Orlando Magic’s patience will pay off if they keep it

Struggles early in the year could have led the Orlando Magic to give up on young players like Aaron Gordon and Mo Bamba. But they have progressed and paid dividends for the Magic. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Struggles early in the year could have led the Orlando Magic to give up on young players like Aaron Gordon and Mo Bamba. But they have progressed and paid dividends for the Magic. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic have a lot of big questions about their young players. But their patience will pay off if they can keep the faith in them.

The rumors are still trickling out regarding the Orlando Magic and Aaron Gordon.

Ian Begley of SNY reported the Magic were among the teams that at least inquired about Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie, leading to speculation that Aaron Gordon was the likely player the Orlando Magic would have to offer. There was some reporting the Indiana Pacers might have had some discussions about Gordon. And Sean Deveney of Heavy reported the Magic surveyed the market for Gordon at the trade deadline before deciding to keep him.

As Magic executives explained, the team is essentially down a position with both Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu out with injury. It would have been hard to trade Gordon.

But with his struggles and his inconsistency this season, it was easy to begin testing the market. It was easy to start looking around and let eyes wonder.

They may still yet wonder. The Magic have some major questions to answer about their future in the offseason. The team probably understood it would be fighting for playoff scraps yet again, but it probably figured it would get to that point in a different way.

This is a season that has not gone to plan and has plotted an uncertain path forward.

But there is one thing this front office has shown throughout its three-year tenure: a measure of patience. They have been cautious and patient with young players going through their development. They have taken their time to build a better environment for young players to grow.

The Magic, for all their success in making the playoffs, are still a young team. D.J. Augustin (32), James Ennis (29), Al-Farouq Aminu (29) and Nikola Vucevic (29) are the oldest players on the team. Everyone else — and especially the Magic’s key players — are still incredibly young. They are still mapping their way through the league.

The Magic rightfully are exploring every option to improve their team. They cannot stand still even if internal improvement — or the hope for it — is their path forward. They are a playoff team and they want to be more than just a playoff team.

But patience is still the word of the day with so many young players.

Coach Steve Clifford constantly talks about how his goal for young players is to be better as the season closes than they were at the beginning. For young players, this growth is always most apparent.

The Magic’s patience is paying off. They are seeing several players that seemed lost earlier this season make some significant process and change some of the calculus for them and their futures.

It is a reminder that nobody can be a slave to the moment. And things click for different players at different times. Sometimes it is the move you do not make that matters.

Gordon has had an extremely difficult season this year. Injuries slowed him down early in the season and he did not make the leap many expected for him to flirt with stardom. His appearance in the Dunk Contest was a return to his past, not a symbol of his future.

Gordon struggled to find his way in an offense that had slowed down unbearably. Some of it was Gordon trying to do too much and some of it was the team misusing him. Either way, he was not performing to his standards.

Things have changed in recent weeks, highlighted by his triple-double in Friday’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

In Gordon’s last 19 games, he is averaging 16.3 points per game, 7.6 rebounds per game and 4.9 assists per game while shooting 46.0 percent from the floor and 38.0 percent from beyond the arc. His last 11 games, Gordon is averaging 18.1 points per game, 9.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game while shooting 48.3 percent from the floor and 37.0 percent from beyond the arc.

These are small sample sizes, but the versatility is undeniable. This is the kind of player the Magic envisioned for him. He is someone who can do a whole bunch of different things. And he seems to be figuring out his versatility.

The timeline certainly did not come as everyone expected. Everyone thought Gordon would take this leap much earlier and be what propels the Magic forward. But Gordon is seemingly putting some things together.

The same could be said for Mohamed Bamba.

The second-year center has very modest statistics — 5.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. But his block rate is high, averaging 1.5 blocks per game in 14.8 minutes per game. Mohamed Bamba’s 9.1 percent block rate is among the very best in the league.

In the last 15 games, the Magic have a +4.9 net rating. Only D.J. Augustin is better. In that span, Bamba is averaging 7.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. More importantly, he is shooting 58.1 percent from the floor and 54.5 percent from beyond the arc.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

He has made a fairly significant turn to where he is largely playing positive basketball and contributing to the team. Especially as the defense has faltered, fans have gotten plenty itchy to see Bamba more. His 13.3 minutes per game still feel incredibly small for a player that has done well in the lineup groups he has played with.

Regardless of how many minutes Bamba should be playing, his progress has been undeniable. It has been a slow and steady step up for the young big man.

And it is this long-term perspective that matters for this Magic team. Their patience and faith in their development program have started to produce dividends this year. Their young players — and Jonathan Isaac and even someone like Wesley Iwundu should be included — have made progress.

Has it been as fast as the team needs it this year? Probably not.

Orlando relied on Gordon heavily to take a leap offensively and it took him a bit longer to piece things together. There are still questions about whether he can be consistent with this new versatile playstyle he has shown recently.

But development can be a long process. And as long as the team has faith and the player puts in the work, they will make progress.

These players have made progress.

The Magic were right to check the market on a player like Gordon — he remains their most tradeable asset and the team is interested in short-term results and making the playoffs. But they were also right to wait on him and keep the faith in him. Gordon has found his way lately and mapped out a new way forward.

As with all things, the important thing for any young player or young team is to have a way forward.

There are still questions for both Gordon and Bamba and for the team at large. Some of the answers to those questions may conflict and may force difficult choices. Everything is more food for thought for a franchise still mapping out its full future.

Next. Orlando Magic are different with this Aaron Gordon. dark

But the Magic’s patience will ultimately pay off. Their faith in these players is already paying dividends as they make their playoff chase.