Orlando Magic starting lineup needs tweaking

Jonathan Isaac could be a key breakout player for the Orlando Magic in 2020. (Photo by Icon Sportswire)
Jonathan Isaac could be a key breakout player for the Orlando Magic in 2020. (Photo by Icon Sportswire) /

The Orlando Magic’s starting lineup got off to a slow start and it was a change in the second half that helped change things to defeat the Lakers.

The Orlando Magic trailed early against the Los Angeles Lakers falling behind by 12 points. This was due in part to the starting lineup.

Kyle Kuzma was feasting inside against a smaller Wesley Iwundu as the Lakers used their size as an advantage over the Magic. Orlando looked a bit shell-shocked as they tried to keep up. It felt like another run of Friday’s loss to the Denver Nuggets when the team was staggered and never recovered.

But head coach Steve Clifford quickly made the necessary changes to get the team back on track.

One key change against the Lakers was removing starting small forward Wesley Iwundu from the court. Wesley Iwundu played the first five minutes of the game and Orlando was -10 with him on the court. He could not slow down the Kuzma, who got off to a hot start and scored 10 points in the first quarter.

Iwundu was also inefficient offensively. He got rejected on his only shot attempt, which was a lay-up after passing up an open jumper and driving to the paint. His jumper is still very much a work in progress. And despite his strong defensive instincts, his lack of size and strength hurt him in this matchup.

Iwundu would not play for the remainder of the game.  His minutes were split among Jonathon Simmons, Terrence Ross and Jonathan Isaac for the rest of the game.

That proved to be a working formula for this game. And it might be something the Magic should consider moving forward. This is one game, but it was a big one.

In the second half, Clifford would elect to start Jonathon Simmons at the small forward position. Simmons brought more strength and explosiveness to the lineup.

In the third quarter, D.J. Augustin penetrated to the lane and tossed it up for the sprinting Jonathon Simmons, who exploded in the air to grab the lob pass and throw it down, emphatically.

Orlando went +10 with Simmons with the starters at the beginning of the third quarter. A complete turnaround from that starting group with Iwundu.

Simmons has struggled so far this season. But he had a strong game, finishing with 10 points, four rebounds and four assists. The Magic were +7 overall with him on the court. But it was this change at the start of the third quarter that seemed to spark the Magic.

This came after Simmons played a total of 16 minutes in the last two games, seemingly falling out of the rotation. He did not play in Friday’s game until Clifford emptied his bench.

Orlando knows Simmons can play at a higher level. And having that ace in the hole proved valuable for the team as it struggled to get going Sunday afternoon.

But he was not the only addition to the lineup who produced.

Terrence Ross also played worthwhile minutes at the small forward position. He was money on offense, scoring 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting from the field and  4-for-7 from 3-point land. He was also stellar on defense and grabbed two steals.

Orlando was +6 with Ross on the court for the game. He added a benefit finishing the game at small forward as he has often done this year.

His defense and his layup past LeBron James in the final moment proved to be the decisive factor in the game. The Magic outscored the Lakers by four in the final moments with Ross on the floor with the starters.

Orlando has needed Ross’ shooting and offense with that bench unit. Orlando’s best runs throughout the game came with Ross on the floor.

Jonathan Isaac was also a threat on the floor with his length and athleticism. He had some impressive drives to the basket with acrobatic finishes. Isaac also posted up his man on one play, turned around and hit a mid-range jumper. He finished with six points, five rebounds and one steal.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Against the Lakers, the Magic were able to overcome its slow start. But in the future, perhaps a different starting lineup will fare better.

Maybe inserting Isaac and Simmons into the lineup is in the works. Clifford has said Isaac will return to the starting lineup once his minutes restriction is lifted as he recovers from his injury at the beginning of the month. That moment may be coming sooner than later as Isaac regains his rhythm.

The Magic’s currently starting lineup has an overall net rating of +6.6 points per 100 possessions — 114.7 points per 100 possessions and 108.1 points allowed per 100 possessions. One poor game is not enough to completely scrap the lineup. But Clifford has limited Iwundu’s minutes before and this is not the first time he has changed his rotation when that group has struggled.

Ross likely needs to remain on the bench because he gives the team instant offense and a spark off the bench. But Isaac is getting healthy and playing with more confidence.

Simmons is also playing better and recovering well from his offseason wrist surgery.

Both players are deserving of more minutes. If any reason else, Jonathan Isaac is the future and needs to play as much as possible next to Aaron Gordon to see if playing the duo together will bode well for the future. The two have not logged too many minutes together especially after Isaac’s most recent injury.

For one game, at least, this lineup change worked. It provided the exact spark the team intended.

Next. Grades: Orlando Magic 108, Los Angeles Lakers 104. dark

It will be interesting to see whether or not, Clifford keeps Iwundu in the starting lineup or elects to go with Simmons, Isaac or Ross in the near future.