The Orlando Magic have struggled with Bismack Biyombo on the floor. Now with Nikola Vucevic out, they must rely on him even more.
The Orlando Magic’s season took a turn for the worse when Nikola Vucevic fractured a bone in his left hand. The Magic’s reliable big man will be out 6-8 weeks, according to several reports. The Magic officially have him out indefinitely.
That sounds bad, and it is bad for the Magic. Vucevic’s impact on the Magic this year has been pretty apparent and pretty large.
It goes beyond the 17.4 points per game and 9.3 rebounds per game he averages. Or the career-best 53.9 percent effective field goal percentage or his +1.8 defensive box plus-minus. Vucevic had expanded his offensive game with his 3-point shooting and was showing improvements defensively.
Even as the team faced mountains of injuries, Vucevic seemed ready to up his game. It was not enough to pull the Magic out of their rut or break this massive losing streak. And it may not have been enough to change any long-term conclusions about him or his play, but it was vital to this season and the team’s relative competitiveness.
The stats bear this out.
Until Friday’s game, Vucevic was the only player who had an on-court positive net rating on the entire team. The Magic still have a team-best -0.2 net rating while Vucevic is on the court. The team’s 108.4 offensive rating with Vucevic on the court is also the best on the team.
Further, the Magic are a team-worst -13.6 net rating with Vucevic off the floor. The team’s offensive rating drops to 94.0 with him off the floor, as it does for most of the team’s starter. The Magic’s effective field goal percentage plummets to 47.6 percent.
Losing Vucevic will hurt this team. And it might hurt more because of who the Magic will turn to replace him.
Bismack Biyombo has had plenty of solid moments this season. His defense looks to have returned to the energetic levels it was at his last year with the Toronto Raptors. He has put together some strong defensive plays and blocked shots.
Obviously, the team is losing a lot of offensive production going from Vucevic to Biyombo. Biyombo averages a meager 4.1 points per game and 4.3 rebounds per game in 15.3 minutes per game. His minutes and production are down even from last year. He also adds 1.0 blocks per game, a bigger stat for him.
Per 36 minutes, Biyombo’s stats are not that impressive either. He averages 9.7 points per 36 minutes, 10.2 rebounds per 36 minutes and 2.4 blocks per 36 minutes. Only his blocks are up from last year.
Those blocks might be most positive sign of all this. Biyombo has returned to his rim protection levels from his previous stint with the Raptors. Last year, Biyombo gave up 58.8 percent shooting at the rim. He gave up 48.8 percent at the rim in his final year with the Raptors in 2016.
This year, Biyombo is giving up 52.4 percent shooting at the rim, the highest mark among rotation players on the team. It is not quite at his Toronto levels, but certainly trending in the right direction.
Of course, the Magic will find that out precisely in the next two months where Biyombo is likely to be the starter.
That should have the Magic a bit concerned. Where the Magic play demonstrably better with Vucevic on the floor, they play demonstrably worse with Biyombo on the floor.
The Magic have a -13.0 net rating with Biyombo on the floor, including a 93.5 offensive rating. The team’s defensive rating is a better 106.5 with Biyombo on the floor, but that seems marginal over Vucevic compared with how much the offense sinks.
Orlando has a team-best -1.7 net rating with Biyombo off the floor, seeing their offensive rating rise to 107.3 points per 100 possessions, even with the defense playing worse at 109.0 points allowed per 100 possessions.
A big question for Orlando is whether the team can generate enough offense with Biyombo on the floor. He is a virtual non-factor offensively, if not a complete drag — that -5.3 offensive box plus-minus is not helping anyone.
Some of this might be that Biyombo has played with some horrible bench lineups. The most used lineup with Bismack Biyombo features D.J. Augustin, Arron Afflalo, Jonathon Simmons and Marreese Speights. That unit posts 71.2 points per 100 possessions and a -21.1 net rating in 42 minutes of play.
Biyombo has played in a lot of bad lineups. And he certainly does not help with his poor offensive output.
But he will now enter a lineup grouping that has some offensive punch with Elfrid Payton, Jonathon Simmons and eventually Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier (who may be back in action for Tuesday’s game against the Miami Heat).
Here is how lineups with Biyombo and the other starters have played together so far this season:
|With Biyombo||Minutes||Off. Rtg.||Def. Rtg.||Net Rating|
There is a consistent thread through these lineup pairings. The Magic’s defense gets into a very dangerously bad mode and the offense is highly inefficient. Only the pairing with Payton, surprisingly, has posted a positive offensive rating.
Those 72 minutes are split among several lineups. The most used lineup had played only eight minutes. So there is probably not enough to draw conclusions about why that pairing works offensively.
The Magic’s potential starting lineup is one that has played limited minutes together this season. In five minutes, the group has posted a 160.0 offensive rating and 84.2 defensive rating. Those five minutes came across four games.
It is hardly enough to draw conclusions. But that limited success might provide some hope for the Magic moving forward.
Other players will clearly have to step up on offense. That has been the case for some time thanks to the copious amounts of injuries.
No doubt, the Magic will still have a lot of adjusting to go. And their work will be cut out for them to replace what Vucevic provides as a playmaker within the offense. The spacing will be different. And that will be tough for a team struggling to shoot right now.
There is a big hole the Magic have to dig out of with Biyombo in the starting lineup. But like with all injuries, it is next man up and someone will have to fill that gap with whatever the team has available to it.