NBA AM: Is Jonathon Simmons The Magic’s X-Factor?

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Is Simmons The X-Factor?

Of all of the starts to the NBA’s 2017-18 season, none may be more surprising than the Orlando Magic. The team has gone 5-2 over their first seven games.

Six weeks ago, if someone were to have told you the Magic would have the same record as the Golden State Warriors after six games or that they would have a better record than the Cleveland Cavaliers or Oklahoma City Thunder, you may have looked at them funny.

Not only have the Magic gotten off to a solid start, they have already beaten the Cavaliers and the Spurs (although shorthanded). The Magic didn’t land some superstar free agent or make a blockbuster trade, in fact, they are returning much of the same core as last season, with the only meaningful free agent being Jonathon Simmons. He, though, may very well be the X-Factor for the Magic’s success.

“He’s been playing really well,” Magic center Nikola Vucevic told Basketball Insiders. “Offensively, he just plays really aggressive. He’s able to get to the paint a lot, drawing a lot of fouls. He just brings aggressiveness to the floor, and that’s something we need.”

Last season the Magic struggled to gain ground after a deadline trade shook up the style of play. This season with Simmons in the lineup, much of which at point guard, the Magic have surged, scoring the most points through six games in franchise history.

“[Simmons is] just a spark man, defensively and offensively,” explained Magic forward Aaron Gordon. “He’s very tenacious. Plays with a lot of heart, so, it’s really good for us.”

Simmons who signed a three-year, $20 million deal in July has been sort of unleashed by Magic coach Frank Vogel, who continues to find ways to insert Simmons into the lineup, even though he is not a starter for the team, but is often trusted with closing out games.

“He’s just a good basketball player,” Vogel explained. “He has earned the trust. You know, when we put the ball in his hands, typically, he makes good things happen. He’s a good decision maker, and he’s a threat going to the basket. I mean, he really attacks the rim and will get to the free throw line and will finish. He does a good job making the extra pass, too. I do have a lot of trust; he’s earned it very early with me in his stay here.”

Simmons came into the NBA the hard way—he was a walk-on player in the D-League for the San Antonio Spurs. Still, he is finding a lot of opportunity with the Magic.

“It’s just another game for me,” Simmons said humbly after his team put down the Spurs.

“Coach and the staff is putting everyone in perfect positions, just so we could be great on offense. I think we’re just playing hard with energy and being able to execute as the offensive unit.”

Simmons understands the trust his coach has in his game.

“It feels good,” Simmons said. “I think for anyone of us, Coach has given that much confidence in any of us on the floor, and it’s just what we do after that. I think everybody’s taking great opportunity of that [trust].”

Simmons has set the tone defensively, joking “That’s what I do,” but it been his spark offensively that’s turned the table for the Magic.

“I think we’re gelling together as a team. We’re giving a little bit better continuity together. It’s just about trusting each other on the floor. Ultimately, just playing hard.”

After seven games, the Magic find themselves in the second spot in the East, something that seemed like a moonshot a year ago. While it’s unlikely the Magic maintain their current seeding, what’s become clear is that they are not as far away from the playoffs as maybe it seemed six weeks ago, and Jonathan Simmons has been a key part of their early success.

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