Hedo Turkoglu will miss the next three weeks after Carmelo Anthony‘s second-quarter elbow fractured a bone in his cheek. Turkoglu needed several stitches to close up the wound and discovered Friday that it migh require surgery to fix the fracture.
Either way, the Magic’s starting small forward is likely gone until the Playoffs start if not later. Tonight against Philadelphia, Orlando will start Jason Richardson and J.J. Redick in the starting lineup. This appears likely to be the lineup Orlando will trot out for most of the remainder of the season.
The Magic will miss Turkoglu’s ability to play in the pick and roll and attack the basket (when he does, at least). Turkoglu, if he is done for the year, will average an 8-year-low 10.7 points per game while shooting 41.1 percent. Turkoglu has been great at times, but largely disappointing. There will be more than a few Magic fans who are ready to see the experiment of this team without Turkoglu for the next few weeks.
That might have to wait as the Magic will remain depleted tonight as Quentin Richardson will be out with a bad back, Ryan Anderson will be out with his sprained ankle (although he hopes to return Monday) and Dwight Howard remains day-to-day as he fights back spasms (he sat out parts of practice Friday). The walking platoon is still fighting for a Playoff spot and trying to prevent something of a free fall down the standings.
For every door that closes, another opens. Turkoglu’s injury is an opportunity for Earl Clark, Von Wafer and DeAndre Liggins to get some playing time and fight their way into the rotation for the Playoffs.
At various times throughout the season Clark, Wafer and Liggins have contributed to the Magic and done some very good things. They have not been able to do them consistently enough or show them off enough in practices to gain Stan Van Gundy‘s trust fully. Now he may have to turn to them out of necessity.
For all those Magic fans clamoring for these young players to get their opportunity, here it is.
“Opportunity when it comes knocking, you’ve got to answer the door,” Earl Clark said after Thursday’s game. “You’ve got to come up with big plays and show the coach why you need to be out there. You can build trust into your game when you are out there playing.”
Clark has seen the most playing time of this trio thanks to his skills and length as a defender. Clark has appeared in 36 games this year, averaging 10.2 minutes per game and scoring 6.9 points per 36 minutes. He is shooting just 34.4 percent from the floor and 8 for 36 on field goals from 16-23 feet, according to Basketball-Reference.
Clark has struggled to get time on the floor because he lacks 3-point range and is not a great jump shooter and because he is still putting together all of his abilities defensively especially off the ball. Still, Clark is talented and shows that in the way he defends on the ball against bigger small forwards and mobile power forward and in the way he attacks the basket — when he does.
Van Gundy mostly has used Clark at the power forward position. It would not be surprising to see him move back to his more natural small forward position for some time on the court when Ryan Anderson returns from injury.
Again, the opportunity is there for Clark to break out.
The same could be said for Von Wafer and DeAndre Liggins. Both have been in and out of the rotation at times this year and Van Gundy seems to be leaning toward playing Wafer more after Wafer scored 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting in Thursday’s game against New York.
Wafer, no doubt, gives Orlando instant offense with his ability to get to the basket (although not necessarily finishing). Wafer’s problems have come on the defensive end. Even he recognized that. After playing nearly 19 minutes in Thursday’s loss, Wafer said defense is something he has to continue improving on if he wants to get playing time.
“I’m going to do what the coach asks me to do,” Wafer said. “If he asks me to go out there and play hard for a few minutes, I’m going to do that. I’m going to do whatever he asks me to do.”
Liggins is fighting an experience gap, but has been plenty promising on both ends of the floor in his limited time. He and Wafer will continue to fight for minutes behind Richardson and Redick. With Turkoglu out now, one of them is likely to get time on the floor.
Whoever can do what the coaches ask them to do best will probably see the court much more in games.
Matchups might matter some in how much any of these players play with Turkoglu out. Undoubtedly though, some of Magic’s lesser-used players have the chance finally to make an impact.