When the Magic announced their opening day roster, the player probably no one knew what to expect anything from was Josh McRoberts.
McRoberts had made a small name for himself in his days playing for the Pacers for his hustle and energy off the bench. But how he fit in with the new-look Magic was still a bit unclear. Certainly he was the big mystery man of the Dwight Howard trade as he seemed to only add to a glut of power forwards.
Jacque Vaughn had to put Josh McRoberts to use pretty quickly as a small forward thanks to early season injuries to Hedo Turkoglu and Al Harrington. He was a little out of place, but made the best of it, providing some solid defense and a little more help on the boards.
"He brings us versatility," Jacque Vaughn said after the game against the Celtics a few weeks ago. "I had him guard Pierce, I had him guard [Jeff] Green, I had him guard KG. Then he wins the tip in overtime. His versatility and ability to contribute to the team have been a very positive sign. I thank him for that."
Yet, statistically, there is no doubt McRoberts has had an up and down season. Despite playing 15.2 minutes per game, McRoberts is averaging only 3.7 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. Sometimes it seems like he is making an impact on the floor, even if the stats don't say so. Sometimes it feels like he is invisible. And now, of course he is caught in the middle of Jacque Vaughn's revolving door rotation. Figuring out exactly where McRoberts can contribute to this team is the struggle.
Playing out of position has taken McRoberts out of his comfort zone. He is capable of hitting 3-pointers — he is a career 34.5 percent 3-point shooter and has made 4 of 11 this year — but is not exactly a threat to spread the floor. By playing him mostly at the three, the Magic likely take away his greatest attribute — his hustle on the boards.
"[I am] just trying to do what I can to help," McRoberts said after the game against Boston a few weeks ago. "Trying to fill in where they need me. I don’t care where I am as long as I get a chance to play."
McRoberts has gotten a chance to play. Yet, there is a certain amount of frustration with McRoberts at times and a certain amount of admiration for his hustle and work playing out of position.
McRoberts will have games like he had against the Celtics when he grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds and played throughout crunch time. And then he will have games like he had to close out the homestand last Friday night against Brooklyn where he played only 6:38 and scored only two points (on a nifty layup and feed from Gustavo Ayon at that).
In fact, since that breakout performance against the Celtics, McRoberts has seemingly disappeared from the rotation some.
The versatility is the main thing the Magic are hoping to showcase right now. And it is something they desperately needed thanks to those early season injuries.
Again, at the same time, McRoberts does not quite fit in. He is not a huge threat to shoot the ball. And then at power forward he is not always strong enough to muscle up against great post players. Then you get into issues that no matter where he is playing, he is taking minutes away from young players like Andrew Nicholson and Maurice Harkless, guys the Magic want to see play.
McRoberts does have an expiring contract, and so the theory might go that Orlando is trying to up his trade value by playing him more. But his somewhat uneven play — he has had good games and games where he is non-existent in big minutes — likely has done little in that department.
This just might be what kind of role Josh McRoberts fills for this team. He is an intangible guy already who fills in wherever the Magic need him and just provide energy. That means he has to grab rebounds and play defense. This was what he was known for in Los Angeles and was something Lakers beat writer Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News wrote Sunday in advance of his return to the Staples Center.
McRoberts has made a name for himself wherever he goes despite meager statistics. That still makes it hard to judge what kind of impact he can ultimately make for the Magic.
Right now, it remains intangible. Some nights it is clear he is playing very well. Some nights it is clear the Magic need to get more production from his spot or give young guys like Nicholson or O'Quinn more run.
Whatever it is Orlando is looking for from Josh McRoberts, it appears they remain along for the ride in that process.