2016-17 Orlando Magic Player Evaluations: Stephen Zimmerman

Mar 10, 2017; Charlotte, NC, USA; Orlando Magic center Stephen Zimmerman (33) dunks the ball against the Charlotte Hornets in the second half at Spectrum Center. The Hornets defeated the Magic 121-81. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 10, 2017; Charlotte, NC, USA; Orlando Magic center Stephen Zimmerman (33) dunks the ball against the Charlotte Hornets in the second half at Spectrum Center. The Hornets defeated the Magic 121-81. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic expected to develop Stephen Zimmerman slowly, sending him to the D-League for extended trips and keeping him busy in the weight room.

Boban Marjanovic can make any player look small. Even a 7-footer like Stephen Zimmerman.

In the Orlando Magic’s final game of the season, Marjanovic enveloped Zimmerman on rebounds, using his incredible length and size to reach over Zimmerman and bully his way around the basket.

If there was a symbol or image of how far Zimmerman had to go to make it in the NBA this was it. Zimmerman had the size and skill everyone likes to see in a center. He just did not have the size and girth. His rookie year was surely going to be one spent in the weight room.

After the 82-game season — and several D-League stints in the process — Zimmerman still had a long way to go.

But Zimmerman got the last laugh this game. Aside from Elfrid Payton‘s jump-shooting heroics, the game turned on Zimmerman making the skillful offensive player that had some whispering his name in the Lottery before a late-season injury during his lone year at UNLV.

Zimmerman spun into the lane and hit a hook shot over Marjanovic to give the Magic some much-needed cushion late in the fourth quarter. It was a clutch shot for a player who had seen very little playing time throughout the season. It was a good way to end his season.

The rookie had a long way to go, but he showed that nice glimmer of hope.

For that finale against the Detroit Pistons, Zimmerman scored just two points. Those two points. Zimmerman never really had the minutes to make an impact as a rookie. The most he played all season was 18 minutes in a 40-point loss to the Charlotte Hornets — he scored a career-high six points in the game.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

This was, of course, the plan for Zimmerman all along. He was a talented project.

In Zimmerman, the Magic saw a versatile big man who could step out and hit jumpers. His speed would become an asset. But it was still at least a year away. The 19-year-old center was not quite NBA ready.

They knew all this when they drafted him with the 41st overall pick. Orlando planned to send Zimmerman to the D-League for much of the season.

Through several stints with the Erie BayHawks, Zimmerman showed that potential and put up some impressive numbers. He averaged 13.4 points per game and 8.9 rebounds per game in 21 games in the D-League. He recorded three double-doubles and a 24-point, 24-rebound effort.

There is obviously a big difference between the D-League and the NBA, especially for big men. Zimmerman has better athleticism than most big men. He showed that when given the opportunity to play for the Magic.

The trick will be figuring out how best to use this athleticism and how to get the most out of it.

The common saying with Zimmerman was the Magic needed to lock him in the weight room. He needed to put muscle on his relatively slight frame. It was clear in the games he played. He not only got pushed around by Marjanovic, but also by the Memphis Grizzlies’ bevy of bigs deep in their bench and other NBA post players.

Opponents easily moved Zimmerman off the block. This is where Zimmerman had to work entering the season and where he will have to work in the offseason.

It was no surprise, of course. Zimmerman was rail thin and needed to put on muscle. It was one of the biggest needs for him to succeed in the NBA. And the Magic knew it would take more than one year for him to get there.

Here, Zimmerman likely suffered from bad timing most.

The Magic have always preferred to have their young projects like Zimmerman stay with the team so they can monitor his progress in the weight room. They often believe playing against other NBA players in practice is more valuable than spending extended time in the D-League.

But game experience is valuable too. And the Magic clearly knew that, using Zimmerman in the D-League more than any player in the franchise’s history.

If Zimmerman were a rookie next season, the team would have been able to get Zimmerman that practice experience, monitor him in the workroom and allow him to play D-League games with the Lakeland Magic.

Such is life. The timing did not work out that way for Zimmerman. In addition to all of that, Zimmerman was drafted before the Magic made such big investments on post players, creating a logjam at his position. One that does not appear any closer to being resolved.

And now the general manager that drafted Zimmerman is out of the picture too.

In all likelihood, Zimmerman will get his opportunity again at Summer League. The hope is he has put in some more work in the weight room and improved his skill by July. There is no reason to think he cannot play well at that level. He has shown himself plenty capable at the D-League level.

But what awaits him when he makes it to training camp? Are the Magic willing to continue investing in him and sticking with his development? Will new management stick with what they have got in him?

Orlando does have an out with his non-guaranteed deal for next season. It does not feel likely they will cut him before training camp. They will give Zimmerman his chance to make the roster again. With the added roster spots for D-League — now G-League — two-way contracts, Zimmerman may get another developmental year.

. C. Orlando Magic. STEPHEN ZIMMERMAN. C+

Stephen Zimmerman is a project still. So there was not a lot expected of him. He was going to spend a lot of time on the bench, grinding in practice, lifting in the weight room and playing in the D-League. That was the plan.

In that sense, he succeeded. He performed well in the D-League and seemed to dominate while down there. He looked like he belonged. That is the important first step.

When he got to the NBA? It was clear he still has a long way to go. His lack of strength became apparent fairly quickly. Enough so that it hid his other skills.

It was not that this was not expected, but at times it seemed the road ahead was much longer than initially believed. Zimmerman has a lot of work to do.

But he certainly can do it. And the growth a player has between his rookie and his sophomore year can be pretty great. Zimmerman should arrive in camp a different player.