Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY

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Magic double down on versatility


Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY

It was a small moment in Monday's game brought up by the Mavericks broadcaster when talking about the Magic. There are a lot of "two-way" players on this roster. That is, players who can play mutliple positions and defend multiple positions.

The Magic have had a dearth of these players in the latter years of the Dwight Howard-era. In a lot of ways, it was part of the team's downfall as the team committed much of its salary to players who could do only one thing. When they could not do that thing anymore, the team floundered.

Part of the rebuilding Rob Hennigan has done is rebuilding this versatility and getting players that are somewhat interchangeable. It is also a big part of the growing trend in the NBA. The so-called position-less movement. The Magic are embracing tht to some extent.

"I think versatility is becoming more and more in vogue as traditional postiions may not be as concrete," Rob Hennigan said. "I think the more versatile you can be, the better you are prepared for anything that gets thrown at you."

The preseason has been much of an experiment of different combinations and players at different positions. Tobias Harris has played almost exclusively at small forward and on the perimeter. Kyle O'Quinn has logged some time at power forward. Then there is the grand Victor Oladipo experiment at point guard.

It all points toward the belief that successful teams need guys who can play multiple positions and defend multiple positions. It helps set up more favorable matchups and even hide defensive shortcomings if players can switch on picks along the perimeter.

So far it is certainly an adjustment, but it is something players like Tobias Harris have prepared for. He said he is willing and ready to play whatever position Jacque Vaughn wants him to play. He is capable and comfortable to play either forward position.

"I feel like in the NBA now, it kind of depends on what other teams are doing," Harris said. "If the other team is playing a power forward or a stretch-4, you have to adjust to what they are doing. But at the same time, the way I see the game going now, not that it's small ball, but guys are being able to play different positions on the basketball court."

That makes the work the players did this offseason so important. Andrew Nicholson developing a 3-point shot helps the team expand what it can do offensively. Harris and Harkless improving their 3-point shooting allows the Magic to play the two together in dynamic lineups.

When Hennigan says Victor Oladipo is playing "guard," it is in line with the overall philosophy of versatility.

"There is only one position on the floor — and probably that's the center — in today's game," Vaughn said. "That's the way we are going to approach things. Victor played some guard for us and he will continue to play guard for us. Whether some people want to consider it a lead guard, point guard, off guard, shooting guard, I will leave that to everyone else's semantics. For us, I'm going to put basketball players on the floor and let them excel at playing basketball."

It is a pretty simple philosophy. Put players on the floor and let them play. There obviously will be tweaks here and there to keep guys effective, but versatility would allow Vaughn to put his best players on the floor at the same time regardless of traditional notions of position because they can play them all.

The combinations seem more endless now.

Harris said he feels he should be able to play well off of Glen Davis when he returns. The prep to play more on the perimeter should help Harris with that transition when he returns.

E'Twaun Moore said combo guards at his size are becoming more commonplace and that he had to learn to play the point guard. He wanted to prevent being pigeon-holed into one position. Players like Moore never know when their number will be called.

"That's the good thing is that I'm versatile," Moore said. "I can play the two if coach wants me to. If I need to play the point, he can play me at the point too. I just try to contribute and try to bring something every time.

"I think it is more of being a player. You don't try to switch what you're doing. You just try to make the right plays."

Even the players fighting for a roster spot recognize how important their versatility is.

Romero Osby, for instance, is learning the toughness that Glen Davis and Jason Maxiell have to teach. But at the same time, he is also playing a lot of small forward in games and is learning to guard multiple positions. Being someone who can guard multiple positions might help him stick in the league.

Kris Joseph too said his ability to be a slasher and put the ball on the floor at his size could make him more valuable in the Magic's eyes.

"It's a grind every night," Osby said. "You never know who you are going to play against. So just continue to work on my body and continue to keep that diet so I am light enough and quick enough to guard the smaller players that are quicker and even the bigger players that are quicker. That's something that I got to continue to work on and improve on in the weight room and make sure I am in the best shape of my life."

Versatility is not the be-all, end-all for players on this roster. You still need talent and execution for a team to be successful. The right combinations have to be on the floor and the players still have to play well off each other.

Versatility though increases the options. And it appears certain that Vaughn has a lot of potential options to go through.