Last week, the Orlando Magic made two free agent acquisitions. The first was Ben Gordon, who signed for a rather confusing $9.5 million over two years. While Gordon struggled in his last season in Charlotte, the three seasons prior, he averaged 40 percent shooting from three with the Detroit Pistons.
The second addition was Channing Frye. Frye, 32, signed a four-year, $32 million dollar contract, giving Orlando a valuable floor spacer and veteran starter opposite of Nikola Vucevic. The Frye deal reportedly decreases by 4.5 percent every year, which will be beneficial for the Magic as it allows them to keep some flexibility in the next few years. The Gordon deal on the other hand was pretty confusing. Even though he was a great shooter, Gordon was a part of the problem in both Detroit and Charlotte, leading to Charlotte cutting him after the playoff deadline last season.
Even with the Magic trading Arron Afflalo, adding veterans shouldn’t come as a shock for the Magic. Next season will be the third in the post-Dwight Howard era, and after two demoralizing seasons, the Magic want to be better. The Howard blockbuster netted them multiple young contributors, and they’ve used the last two drafts to add guys, while removing many veterans and any poor contracts from the Dwight era.
If all goes right, Ben Gordon will be a valuable contributor in a Nate Robinson role, and Channing Frye will use the magic (no pun intended) he used to help Phoenix to space the floor in Orlando. In the uncertainty in Eastern Conference, if Orlando can take a step forward into becoming a competitive team, and at this point in the reboot, that’s a huge improvement.
What it additions did was reveal an idea in Orlando’s philosophy. The Magic like to acquire shooters, and focus on defense in the draft.
The notable picks in Rob Hennigan’s tenure have been Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, and Kyle O’Quinn. The profile? Long, defensive minded athletes. Even O’Quinn fits the mold. Oladipo and Payton are two long-limbed athletes, who are projected to shut down wings, Gordon is projected to be able to guard both forward positions, and O’Quinn has already proved his value as a second round pick, thanks to his rim protection. The downside? None of these guys can really shoot the ball. Payton was abysmal from 10 feet out in college, and Aaron Gordon didn’t answer any questions about his shooting stroke in his one season at Arizona.
Victor Oladipo provided some hope in his rookie season, while Kyle O’Quinn showed some signs his second season. Oladipo operated as a point guard for most of the season, so most of his shot attempts were at the rim. However, he finished with 38 percent shooting from mid-range, and 33 percent shooting on above-the-break threes, via NBA.com’s stats tool. Both numbers are considered average, but teetering on the line to below average.
O’Quinn on the other hand, shot 41 percent from mid-range, which also registered as average. Unlike Oladipo, O’Quinn’s percentage from mid-range works because it’s closer to above-average, but it also doesn’t matter as much because Nikola Vucevic also serves as a decent mid-range shooter, finishing on with 44 percent on mid-range shots.
In Orlando’s recent trades and free agency moves, the goal was to add shooting. We talked about Gordon and Frye earlier, but the Afflalo trade netted them Evan Fournier- a young sharpshooter, who should be solid in a handful of lineups, and Devyn Marble, who could make the team as a “3-and-D” player. Even in past trades, acquiring Afflalo, a potential “3-and-D” in Maurice Harkless. It would seem like Orlando would rather net them floor spacers in the market, rather than draft guys who excel at shooting.
The idea of netting defensive-minded athletes in the draft and shooters in free agency and trades is an interesting one. At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much risk for Orlando pursuing this avenue. If Elfrid Payton doesn’t develop a consistent jump shot, he can, at the very worst, run a basketball team and defend at a high level. If Oladipo doesn’t become a better shooter, he could still be an excellent wing player, who thrives on cut plays and obliterate teams in transition. Aaron Gordon can run around, block shots, defend forwards, and play a role similar to Shawn Marion in his heyday.
In Major League Baseball, the trend in the draft is to draft a ton of pitchers, hope they pan out, and flip them for hitters. However, with decreasing batting average and run scored in baseball, it’s better to go the Chicago Cubs way, garnering as many good hitting prospects as they can, and slowly figure out the pitching later. As the league gets smaller, and shooting the ball from three is valuable, the Magic decided to go the Cubs direction. Instead of drafting shooters, the Magic found it more valuable to draft athletes who can offer other translatable skills, such as defense and playmaking, and grab shooting in free agency and trades.
Time will tell if the strategy will work or not, but it’s is interesting.