Wesley Iwundu doesn’t stand out on a box score, but does on the court

Wesley Iwundu earned a rotation spot last year but will have to renew his fight for minutes. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Wesley Iwundu earned a rotation spot last year but will have to renew his fight for minutes. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

Wesley Iwundu does not produce a ton of counting statistics or impress on a box score. But his contributions were valuable to turn the team around.

There was a debate going among Orlando Magic fans during a game a few weeks ago as the Magic were trying to find their footing and cement their identity.

An injury had already forced a change to their starting lineup as Jonathan Isaac missed time with an ankle injury. Coach Steve Clifford opted to start Wesley Iwundu instead of elevating Jonathon Simmons or Terrence Ross into the lineup. There was no reason to disrupt the team’s normal rotations.

To that point, Wesley Iwundu had played very little. He was averaging 19.1 minutes per game in four sporadic appearances. That included a 31-minute stint in that loss to the LA Clippers where Jonathan Isaac went out with his injury.

But Iwundu was left open in the corner. A shot defenses want him to take considering he shot 19.6 percent from beyond the arc last year. Evan Fournier opted not to pass it to him, taking and making his own three.

The right play was to send it to the corner for Iwundu and let him let it fly. But like the defense, you cannot blame Evan Fournier or anyone for being a bit hesitant to pass him the ball.

That was then. This is now.

And Iwundu is someone the Magic seem to trust completely. Since stepping into the lineup for Isaac, Iwundu has turned himself into an invaluable role player.

Someone everyone on the team appreciates.

"“I’m glad we’re talking about Wes. He gets no credit,” Evan Fournier said before Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers. “He has really gotten better. I’m honestly surprised how much better he has gotten. The main thing is his shot. He can really hit an open shot now. It makes a huge difference. His focus is really good. He doesn’t make mistakes defensively or offensively. He just plays off us and he is a really good fit for us in the starting five.”"

It is safe to say now that Fournier makes that extra pass to Iwundu. And from there Iwundu will make the right play — whether it is shooting the shot, driving or kicking it to the next guy. And that is a big part of why the Magic have turned their season around.

You just may not see it in the box score.

Iwundu is averaging just 4.7 points per game and 1.1 assists per game in 17.8 minutes per game since entering the starting lineup — the Magic are 7-2 in those games. He is shooting 44.4 percent on 3-pointers, albeit on just 1.0 attempts per game. And yes, that line includes a virtual goose egg against the New York Knicks where his only box score contribution was two free throws.

Iwundu’s minutes have ranged from 12 to 32 in that time. Clifford often does not play him more than 20 minutes in a game.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

It all suggests Iwundu is not adventuring too far outside of his role offensively. And the Magic are still choosing to finish games with Terrence Ross. Iwundu’s minutes virtually evaporate once the starters come out of the game.

But that is all they need from him. His box score line is not the reason he is out on the floor. And it paints only a partial picture of his impact.

Since entering the starting lineup, the Magic have a 99.4 defensive rating with Iwundu on the floor. That is the best mark among the Magic’s rotation players in that time. Orlando overall has played some very good defense. But it is seemingly even better with Iwundu on the floor.

Whether Iwundu is a direct result of this or not is a matter for debate. But it is clear he makes an impact on that end. And his impact is clear everywhere but the counting statistics, according to coach Clifford.

"“We function well,” Clifford said of having Iwundu in the lineup. “He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. He has always been a good defender. But I think you can see how much he is improving with his shot. He is a good offensive player too, he just has never been a range shooter.  But it is opening up his game.”"

There is certainly a growing confidence in Iwundu.

He is more willing to shoot than ever before, but he does not overshoot. When the ball rotates to him, he is will to take his shot. But more likely he is going to look to make the next better play. Whether that is driving to the lane to set someone else up or rotate it to the next man.

All that is valuable. Iwundu has filled his role perfectly for this team.

But eventually, Iwundu’s minutes will get crunched. He entered the lineup because Isaac got hurt. Now that Isaac is back, he will reclaim his starting spot. And Clifford said he wants to try to keep a nine-man rotation for the most part.

While Iwundu has done everything asked of him to this point, his role is likely to diminish until the team needs him again. And that is when he will be ready.

Iwundu has made himself a better player. It may not always be clear because there are so few stats to go off of. But the Magic have used him to perfection.

He is the ultimate role player in that he plays within himself. He shoots when he is open but does not force play. He takes open lanes when he has them. Otherwise, he keeps the ball moving.

And that is fine by him.

"“At the end of the day, I just want to make sure I impact the game in some kind of way,” Iwundu said. “And that impact is toward winning the game whether that is playing good defense one possession, spreading the floor, feeling confident from 3, knocking down some shots. Anything to keep the team going and stay within myself and help other guys stay within their rhythm in different groups and different times of the game.”"

Iwundu has continued to work, of course. He is in the gym early before practice working with the team’s assistant coaches to improve his jumper and his shot making. It has come a long way and still has a long way to go.

But he does not get caught up in the stats. Right now he just tries to do whatever it takes to help his team win. And that impact is clear.

Every team needs that grinder who fills in gaps and does not demand the ball. Iwundu has become that player for the Magic.

His teammates certainly appreciate that effort.

"“He just does stuff that helps the team win,” Fournier said. “Good spacing, good cuts, makes open shots and plays defense. Always on time on defense for the rotations and stuff. We just have a good chemistry with him on the floor.”"

Next. Jonathan Isaac's length remains a real factor. dark

The Magic will need Iwundu again at some point this season. He will be there when they need him. And it will likely help the team in whatever way they need it.