defend some small forwards in small-ball sets. Iwundu is intriguing to the Magic because of his length, smarts and grit, while Rudez is a consummate professional who makes any team better just with his presence in the locker room and on the bench.
WEAKNESSES: Shooting, particularly from beyond the 3-point line, is a concern at this position – as it is with every position for the Magic. Fournier averaged a career-best 17.2 points per game last season, but his efficiency as a shooter took a major step back. He shot 43.9 percent from the floor and 35.6 percent from 3-point range as opposed to hitting 46.2 percent from the floor and 40 percent from 3-point range the season prior. Simmons has made just 48 threes and is a career 32.2 percent 3-point shooter over two NBA seasons, meaning foes will dare him to shoot. Isaac, who shot the ball well from the outside in summer league and pre-camp drills, will have to prove that he can make threes at the pro level, as will Iwundu. Hezonja, who has spent the bulk of his offseason in Orlando working on his game, offers the Magic the biggest area of potential improvement in terms of shooting. He’s made just 34.9 percent and 29.9 percent from 3-point range in his two NBA seasons, but he has the kind of smooth stroke of someone who should be a feared marksman from beyond the line.
ANALYSIS: For now, Fournier is the likely starter at small forward alongside of Terrence Ross at shooting guard. However, in time, the Magic could shift to a lineup where Fournier is the starting shooting guard and Simmons – a free-agent signee from the San Antonio Spurs – is the regular at small forward. His willingness to fight defensively and do the dirty work give the Magic a toughness that they have missed on that end of the floor in recent years. If Simmons can play like he did last spring – when he held Harden in check and shot the ball well from the outside – he could be a wildcard who could push the Magic forward early in the season.
How Vogel juggles the small forward/shooting guard rotation will be something to watch all season. Between Fournier, Simmons, Ross, Afflalo and Isaac, the Magic will likely have five players who deserve major minutes at the two positions.
Isaac is intriguing on the wings because of his towering length and his ability to move laterally. He actually enjoys playing on the defensive end of the floor and his ability to contest shots and disrupt foes with his length could make him a force there right away as a rookie. Vogel is determined to develop a player who might have star potential in future years, so he has every intention of getting Isaac on the floor for major chunks of games this season.
Hezonja dedicated himself to improving this offseason and he’ll report to camp with more muscle and confidence. He is still a young player with seemingly loads of potential, and the Magic are hopeful that he will play more poised and confident this season. He must prove that he can defend without fouling and knock down open shots. His future in Orlando could depend on how well he plays in training camp and in the preseason.
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