Orlando Magic injuries give end of bench a chance

Mar 8, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Roy Hibbert (17) and Orlando Magic center Dewayne Dedmon (3) look for a rebound in the second half of the game at Staples Center. The Lakers won 107-98. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 8, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Roy Hibbert (17) and Orlando Magic center Dewayne Dedmon (3) look for a rebound in the second half of the game at Staples Center. The Lakers won 107-98. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic’s Dewayne Dedmon, Andrew Nicholson and Devyn Marble got an opportunity with injuries to the roster. Opportunity they all had to ready for.

On March 5, the Orlando Magic were celebrating their year in some respects. Before heading out West, the team was holding its annual OMYF Black Tie and Tennies Charity Gala. There were games, lip-sync battles, live auctions, good food and fan interaction. It is a night to cut loose — yes, the players sang happy birthday to coach Scott Skiles.

Dewayne Dedmon was not there though.

He had asked the Magic for some more game time and requested they send him to the team’s D-League affiliate in Erie for a single game. He would play a game that evening and then meet the team in the Bay Area to take on the Golden State Warriors.

The one-game assignment was in the works for some time, reportedly, but Dedmon wanted the game experience to keep himself loose and fresh for games.

He posted 17 points and 22 rebounds in the game and it was pretty clear he could dominate a D-League game with playing time. It was only where would his time come in the NBA?

Then opportunity dropped out of the sky. Nikola Vucevic was held out with a strained groin and has not returned to the lineup ever since. All of a sudden Dedmon’s minutes were up — 18.0 minutes per game — and he was given the opportunity and freedom to produce.

The athleticism and shot blocking were back. He was getting comfortable enough to score around the basket again. His production everywhere was up — culminating in Saturday’s career-high 18 points and 13 rebounds.

Opportunity proved to be a powerful force.

“It definitely feels good,” Dedmon said. “It shows the hard work is paying off. It definitely feels good.

“Every game is important. Every time you get an opportunity, everyone is watching. Vuc is kind of injured right now. To be able to start bringing energy and start playing basketball the way I play, I can show off what I do.”

Life at the end of a NBA bench is not always a good one. Often these are the players playing for contracts the most. The most hungry for the opportunity and facing the most pressure every time they step on the floor. Evaluations are always happening.

And life at the end of the bench is certainly not fair either. Several players have had to take advantage of injuries for their playing time. And their playing time will get taken away again when those players are healthy again.

Dedmon, Andrew Nicholson and Devyn Marble have started carving out their niches with the opportunities presented to them.

“Each guy is different, but each guy can clearly come in the game and help us in some way,” Skiles said. “Because of injury or circumstance, they have gotten some opportunities. For younger players, that is what the league is all about. When you get an opportunity, you have to go out there and do something with it because you might not get many. You get multiple opportunities, if you aren’t productive, people will make decisions based on that. Those guys have been able to come to games and do something for us.”

Dedmon has made the most of his opportunity for sure. He is the most prominent fill in with Vucevic out. The one who got inserted into the starting lineup. His modest 6.3 points per game and 6.1 rebounds per game during this 12-game stretch do not quite capture his complete impact throughout this month.

Nicholson and Marble have made their impacts in their own way too.

Nicholson is averaging 15.8 minutes per game, scoring 11.7 points per game and 4.7 rebounds per game. He shot 55.4 percent from the floor in this stretch. What is crazier is Nicholson still found a way to miss games.

There is no doubting Nicholson’s talent and ability. Every time he has gotten playing time, he has seemingly produced. HIs market value entering restricted free agency is as wild as anyone could guess.

For every game where he gets playing time and produces points — 24 points on a perfect 9-for-9 shooting in Tuesday’s win over the Brooklyn Nets — there are still those moments that make you wonder about his defense. The narrative persists — his -2.1 defensive box plus-minus does not help his defensive perception.

Andrew Nicholson, Orlando Magic
Apr 15, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Orlando Magic forward Andrew Nicholson (44) gestures after a three point basket during the third quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. Brooklyn Nets won 101-88. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports /

Yet his coach extolls his ability to stretch a defense or put guys on the block — in the “Torture Chamber” as the Magic broadcast puts it — and laments he is not able to play him more. Nicholson has done a lot of what his team has asked him to do, yet he needed injuries to free up consistent time for him after falling completely out of the rotation in January.

“Andrew with proper matchups can be really effective,” Skiles said before the Magic’s win over the Bulls on Saturday. “Some guys he can take down low. . . . Also he has a good pump fake game, can drive and make good decisions. He has had a very uneven year in large part because of probably me. I have played him some, and then I haven’t played him some. It’s not because his play has been necessarily uneven, it’s just the way things have shaken out.”

Nicholson has produced in the opportunity before him. That is a product of his professionalism. He always stays ready, putting in his extra work. The last stage of the season is him showing how ready he was for this opportunity.

His approach never wavered, it remained the same. Get in the gym and stay sharp. There is not any pressure over his uncertain future with the Magic as a potential restricted free agent.

Marble is much the same way.

The former second round pick has always been reliable for his defense, but just could not get his shot down consistently. That was the rap on him coming out of Iowa.

The credo for him has been the same as everyone else with Nikola Vucevic, Ersan Ilyasova and Victor Oladipo missing time. Take advantage of the opportunity and play within themselves.

“I just go out there and do what I do,” Marble said. “Play with a lot of energy, defend have fun and offensively let the game come to me. I just feel like I do my job.”

Those minutes will begin to decrease soon. Oladipo has already returned relegating Marble to the bench for good. Vucevic will soon return and Dedmon’s minutes will have to be rejumbled. Perhaps Nicholson has earned his time over Ilyasova whenever Ilyasova returns.

The opportunity comes quick and gets taken away just as quickly.

Next: Orlando Magic's youth performing among best in NBA

These three players in this stretch found a way to contribute and make some kind of impact. Perhaps it helped them secure a future. Perhaps this was the opportunity each needed to cement some more playing time with the full roster.