NBA PM: Dewayne Dedmon Making Most of Opportunity

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Dewayne Dedmon Making Most of Opportunity

One of the most surprising stories of this young 2015-16 season has been the success of the Orlando Magic. Through the team’s first seven games, the group has earned a 3-4 record. Although they have already lost four games, the team might be better than their record indicates.

They’ve been alive in the final minutes of each game against teams that finished above .500 last season. In fact, the Magic have lost by a combined 14 points in those four losses. They went toe to toe with the Oklahoma City Thunder before falling in double-overtime, and lost by five points two nights later in overtime against the Chicago Bulls. Had a couple of plays gone in their favor, the Magic could be flirting with an undefeated record.

But that could be the byproduct of having 10 key players on the team who are 26 years old or younger. There will surely be growing pains involved as the young group learns how to close out games against the elite teams in the league. Following that game against the Thunder, Kevin Durant recalled when his team was in the same boat and when there were times the Thunder fell just short against some of the best teams in the league. A game-winning shot by Carmelo Anthony in 2009 still haunts Durant to this day. As Durant looks at this Orlando team, he sees a squad that “can be a playoff team this year if they keep grinding.”

To help bring along the Magic’s young core, the team hired Scott Skiles as head coach. Skiles’ imprint on the team is already evident. He’s already shown that any player on the team can benched for a variety of reasons. On Friday night against the Toronto Raptors, Elfrid Payton played in just 15 minutes after starting off the game by missing his first four shots.

That move to the bench might have resonated with Payton, as he bounced back the following night in Philadelphia to score 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field. Skiles has also benched other players for missing defensive assignments (and hasn’t been afraid to call players out in press conferences). The structure and discipline Skiles is known to bring is what the Magic wanted in their coach.

His impact has also been felt on the defensive end. The team finished 25th in defensive efficiency last season, but they have already jumped up to 11th in the league this season. They are holding teams to 41 percent shooting from the field, which is fourth-best in the league. Also, they are limiting teams to the fifth-lowest three-point percentage at 29 percent.

A big part of the team’s success on the defensive end can be attributed to third-year big man Dewayne Dedmon. He was highlighted in Basketball Insiders’ season preview for the Magic as one of the team’s most underrated players and has lived up to expectations.

Dedmon joined the Magic at the end of 2013-14 season on a pair of 10-day contracts before the team ultimately decided to sign him for the rest of that season. His playing time last season in his first full year in Orlando was sporadic, but Dedmon flashed potential and displayed the different dimension he brings to the team. He was still a raw talent, but no other big man on the Magic roster could match his athleticism and shot-blocking ability. He appeared in 59 games last season, averaging 9.2 points, 12.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per 36 minutes.

Dedmon’s role under Skiles seems to be more defined than it had been under the previous coaching staff. In six games this season, he’s posting career-highs in minutes (21), points (6.3), rebounds (6.0) and blocks (2.2). He’s earned two straight starts for the Magic in place of the injured Nikola Vucevic, and is looking at a third-straight start tonight against Indiana with Vucevic already being ruled out with a knee injury.

He has fully taken advantage of his time as a starter, as he’s averaging 11 points, 6.5 rebounds and three blocks in those two starts, and is coming off of a career-high 12 points on Saturday night against the Sixers.

“It’s definitely a big opportunity for me to showcase [what I can do],” Dedmon told Basketball Insiders. “Nobody wants the big fella to go down with an injury, but it’s definitely an opportunity for me to step my game up and show the team what I can do. I definitely got to embrace [starting]. Anytime my name is called upon, I just try to come in and provide a lot of energy.

“It definitely brings confidence to show that I have the capability of starting in this league – just to be able to come out here and bring the same energy that I did when I was starting or coming off of the bench.”

While his stats have been impressive, he makes a lot of contributions that don’t show up on the stat sheet too. He already has 13 total blocks this season, but his presence in the paint has altered many other shots. He’s holding opponents to 51.5 percent shooting within six feet of the rim, which is better than players like Hassan Whiteside, Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan. Orlando is posting a 94.6 defensive rating when Dedmon is on the court, compared to a 100.3 rating when he is off of the court. His teammates have taken notice of his impact on the floor.

“He was amped tonight,” Jason Smith said following Dedmon’s first start of the season on Friday. “He was ready to go. I think he kind of set that precedence down low of really protecting that basket. You saw balls going [into] the first row, second row, in the stands here or in the stands there. He did a great job for us and that’s what he’s out there to do is really give us a lot of energy. He can set great screens and [dive] to the basket. He provides that energy and that juice that we need to start games and I think he did a phenomenal job.”

“Dewayne is an underrated defender,” Evan Fournier added. “He’s a very good shot-blocker. He plays with a lot of energy every night. I’m glad he could get a start.”

The injury to Vucevic doesn’t appear to be serious, as the bruise to his right knee could have been much more serious. Concerns were raised following Vucevic’s injury on how his production would be replaced, but Dedmon has risen to the occasion. He has improved by leaps and bounds from when he first arrived in Orlando, but still remains a work in progress.

Foul trouble has been a concern for him as he’s averaging 6.9 fouls per 36 minutes this season. Once he can avoid fouling as often, he could see even more playing time and become even better. In addition to foul trouble, free throw shooting has been a concern in the past as well, but it seems as though he’ll be a much better free throw shooter this season. He shot just 53 percent (34-of-64) from the line last season, but has already improved that number to 85 percent this season (12-of-14).

It’s clear that Dedmon has been a huge spark for the Magic this season. Coaches love players who show an ability to hustle up and down the court and fight for loose balls and make the small plays that don’t show up on the box score. He’s earned the trust of his coaching staff and his teammates, and could solidify his place in the NBA with a solid 2015-16 campaign.

Farewell Tour for Kobe Bryant?

Much of the discussion this offseason was centered around whether this season could be Kobe Bryant’s last in the NBA. Bryant hasn’t offered up much thought one way or the other, but his head coach hinted over the weekend that this could be Bryant’s final season.

“We’ve talked about it a few days ago,” Lakers head coach Byron Scott said. “[We] talked about it again and his feeling was, ‘Coach, this might be my last year. So if possible I would like to try to play every game.’”

Bryant’s slow start to this season has only fueled the rumors that this could be his last year. Through six games, Bryant is averaging 16.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. His shooting numbers have been among the worst he’s posted; his 32 percent from the field is a career-low and his 21 percent from three-point range is the second-lowest of his career.

The Lakers are currently on a five-game road trip, and have played Brooklyn and New York so far, with stops in Miami, Orlando and Dallas ahead. Many were speculating whether or not Sunday’s trip to Madison Square Garden would be the last of his career.

“My message has been consistent all the time,” Bryant said. “If I change my mind, I’ll come back and play. If I don’t, I won’t. I’ve been pretty consistent with that, so I don’t know how much, what else can I say?”

The Lakers have begun this season with a 1-5 record, and currently have the league’s second-worst defensive efficiency at 108.4 points allowed per 100 possessions.