2020 Orlando Magic Player Outlook: Amile Jefferson
The Orlando Magic opted to keep Amile Jefferson on a two-way contract. It will be another year spent dominating the G-League with little NBA chance.
It is rare to see Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford beam so openly about a player. He is a hard-nosed coach that does not suffer a ton of nonsense. He wants to get the most of his players and his team and is going to stick to the base details.
He values solid work habits and attention to details. The kind of guys he likes are the lunch-pale, hard-hat players. The guys who will do the dirty work and defend at a high level. That is the way to earn Clifford’s trust.
As the season wore on, whenever Steve Clifford got a question about Amile Jefferson, the Magic’s two-way signee, you could see him beaming. Jefferson was someone that fit Clifford’s eye. He is Clifford’s kind of player.
But even Steve Clifford had to concede Amile Jefferson’s limitations. He is a traditional power forward in a world that no longer seems to value that position. Clifford lamented that as much as he liked Jefferson, finding a situation to use him in the NBA was getting harder and harder.
No one would debate with Jefferson’s G-League record. For the Lakeland Magic last year, he averaged 18.1 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. That helped him earn a spot on the All-G-League team.
Jefferson has proven one thing more than anything else: He is too good for the G-League. He has dominated that level. But his NBA status is still uncertain. And the finding that opportunity with the Magic looks increasingly unlikely.
The Magic clearly liked him and kept him around for Summer League — where he was solid and averaged 16.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. Jefferson in that run displayed a lot of what he had displayed throughout last year’s Summer League and with the Lakeland Magic.
Jefferson does a good job posting up and working around the basket. He is active on the glass and can finish with post-ups. He has improved working off the dribble and catch some opponents by surprise with how quickly he can attack and create space for his shot.
But Jefferson is still not extending out to the 3-point line any time soon. His jumper is still limited to the mid-range.
And that is where Jefferson remains stuck. He is too good to play in the G-League but probably not good enough to get a NBA role. At least not with the Orlando Magic. He does not necessarily fit the team’s ultimate vision.
So it was surprising for both sides to see Jefferson sign a second two-way contract with the Magic. Jefferson again will play for the Lakeland Magic and dominate that level in all likelihood. But his prospects of making the NBA still seem slim.
He is not going to push Nikola Vucevic, Mohamed Bamba or Khem Birch for minutes at center — and he is perhaps undersized at 6-foot-9 to play center in the NBA. And he is certainly not pushing Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac or Al-Farouq Aminu at power forward. And these six players could probably play some together.
Without a 3-point shot or anything distinctive, it is hard seeing Jefferson getting a NBA role.
That does not mean Jefferson should not get a NBA chance. He has clearly shown mastery at the G-League level. He is clearly a strong player for that level. It seemed logical that at this point he would take the gamble on himself and go for a real opportunity at minutes.
Jefferson simply is not going to get that in Orlando.
Perhaps Jefferson went for the security that comes with a two-way contract. He gets an inflated salary over the typical G-League salary and the chance to latch on with a NBA team, even if there is no guarantee for minutes. Perhaps Jefferson simply prefers to stay in the United States and this is his only way of doing so.
No one should argue with Jefferson’s decision or why he opted to stay with the Lakeland Magic (essentially). If that was the best deal he felt he could get, that was the best deal for him.
But this season seems like it will likely play out the same way as last year’s season for Jefferson.
He will likely be the best player for the Lakeland Magic, putting up big numbers at the G-League level. When the Magic do call him up, he will be a practice darling and someone who works hard and gives the team what they want behind the scenes. But he is not likely to see meaningful minutes for the Orlando Magic.
It is not much different for Jefferson. There is not any hint his game has taken the steps it needs to — namely his ability to extend out to the 3-point line — to make a dent in the NBA. Not with the Magic.
Orlando seems content to use its two-way contracts to bolster the Lakeland Magic rather than as a development tool for the main roster.
The Orlando Magic added a few more signings right before camp to help boost their training camp players and eventually the Lakeland Magic.
Isaac Humphries has had a solid career in the G-League and the NBL in Australia. He was the rookie of the year in Australia in 2018. He eventually made his way to the G-League where he suited up for the Erie BayHawks.
He averaged 11.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per game in 21.8 minutes per game for the BayHawks last year. He got a five-game stint with the Atlanta Hawks late in the season, scoring 15 total points.
Humphries is a bit more like the new-wave of centers. The 7-foot center is not afraid to step out and shoot 3-pointers.
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He also has the size to battle on the glass. But he is not a strong rebounder and not much of a defender. He does not have great mobility. Humphries can block shots when he establishes position, but he is not coming out of his area to block shots.
In that way, Humphries is an interesting player that could merit some future development. He is not going to challenge the Magic’s current crop of centers. And he probably looks like a good complement to Jefferson at the G-League level with Lakeland.
Humphries can hang on the perimeter and allow Jefferson to work the interior on offense. While Humphries can be a decent roadblock in the paint to give Lakeland a solid interior duo.
Humphries’ NBA prospects are still a bit unknown. He is clearly knocking on the door and got a decent look at minutes with the Hawks last year. The Magic are going to give him another look here.
But with Jefferson in the fold on a two-way contract, it seems unlikely the Magic are going to give him his real NBA chance.
For both Humphries and Jefferson, they are still working to prove their place in the NBA. Another year in the G-League seems like the remedy for that at the moment.
Jefferson should already be graduated from that level. He has proven all he can there. Humphries can still get some lessons from there and have the chance to latch on with another team with a good showing.
Neither are likely to find their ultimate home with the Magic outside of the G-League.