For the first time in a long time, the Magic are relying on rookies to carry a significant load early in the season.
DeQuan Jones became the first Magic rookie to start a game since Courtney Lee in 2009 (Daniel Orton was technically not a rookie last year although Basketball-Reference lists him as one). Of course, it took Lee 30 games before he cracked the starting lineup for the first time. Jones' start in the second game of the year is the earliest a rookie has started for the Magic since Dwight Howard started on opening night in 2004.
"Life is good isn’t it?" coach Jacque Vaughn said about giving DeQuan Jones his first start Sunday. "Take advantage of the opportunity life puts in front of you. Relish those opportunities, and I think he will."
Jones did that. He played a shade more than 16 minutes and scored two points on 1-for-3 shooting. He made hardly much of an impact — his role is to do more of the nitty grittyintangible things that do not end up in a stat sheet. It was a quiet and solid debut.
The team's other rookies too made quiet, subtle impacts in their first action in the NBA.
And while Maurice Harkless did not make his NBA debut this weekend in the first two games of the season, Jacque Vaughn anticipates bringing into a game soon. Andrew Nicholson played 18 minutes in the two games this weekend, both at critical junctures in the third quarter where he got a taste of NBA life. Kyle O'Quinn stepped in during the foruth quarters for five minutes in the two games.
Rookies are going to be an important part of the Magic's future in 2013 and beyond. And the injuries are working to push them along a bit sooner than expected.
Jacque Vaughn said his goal with the rookies is to put them in positions where they can succeed. And so their progress may initially be a bit slow. But expect their minutes to slowly increase. Especially with the injuries hitting this roster. An opportunity to learn on the job and get game experience is presenting itself. It just depends on how Vaughn wants to bring them along and the situations he wants to put them in.
Vaughn said after Sunday's game that he was happy to get Jones the 16 minutes he got and allow him slowly to regain his timing. Especially since Josh McRoberts was able to provide good minutes at small forward in Sunday's win, it allowed Vaughn to make that slow transition for Jones and likely Harkless as they get back.
For these young players, there is a lot of learning by listening and a lot of work in practice to do and glean. Harkless said the veterans have told him to go out and play like you are not afraid to make mistakes. Harkless said the veterans advised him to play hard and play through everything when he finally gets out there.
Andrew Nicholson echoed similar advice from the Magic's veterans. He said veterans advised him to play hard and stay focused on the reason he is in Orlando — to help the team win.
Undoubtedly having these veteran players showing them the ropes seems to have rubbed off on them already even before they get meaningful minutes.
It is a wealth of new experiences and perhaps Vaughn's advice for his rookies entering their first opening night echoed what he said about DeQuan Jones' first start Sunday:
"Enjoy the now. There is only one now. Enjoy it. It will never come again. Can’t simulate, can’t repeat it. We’re not in an era where we time capsule. Enjoy the now," Jacque Vaughn said.