The Orlando Magic are off to a surprisingly hot start. They should get better as Jonathon Simmons continues to make a solid case for starting minutes.
Coach Frank Vogel and the Orlando Magic preached and promoted their continuity as a reason for potential success. As the Magic got out to a 5-2 start, they continued to note it as a reason for their success. The team undoubtedly feels like it has a step ahead because the starters know each other and play well off each other.
Of course, that starting group has played without Elfrid Payton for all but one game. This Magic team has learned to adjust to new players. And, probably quicker than even they anticipated, have integrated new players into the fold.
That includes newcomer Jonathon Simmons. And ever since Jonathon Simmons arrived, he has seemingly put the pressure on Terrence Ross for his spot in the starting lineup. That has not gone away now that the season has begun.
It may still be too early to consider any lineup changes considering how successful the Magic have played. But it is hard not to think about it.
The season will have its ups and downs. And when those downs come, the Magic will almost have to consider inserting Simmons into the starting lineup.
The good news is that has not looked like a bad option, even now through the team’s success.
Simmons is a two-way experienced player who can put in the type of effort defensively that no one else on the roster can give every night. A player the team can put on the other team’s best player with confidence. That is something the Magic have already done late in games.
Jonathon Simmons and Aaron Gordon could prove to be one of the best defensive perimeter duos in the league if given the opportunity. Vogel has to be aware of this potential.
Orlando has shown promise so far this year. The team has played well together to get victories.The Magic’s offense has hummed with three players on the roster scoring more than 20 points per game.
Nikola Vucevic (20.7 points per game), Evan Fournier (22.0 points per game) and Aaron Gordon (21.0 points per game) are having career years so far. Their time losing together the last couple of years has motivated these guys to work on their games more than the average.
And right behind them is Simmons with his 16.7 points per game. He has played extremely well and is pushing for a more prominent spot in the rotation. He has certainly gained the trust of his coaches and teammates. His game only seems to be growing.
So could this be the year for Orlando? Is it way too early to tell? Could a lineup tweak make things more permanent and propel the Magic into contention?
These are questions the Magic need to ponder as they sit on top the Eastern Conference. They have to evaluate every position to get the full potential out of the team.
One of those weaknesses is toughness on the wing. The Magic are playing well, but there is obvious room for improvement.
The two biggest positions to watch are at point guard and shooting guard. These are the two positions that could possibly propel the Magic into championship contention.
If the Magic had an All-Star backcourt right now they would be in prime position, no offense to D.J. Augustine and Terrence Ross.
Many of the best teams in the modern NBA have stellar backcourts. Whether it is Russell Westbrook and Paul George or Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, or CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard or DeMarr DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, these are championship level backcourts.
A top-10 wing defender with experience from Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs system before coming into Frank Vogel’s system and a guy who has shown he is going to compete relentlessly.
This is what Simmons has brought to the Magic off the bench. Already in this season, Magic players and coaches have lauded how Simmons has raised everyone’s game.
Terrence Ross will compete as well. He has struggled a bit with his shot early in the season — averaging 8.0 points per game, but shooting a lowly 31.3 percent from the floor and 24.1 percent from beyond the arc. The Magic have turned to him as one of the team’s top perimeter defenders in the starting lineup.
But he is not the defender Simmons is. Terrence Ross seems to be more of a J.R. Smith-type of player. While he can get hot, he is a very streaky shooter and not consistent. The Magic may conclude the same thing the Raptors concluded that Ross is best off the bench.
To be at their best, Ross’ defensive versatility and streaky shooting may not be enough to keep a two-way player like Simmons out of the lineup.
Simmons brings the toughness Vogel needs on the wing to begin games.
With Simmons potentially on the floor with Gordon, it gives the Magic two elite defenders at the wing. Simmons is another guy who can help defend elite wing players like LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo on switches. His defensive versatility and determination are invaluable.
The Magic have proven to have enough offense so far. They can sacrifice an offensively gifted player like Ross to the bench.
And when Elfrid Payton returns from injury, the Magic will start to resemble a defensive juggernaut in the backcourt.
If Payton has made the leap in his game like his peers have, Orlando will continue to improve and could be in position to make the Playoffs.
Now may not be the time to make such a drastic lineup change. The Magic are rolling. But there will come a time for adjustments. And Simmons’ versatility and defensive potential should have him in the starting lineup soon.