The Orlando Magic have been in a slump ever since the departure of Dwight Howard. Since his exodus, they’ve only eclipsed 30 wins in one season and haven’t finished in the top 10 of the Eastern Conference.
They’ve seen multiple lottery picks leave the team in the that span, either by trade or by free agency. One of those players, Victor Oladipo, has already turned into a legitimate superstar.
With three young lottery picks remaining on their roster in Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, and newcomer Mohamed Bamba, and a new head coach to boot, do the Magic have what it takes to make a splash in the LeBron-less East? Let’s find out.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
It feels like the last several summers have kind of bled together when it comes to the Orlando Magic, and 2018 was no real exception. The Magic made another coaching change, this time replacing Frank Vogel with Steve Clifford, who will become the franchise’s fifth head coach since the 2014-15 season. They locked up Aaron Gordon to a new four-year deal that seems mostly fair, plus swapped out one albatross center in Bismack Biyombo for another in Timofey Mozgov in a deal with Charlotte that also netted them Jerian Grant. And of course, they continued the franchise’s apparent obsession with drafting length, taking Texas center Mo Bamba sixth overall. It’ll be another developmental year in Orlando, one where the Magic will quickly want to get an idea of how Gordon and 2017 first-rounder Jonathan Isaac play together after Isaac barely cracked 500 minutes last season. They’ll also want to get a quick idea of how Bamba fits into the plans, plus whether or not that means they have to try and extract some value for the expiring contract of Nic Vucevic. Don’t expect a whole lot on the floor unless someone like Gordon takes a big leap, however.
4th Place – Southeast Division
In most cases, it would be very frustrating to watch a team like Orlando start rebuilding again since, you know, that’s what they’ve been doing since 2012. However, things just might be different this time. While the next couple of years are going to be drag for Orlando, Mo Bamba, Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon could build a glorious future in the Magic Kingdom. As for the present, not much should be expected of Orlando. The roster is promising but, even with Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic, it has no stars right now. Still, the future is bright! Just don’t screw this up like last time, okay guys?
4th Place – Southeast Division
– Matt John
There is no question about what kind of team the Magic are building right now. With the exception of four players, nobody on the roster is under 6-foot-6. They are long, athletic and most importantly, defensive-minded. Steve Clifford is going to have plenty of options to tinker with as far as rotations go. Scoring will be at a premium with this bunch, but opponents are going to need a ton of luck to put the ball in the basket against the likes of rookie Mohamed Bamba and second-year forward Jonathan Isaac. It probably won’t field the best results in their first season, but pay close attention to this experiment in Orlando.
4th Place – Southeast Division
– Spencer Davies
The Orlando Magic haven’t been crazy in their moves, but they have taken chances, and on the surface those chances look pretty promising. The issue for the Magic is they are trapped between two teams – the team the current front office inherited, and the young team they have built and drafted. If Steve Clifford is the coach the Magic believe him to be, maybe all of this comes together into something unexpectedly special, but if Clifford is the coach he was in Charlotte, the Magic could be doomed before they get out of the gate. Its not fair to lay it all on the feet of a new head coach, but if the Magic have had a bad culture for a while, maybe Clifford is the guy that changes it enough to help the young guys flourish. If he’s not, then all of this is simply smoke and mirrors for another run through the draft lottery.
3rd Place – Southeast Division
– Steve Kyler
The Orlando Magic have a decent group of veteran talent but the team’s priority should be on developing and building around its young talent. Aaron Gordon is locked up on a four-year deal and continues to round out into a very capable player. My main focus this season, however, is the pairing of Jonathan Isaac and Mohamed Bamba. Both players are incredibly long, talented and mobile. I am not sure how well these two players will fit together on the floor against NBA teams but I am excited to see what head coach Steve Clifford is able to do with them. If Isaac and Bamba come even close to their respective ceilings, the Magic could have a dynamic frontcourt duo unlike any other in the league. But it’s also possible that they aren’t a great fit or they don’t allow Gordon to play enough minutes at power forward, which is where he is arguably most effective.
4th Place – Southeast Division
– Jesse Blancarte
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Aaron Gordon
Entering his fifth year in the league, Aaron Gordon has seen a substantial improvement to his offensive game. He is coming off a season in which he averaged career highs across the board, posting 17.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steals, and 0.8 blocks.
Something that really sticks out is Gordon’s work to become a modern-day stretch four. As a rookie, he shot a measly 27.1 percent from the three-point line. He’s seen a steady improvement in his ability to shoot from beyond the arc throughout his time in the league and posted a respectable 33.6 percent this last season. He started out the season red hot, shooting a blistering 42.5 percent from the three through December. He obviously cooled off the latter half of the season, thanks in part to a lackluster 20.5 three-point percentage in January.
If he can find that fire again this season, and stay healthy (a large part of his poor January shooting could be the fact that he missed seven games in December), his ability to shoot the three will give the Magic some much-needed offensive firepower. A key thing to note, in wins last season, Gordon shot 42.1 percent from the three-point line. In losses, that number was down to 30.2 percent.
Top Defensive Player: Jonathan Isaac
While the Magic added someone to their roster this offseason whose wingspan makes Rudy Gobert’s look average, we wanted to go with someone who has already had a season to prove their defensive value. The second-year product out of Florida State University, Jonathan Isaac posted a considerably lower defensive rating than anyone else on the Magic’s roster at 101.1.
Isaac still has a thin frame, which can allow stronger opponents to muscle him down low, but he more than makes up for it with his length and athleticism. It’s no surprise that he led the Magic in block percentage at 44.1, but he also led the team in steal percentage at 35.9.
Jonathan is still incredibly raw on offense. But his high defensive IQ, matched with his lanky frame, will allow him to dominate on D for many years to come. He is long enough to protect the rim, but quick enough to guard the wing, making him highly valuable in today’s game of “position-less” basketball. Give him a few more years to put on muscle and assimilate in the league, and he’ll become a force to be reckoned with.
Top Playmaker: D.J. Augustin
If there is one thing that Magic are definitely lacking right now, it is a solid playmaker. Before the trade deadline, Elfrid Payton was putting together a solid season offensively, averaging a career-high 6.4 assists per game. Once he was dealt to the Suns, the starting one position essentially fell into Augustin’s lap.
A positive thing to note regarding Augustin’s tenure post-All-Star break was his increase in assist percentage. Before the break as a backup, his assist percentage was 23.7. After taking over as lead ball handler, it shot up to 27.1 percent. Thanks in part to D.J.’s many years in the league, he also boasted a positive assist to turnover ratio of 2.36 during the post-All-Star stretch. It doesn’t hurt that he shot 41.9 percent from beyond the arc, either.
He clearly shouldn’t be their answer as a long-term playmaker. Augustin has been in the league long enough to know what you’re going to get out of him, but going into this season he is the best playmaker on the floor. It will be interesting to see if the Magic try to add a younger point guard at the deadline to help with their rebuild, or if they plan to go with Augustin for the year and begin the search next summer.
Top Clutch Player: Evan Fournier
Evan Fournier has been a solid player during his tenure with the Magic. He is an efficient scorer, and barring the emergence of Aaron Gordon, could have been considered the best offensive player on this roster. One thing that sticks out with Fournier, however, is how much the Magic go through him in the clutch. He has a 31.8 usage percentage in the clutch, almost double any other player on roster. Only 11 players who played at least as many clutch minutes and exceeded Fournier in usage percentage made a higher percentage of their team’s field goals.
He also boasts the most points per game in the clutch, the highest percentage of fields goals attempted and made, and the most minutes played. One thing that Fournier lacks in this category is efficiency. While he does score the most points in the clutch, by a considerable amount, he does so with poor field goal percentage at 38.9. Chalk this up to teams putting their best wing defender on him in the closing minutes of all close games. Teams realize how much he is relied upon in the clutch and definitely game plan around that.
The Unheralded Player: Nikola Vucevic
This seems to be a popular place for Vucevic to land, as we had him as the unheralded player last year, too. He is a talented big that somehow gets hidden on a lackluster roster. He averaged a quiet 16.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.1 blocks last year, all while averaging a career high percentage at the free throw line of 81.9 percent.
One thing that doesn’t get mentioned nearly often enough is that he has the highest usage percentage out of all the starters. This can be tied to his highly efficient post-up play and ability to finish around the rim. He’s been trying to stretch his game to the three-point line, and while his mark of 31.4 percent isn’t entirely flashy, it puts him at seventeenth in the league out of centers who attempt more than three a game.
A few more interesting numbers to prove his value are the fact that his plus-minus of -0.6 is considerably better than any other starter on the roster. He also boasts 29 double-doubles, 12 more than Aaron Gordon, and light years more than any other player on the roster.
Best New Addition: Mohamed Bamba
This pick should come as no surprise. Bamba has brought a new dimension to this league. With the sixth overall pick, the Magic introduced the largest wingspan in the NBA at 7-foot-10. ‘Mo’ Bamba has elite length, which will allow him to make an immediate impact on defense. He finished second in the NCAA in blocks per game, at a staggering 3.7. He was in the top 20 for defensive rebounds at 7.33. His stature is no joke, and the league will take notice upon the start of the season.
A dimension that he will surely try to improve is his ability to shoot. Many videos have appeared showing Bamba shooting with solid, consistent technique. This will not directly translate in game situations off the bat, as he did shoot only 27.5 percent from three in college, but the fact that he finds importance to develop this part of his game early can only be a huge benefit to the Magic.
– Jordan Hicks
Who We Like:
1. Jonathon Simmons:
After coming off arguably his best year, albeit in a new system and getting used to a larger role, Simmons is poised to make an even larger impact in his second year of the Magic. He is locked up for at least one more year with next season being non-guaranteed. This fact alone will incentivize him to string together a strong season so he can potentially make a large splash in next summer’s free agency.
He developed superbly with the Spurs during his first two years of the league, then saw career highs across the board in his first year with the Magic. Not only did he improve basic stats like scoring, rebounding, and assists, but he was also able to improve his efficiency.
He’s spent the summer recovering from a wrist injury, so it will be interesting to see how healthy he is come the start of the season. With him slated as the starting shooting guard, the Magic will definitely need him to continue his improvements if they want to add more wins.
2. Steve Clifford:
By hiring Clifford as new head coach, the Orlando Magic hope that he’ll be able to develop this young roster into a winning team. Steve has carved out a comfortable spot in the league as a defensive savant, developing his skills under both Van Gundy brothers before taking over as the coach of the then-Charlotte Bobcats in 2013.
While he wasn’t able to make any deep runs in the playoffs, he did get there two out of five seasons. He never really had a championship caliber roster, but he was definitely able to coach his teams to be solid defensively.
The Magic were very strategic in hiring Clifford. As you look at their roster, three names stick out right away as defensive building blocks: Mohamed Bamba, Aaron Gordon, and Jonathan Isaac. Throw in Jonathon Simmons, and you’ve got yourself quite the group. These players, as mentioned previously, boast length, athleticism, and technique. Clifford should be able to utilize these players’ unique skillsets right away to help the Magic get off to a strong start.
3. D.J. Augustin:
If there is one thing we’ve learned while watching the NBA the past few years, it is that teams can live or die by the three. D.J. Augustin was one of the best three point shooters in the league last year at 41.9 percent. The Magic weren’t flawed in starting Elfrid Payton over Augustin, as he is much younger and definitely had room to develop, but allowing Augustin more minutes per page gives the team a much better opportunity at stretching the floor on offense. D.J. is an elite three-point shooter and will keep defenses on their heels whenever he has the ball.
4. The New Frontcourt
We cannot wait to see the three-man monster lineup on defense of Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon, and Mohamed Bamba. Those three players will terrorize opposing teams at the rim. Two of the three can absolutely hold their own when switching onto smaller players, as well.
As the season goes on and this group gets more and more minutes together, they are going to help the Orlando Magic morph into a defensive-minded team that this league hasn’t seen. Clifford will help put these players in the right positions. Don’t be surprised if the Magic finish as a top-five team defensively.
– Jordan Hicks
While this team has struggled immensely since the departure of Dwight Howard, this young, raw core that they’ve pieced together over the last few years has to totally look like a bright spot. They’ve been able to draft some really intriguing pieces that all harbor elite length, athleticism, and playmaking ability.
It will be interesting to see if the new head coach can help instill a winning culture to a team that is used to losing games. Looking at the roster as a whole, Jonathon Simmons is one of the few players that has recently been a part of a winning culture. Getting a new coach in there that is used to winning a lot more games than most of the players should be viewed as a positive.
– Jordan Hicks
A clear weakness is their lack of a true distributor. By waiving Shelvin Mack, the Magic no longer have anyone on their roster that can successfully distribute the ball. D.J. Augustin has always been a solid backup point guard, but he’s never been more than just that. By trading Payton and waiving Mack, they’ve handicapped themselves to a serious lack of depth at the point guard position.
Jerian Grant is coming off his best season yet with the Chicago Bulls, so it will be interesting to see what he brings to the table with Orlando. He will likely start the season as backup point guard, but thanks in part to his youth, Orlando may throw him into the starting spot if he proves he is worth the development.
While they have plenty of pieces to work with defensively, they are coming off a season in which they finished twentieth in the league in defensive rating. This has certainly been a weak point the last couple of seasons, so their recent draft acquisitions and new coaching hire have been made for a reason.
– Jordan Hicks
The Burning Question:
Can Steve Clifford Change the Losing Culture of this Young Team?
History matters with a question like this. In looking at Clifford’s track record as an NBA head coach, there is reason to believe that he can. During his first season with the Charlotte Bobcats, he led them to a 43-39 record as well as the playoffs. Their two previous years the Bobcats had a combined win total of only 28.
This shows that Clifford has the ability to make an immediate impact by employing his defense-first mentality. One could also argue that this young Magic roster has a lot more upside than the roster he took over in Charlotte. It will be interesting to see as the season progresses, but one thing is for certain: This Magic team will be exciting.
– Jordan Hicks
The X-Factors: Portland
Spencer Davies continues Basketball Insiders’ “X-Factor” series by looking at potential game-changers for the Portland Trail Blazers when the NBA returns.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
That’s probably an appropriate way to characterize the steam that’s been picking up over the last week regarding the eventual return of the NBA. What the plan exactly will be is yet to be determined, but there are potential scenarios surfacing left and right. And with the NHL officially having a resumption blueprint set in stone, we’re probably not too far away from learning The Association’s fate.
In an effort to prepare ourselves for that day, Basketball Insiders has begun an x-factor series for each team around the current playoff picture. Basically, “if this happens…” or “what if this player is healthy?” type of scenarios are what we’re looking at. Ben Nadeau kicked us off Tuesday with Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans. Today, we’re going to look at the Portland Trail Blazers, who are in a similar situation out in the Western Conference.
Scratching and clawing for that final seed to make the postseason for the seventh straight season, the Blazers have work to do at 29-37. They’re going to need help in the standings race with several other squads surrounding them chasing after the same thing. Along with the Pelicans and Sacramento Kings, Portland is 3.5 games back of the West’s eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies. Even the San Antonio Spurs are hanging by a thread with their playoff streak in jeopardy with a four-game hole in the standings.
We can technically call this our first dependent situation. There is going to be a ton of schedule watching around these five teams. It’s all contingent on the NBA’s decision about how to go about a return — a 72-game benchmark, a play-in tournament, straight to the postseason, etc. Who’s going to have an easier schedule? Who’s going to have more games to play and increase their chances?
For example, the Blazers could have six games left to play to make up that gap on the Grizzlies, a team that was next up on their list in a pivotal head-to-head scenario. The Spurs, however, would have nine games to try and right the ship — by far the highest amount of contests in comparison to the four others they’re fighting against. None of this is concrete because we don’t know what solution the league is going to agree upon; that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t come to mind as a hypothetical.
Then, there’s that Damian Lillard guy. You know, the dude that is Portland’s franchise. The man that went on a mid-January to early February eight-game run where he absurdly averaged over 45 points, 9.6 assists and 5.5 rebounds, while nailing 53 percent of both his field goals and three-balls. He averaged 40 minutes in this stretch, quite literally putting the team on his back to keep pace with the surging Grizzlies.
Lillard’s publicly come out and said flat-out that if the league elects to go with the benchmark idea, he wouldn’t participate. He’d gladly support his teammates and join them, just not on the court for games. Speaking with Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, the All-Star point guard expressed his desire for a tournament-style setup where there are playoff implications on the line. Suiting up to satisfy certain criteria with no incentive isn’t his preferred method of return. He wants to compete and, considering the effect of rustiness and other unknowns that could play a factor in these hypothetical matchups, Lillard would love for Portland to be the group that knocks others out unexpectedly.
Let’s not forget that the Blazers could have two starting-caliber players back that would’ve made their return from injury at some point this past March, either. Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins have their own specific capabilities that can dramatically improve what the team’s been missing since the beginning of the year.
Nurkic is an outstanding interior presence that brings physicality and finishing ability, as well as a big body to secure rebounds and dare opponents to come into the paint. This is no knock on Hassan Whiteside, who has arguably had the best season of his career as a blocking and boarding machine. It’s more about the lack of depth behind him, which is where Nurkic can step right in without Portland losing its reliability at the five. It’s been a revolving door at backup center for the Blazers, which has allowed the opposition to attack at will and get easy buckets. Nurkic’s return will shut that right off, as well as give the second unit a reliable scoring option.
Collins, his frontcourt partner, was supposed to have a breakout campaign in store for the league. Instead, the athletic third-year big man suffered a dislocated left shoulder just three games into the season. While it has sidelined him since then, he was targeting March as a return target. Obviously, with the league suspending operations, that didn’t happen as planned. But with the calendar turning to June in less than a week, and with his optimism shining through his rehab, it’s probably OK to assume Collins is close to being in the clear for a comeback.
Collins brings things to the table that neither Nurkic nor Whiteside does — an ability to stretch the floor being the most obvious skill that stands out. He can knock down triples at a decent rate and, more importantly, create space for Lillard and CJ McCollum to operate. The 6-foot-11 power forward has quicker foot speed than the other bigs Portland has, too.
Though the Blazers should be plenty excited about Nurkic and Collins’ impending return, they also have to be realistic about how much those two will play. We already mentioned Collins’ shoulder dislocation, but Nurkic hasn’t been on the floor since Mar. 25 of last year. Terry Stotts and his coaching staff will have to pay close attention to each of their minutes. How that whole situation is handled will be crucial to ensure there’s no long-term damage done for any party.
Just like the rest of their competition, the Blazers will have to also monitor how their older veterans handle ramping things back up again. Carmelo Anthony and Trevor Ariza are both in their mid-30s and have taken on a heavy minute load. They are starters who average over 30 minutes per game that just abruptly stopped playing for months. It isn’t going to be easy on anybody, but the younger players can probably recover and restart easier than those seasoned vets.
Gary Trent Jr. and Anfernee Simons are likely to come out of this hiatus with the most energy out of anybody simply because they’re the youngest guys on the team. We all know how hungry the dynamic duo of Lillard and McCollum is going to be. It’s exciting to think about.
All we can do now is wait to find out what the next steps are toward a restart.
Luckily for us, that news might not be too far away.
The X-Factors: New Orleans
Ben Nadeau kicks off a new Basketball Insiders series by examining potential game-changers for when the NBA resumes play.
Basketball is back, baby.
Well, sorta. OK, actually, not really. But they’re talking about it. Finally.
Beyond that, they’re apparently making true, meaningful progress. And although the NBA is circling through potential scenarios — bubble games, re-seeding, ignoring conferences, etc. — there’s a very real chance that this shindig gets underway by mid-July.
To celebrate the re-arrival of actual talk and analysis, Basketball Insiders is kicking off its newest series — this time, one that focuses on a real-life hypothetical. The idea of an x-factor is inherently goofy, typically leading to sentences like: “Well, if Player Z hits 43 percent of his three-pointers, they’ll be tough to beat.” And, yeah, duh.
Given the sport-wide break, there are some perfectly valid questions to be asked. For example, with an extra two months off, where does Victor Oladipo’s health stand? If he’s fully healthy, the Indiana Pacers are going to be a whirlwind of a problem for their higher-seeded first-round matchup. Could the return of Jonathan Isaac to the Orlando Magic ensure their postseason place? And, finally, Kevin Durant – a decision that looms large over every other potential proceeding.
But that’s not why we’ve gathered at this particular URL right now – that would be to discuss the New Orleans Pelicans, a franchise that currently finds itself 3.5 games out of the final playoff spot. Naturally, any chance for success depends on the NBA ratifying a plan that behooves the Pelicans’ hopes. Whether that’s a return to the regular season or a totally-invented play-in series, it doesn’t matter as New Orleans needs some help outside of their own good fortunes.
Should they get the opportunity to control their own fate, there’d be plenty to research and anoint as a Holier Than Thou X-Factor. We could talk about J.J. Redick’s 45.2 percent mark from three-point range or how his 110 postseason games are 28 more than the rest of the roster combined.
Maybe there’d be a paragraph or two on Brandon Ingram’s steady ascent to stardom. Ingram’s post-Los Angeles quest to become a sure-fire No. 1 option has been a compelling narrative, but can he do it when the games matter most? Lonzo Ball, the playmaking point guard, knocked down 21 of his 36 attempts from deep over the final four Pelicans games — if that were a permanent level of consistency for the pass-first general, then that would change everything, too.
And Jrue Holiday, the remaining cornerstone following the departure of Anthony Davis, would get his first chance to anoint himself as a hero in the football-heavy city. Surely, if the Pelicans are to sneak into the altered postseason — and, dare we say it, make some noise — those would be important conditions to quantify.
Still, for all the positives, negatives and worthy storylines out there for New Orleans, not a single one matters as much as Zion Williamson does.
Since the 19-year-old phenom debuted on Jan. 22, the Pelicans went 11-9. It’s not a spectacular showing, but one dragged down by losses to the Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets, Milwaukee Bucks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers twice. Generally speaking, however, Williamson wasted no time acclimating to the NBA and the numbers speak for themselves: 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds on 56.9 percent shooting.
The highlights include the 35 points he hung on the Lakers and six other occasions of 25 or more in just 19 games. Moreover, Williamson has only scored under 20 points on three occasions and shot worse than 50 percent twice — once 8-for-18 (44) in the other showing versus Los Angeles and a tough 5-for-19 effort (26.3) against the league-leading Bucks. Of course, if they hobbled into the postseason, they’d have to play those very same Lakers over and over again.
Alas, the so-called chosen one will have his fair share of questions when the season resumes. Remember that 4-for-4 explosion against the San Antonio Spurs in his career debut? Well, he’s just 2-for-9 otherwise, often going entire games without even hoisting from long range. Williamson wasn’t supposed to enter professional basketball as a three-point marksman, but that epic – and believe us, we don’t use that word lightly – introduction might have skewed the outlook.
At Duke, Williamson went just 24-for-71 (33.8 percent) from deep and it’ll be a weak link that follows him – just as it does Ben Simmons – for the time being. Free throws weren’t expected to be a major, glaring issue either as he hit on 64 percent in college and, well, he’s right around the same mark currently. If you ignore 1-for-6 and 3-for-8 showings during a couple of double-digit victories versus the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors, that number looks even better too.
But enough about the few cons – of which Williamson has certainly made a focus during his quarantine workouts – what’s the ceiling? And how much should we be pulling for a postseason debut here? In a crazy campaign like this, the added bonus of Williamson-made magic might be a thread worth pulling for – even at the rejection of a Ja Morant-led foray instead.
Needless to say, if the resumed regular scenario arrives and the Pelicans have just five or so attempts to make up a 3.5 game deficit in the standings, Williamson probably wouldn’t play at all. It’s also certainly possible that the rookie was just shaking off the rust before — just ask the aforementioned Oladipo. After taking an entire year to recover from a brutal ruptured tendon, the former All-Star only averaged 13.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists on 39.1 percent shooting, all would-be career-lows.
Bet your bottom dollar, however, that with an extra 60 days of training at full speed under his belt, Oladipo will be closer to 100 percent than ever – a much-needed boost to an already well-rounded Pacers side. Could a trained-up Williamson provide the same type of edge? Upon his debut, one of the few worries that lingered – aside from re-injury – was about his perceived stamina and fatigue. Getting dropped into high-intensity workouts against adults twice your age is no joke, but try it after three months of rehab following a preseason meniscus tear.
With that context, the fact that Williams averaged 20-plus points on nearly 30 minutes per game is a superhero-level accomplishment.
At 37.2 percent, the Pelicans are the NBA’s fourth-best three-point shooting franchise – so even if Williamson doesn’t come back ready to unleash from deep, his team will be. On top of that, New Orleans’ 116.2 points per game are tied for fourth-best, too. Between Williamson, Holiday, Ball, Ingram and Redick, scoring appears to be the least of their issues headed into a restarted season.
But the defensive rating of 111.6 is a cause for concern, the second-worst standing of any team still within arm’s reach of the postseason (Portland, 113.6). Williamson has posted an encouraging mark of 103.1 on that end through 19 games, which also happens to be the highest mark of anybody employed by New Orleans right now.
In fact, Williamson’s multi-position defense and overall athleticism have already left quite the footprint. Since his debut in January, the Pelicans have posted a defensive rating of 109.2 – good enough for the No. 8 spot across the entire league. The Williamson Effect is here to stay and it’ll only improve as the roster meshes and the rookie acclimates even further – that seems to be a foregone conclusion.
If you thought Williamson was impressive coming off a serious injury with no stamina, his elevated play – whether in assumed individual efficiencies or overall team impact – could push the Pelicans into new territory. Elsewhere, there are aspects of New Orleans that deserve attention but none are as postseason-transforming as the second return of Williamson – let us just hope that the NBA provides a stage for the show.
Looking Back At The Draft: The No. 12 Picks
David Yapkowitz assesses the 12th picks made in recent NBA Drafts and identifies the hits, misses and everything in-between.
The further you get into the NBA draft, the harder it is to categorize hits and misses. There aren’t many expectations with later draft picks, especially in the second round. If a player ends up panning out, then great. If they don’t, it’s no big financial loss for the team and they can easily cut ties. When you’re still in the lottery, however, you probably expect a little more than just an average player. Superstars are never guaranteed, especially with late lottery selections. But you probably would expect to have a quality rotation player if not probable starter with a late lottery pick.
Here at Basketball Insiders, we’re continuing our look back at the draft, pick by pick, with each of the No. 12 picks going back the last 10 drafts. Let’s see how those picks have panned out.
Steven Adams – Oklahoma City Thunder – 2013
The OKC Thunder didn’t have a lottery pick in the 2013 draft, but they acquired it from the Houston Rockets as part of the James Harden trade. With Adams, the Thunder certainly hit the mark. Only Giannis Antetokounmpo (who 13 other teams in addition to the Thunder passed on) and Rudy Gobert are players picked after Adams who have fared better.
Adams has become one of the best defensive players and rebounders in the league as well as a great screen setter and roll man in the pick and roll. He plays his role to perfection and is a starting-caliber center. He may not have hit All-Star status, but he is a legit starter and with a lottery pick, that’s probably what you would expect.
Gerald Henderson – Charlotte Bobcats – 2009
I’m going with a hit on this one. Henderson played nearly all of his eight-year career with the Bobcats with the exception of his final two years with the Portland Trail Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers respectively. He was unfortunately forced into early retirement due to nagging injury issues.
But for the eight years he was in the NBA, he was a capable scorer and mostly a starting-caliber wing player. As mentioned, with a late lottery pick, a starting-caliber player is what you should expect. Henderson averaged double-digits in scoring for most of his career and he shot in the mid-’40s from the field. If not for injuries, he probably would have played in the NBA for a few more years.
Xavier Henry – Memphis Grizzlies – 2010
Going back to the last ten drafts, Henry is the only player picked No. 12 that I would consider to be a miss thus far. He had some hype coming out of Kansas and was expected to be a first-round pick and NBA contributor. He didn’t play much as a rookie with the Grizzlies and was traded to the New Orleans Hornets.
He showed some brief flashes with the Hornets but never really was able to sustain any sort of consistent success. He got hurt during his stint with the Los Angeles Lakers and that pretty much ended his NBA career after five years. He’s had a couple of G League appearances since then but didn’t really show that he was ready for an NBA return.
The Middle of the Road
Taurean Prince – Atlanta Hawks – 2016
Again, for a late lottery pick, a starting-caliber player is what you expect your selection to develop into. Prince is here under the middle of the road rather than hits because it’s still too early in his career to determine if he is truly a full-time starter.
With the Hawks, he certainly looked the part. After a so-so rookie year, he stepped up in a big way, becoming a scorer and deadly three-point shooter with solid defensive capabilities. When he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets last summer, he was considered to be a big pick up. This season, although he started in 61 of the 64 games he suited up in Brooklyn, his shooting suffered and he wasn’t as effective as he had been in Atlanta. There is still time for him to be considered a hit though.
Jeremy Lamb – Houston Rockets – 2012
Lamb is another player who had some high expectations coming out of college but got off to a rocky start in the NBA. He showed some flashes in Oklahoma City but was wildly inconsistent. But like many players, a change of scenery seemed to be all he needed.
He broke out when he arrived in Charlotte, becoming a solid bench scoring threat and becoming more of a regular in the starting lineup as the years went on.
He rightfully earned himself a solid payday from the Indiana Pacers and he started 42 of the 46 games he played in. Unfortunately for him, he suffered a season-ending injury in February. The Pacers are hoping he can bounce back from that.
Luke Kennard – Detroit Pistons – 2017
Another player that is still a little early to categorize. For now, he appears to be a middle of the ground type player. This is only his third year in the NBA, and he’s shown improvement each year. This season was a breakout year for him.
Since coming to the league, he’s been a very good three-point shooter. This season he was knocking down 39.9 percent of his attempts. His scoring has gone up every season and this year he had broken through to double-digits. He has some injury concerns, and he was actually out when the NBA suspended the season. But if he can bounce back healthy, then he certainly looks like a solid pick at No. 12.
The Role Players
Trey Lyles – Utah Jazz – 2015
In a league where the game is changing and traditional big men aren’t as common as they used to be, Lyles fits right in. Lyles seemingly was another case of a player who needed a change of scenery to find his niche. He wasn’t able to stick in either Utah or Denver, and it wasn’t until this season, his first in San Antonio, that he looked like a capable role player.
Lyles became a regular starter for the Spurs, and again, that’s what you want from a lottery pick. He isn’t included in the hits yet because this is the first season out of his five that he’s shown this. He doesn’t have a big enough sample size. He shot a career-best 38.7 percent from three and if he keeps this up, he’ll be a good pick albeit a late bloomer.
Alec Burks – Utah Jazz – 2011
Burks once looked like he was going to become more than just a solid NBA player. He might have had borderline All-Star potential. At least a starting-caliber shooting guard. But unfortunately for him, his career was seemingly derailed by early injuries.
He has since bounced back though. He’s reinvented himself as a scoring threat off the bench. He put up a career-high 16.1 points per game with the Golden State Warriors in the first half of the season. On a playoff team though, he’s a second unit player and that’s exactly what the 76ers were hoping for when they traded for him. He only had 11 games in Philly before the season was halted, but he’s done well to change his game and be effective despite major injuries.
Too Early to Tell
Dario Saric – Orlando Magic – 2014
I’m introducing a new category here, the too early to tell group. These players either don’t have a big enough sample size, or they have had circumstances that may have hindered their abilities. Saric falls into the latter part of that. He’s been a solid starting stretch-four when he’s gotten consistent playing time. But he struggled to adapt to being thrown around in different roles and inconsistent minutes with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns. He’s a pending restricted free agent who might not figure to be in the Suns future plans. Quite a few teams should consider throwing an offer his way.
Miles Bridges – Charlotte Bobcats – 2018
It’s a bit too early to make any major assessments on Bridges. This is only his second year in the NBA, a season that has been cut short. He mostly came off the bench as a rookie and had a pretty solid year with some aspects he could certainly improve upon. He looked much improved this season albeit some areas he could still work on.
He became a regular starting small forward for the Bobcats this season. He upped his scoring and rebounding and he’s often asked to guard multiple positions. He’s young and has a lot of room to improve. I don’t quite feel comfortable yet placing him in one of the above categories so that’s why he’s too early to tell. The future does look good for him though.
The later you go in the draft, the fewer expectations you put on the player you drafted. Franchise level players are not common, there are only a handful in the league. But at least with first-rounders, and especially a lottery pick, you’d expect to get at least a quality rotation player.
Judging by the production of the all the No. 12 picks for the past ten years, it’s safe to say that they all have, or look like they will pan out in some capacity. Only one of them is a sure-fire miss.