Orlando Magic have to trust their youth to erase deficits again

Markelle Fultz led the most clutch moment of the Orlando Magic's season in a masterful finish to upset the Los Angeles Lakers. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
Markelle Fultz led the most clutch moment of the Orlando Magic's season in a masterful finish to upset the Los Angeles Lakers. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic have not made a lot of noise after a deficit because of the lack of growth from key players in the organization. 

The Orlando Magic have struggled for the majority of the season.

Particularly, in the comeback department when it comes to Orlando having deficits in the first and second halves of games in 2020.

This is becoming a trend for this current roster, and while most fans are expecting to see comebacks as they did in 2018 and 2019, the fans in Central Florida are seeing let downs.

Part of the hallmark of last year’s Magic team was its ability to come from behind. The team had more than 10 double-digit comebacks in the fourth quarter last year. Watching Terrence Ross get hot and bring the Magic back from the dead was part of what endeared him and that team to the fan base.

Making the playoffs felt different last year because the Magic were always chasing. And, more importantly, they were able to catch the leaders and overtake them.

This year has not played out like that. The Magic struggle to make up deficits. Trailing at the end of the third quarter is almost a sure death sentence. Just as leading at the end of the third quarter has almost become a sure sign the Magic are going to win.

The Magic have led in fewer than half their games this year. They need to be able to come from behind at the end of third quarters. That will certainly be the case as they get deeper into the playoff race and begin the postseason.

A lot of that is because of the lack of development from key players on the roster the organization trusted to become stars. Stars in an improved Eastern Conference the Magic could have taken advantage of this year.

The Magic have not seen young players like Aaron Gordon, Mohamed Bamba and even Markelle Fultz take over full roles late in games. Instead, the Magic still often turn to Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross to close games. They are the ones who handle the ball and take the last shots.

Last year, Terrence Ross was the catalyst for many fourth-quarter comebacks, draining shots in a hurry early in the quarter before giving way to Evan Fournier late in games. Fournier was one of the best players late in games, scoring 1.8 points per game in 46 “clutch” games (where the opponent is five points ahead or behind in the last five minutes of a game).

This year, Fournier has dropped to 1.4 points per game on an icy 27.7 percent. He has not provided the same efficiency or punch late in games despite getting all the same opportunities.

Orlando seems determined to continue playing through him.

The comeback victories are rare this year, but in years past it was common. The Magic have been showing heart and grit in past years but not as much in now.

Back in March 2018, the Orlando Magic had a great win against the Phoenix Suns when they scored 39 points in the third quarter. The Magic beat the Suns 105-99 and Aaron Gordon scored 29 points to go with 11 rebounds and eight assists.

Gordon has been a disappointment overall this year. He is only averaging 14.4 points per game, 7.6 rebounds per game and 3.6 assists per game in his sixth year in the NBA.

Most fans in Central Florida probably want him to average at least 20 points per game at this point in his career. He is doing a decent job on the boards this year and is close to his best season rebounding when he pulled down 7.9 rebounds per game in 2018.

The only thing people know about Gordon outside of the loyal fans is that he is a high jumper and he was robbed in two dunk contest twice.

But the Magic do not turn to Gordon much late in games. He is not the player they play through. He is still someone who plays a bit role.

His game-winning basket over the Sacramento Kings, his first real big clutch jumper this year, came on a pass as he got himself into rebound position as Evan Fournier took the critical shot.

Statistically, Gordon has been the Magic’s most clutch player. He averages 1.7 points per game on 58.3-percent shooting and 46.2-percent from beyond the arc in “clutch” minutes (when the game is within five points in the final five minutes).

However, he takes only 0.9 field goal attempts per game in these situations. Fournier takes the most “clutch” shots. Gordon is fifth.

In the fourth quarter this year, Gordon is averaging just 3.0 points per game and shooting a respectable 46.1 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from deep. That scoring makes him sixth on the team — behind D.J. Augustin — along with his 2.2 field goal attempts per game in the fourth quarter.

Jonathan Isaac, who plays at a much lower usage rate when he was healthy, scores and shoots more in fourth quarters than Aaron Gordon.

His lack of production in fourth quarters is a key to why the Magic have not been able to be successful when it comes to making comeback victories.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Orlando’s offense becomes less equal late in games — as it does for most teams. And that puts the ball in Fournier’s hands more than someone like Gordon, who gets his shots mostly on ball movement and attacking the rim in transition.

Last year was different.

In 2019, the Magic scored 33 points in the fourth quarter of a back and forth game against the Golden State Warriors. Gordon scored 22 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in a 103-96 win against the Warriors. He hit a critical 3-pointer in that game that secured the Magic’s win.

The Magic have clutch players. They have made big shots this year.

No one has made bigger shots than Markelle Fultz. He has emerged as one of the best and most efficient players in the clutch in the entire league.

Whether it was his steal and slam to finish the Washington Wizards in November or his big shots to help close out the Los Angeles Lakers in January. Fultz has been at his best with the ball in his hands getting to the rim and creating for others.

In clutch situations this year, Fultz averages 1.6 points per game and 54.5-percent shooting. He trails only Gordon in his scoring late in games. Markelle Fultz trails only Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier in terms of clutch field goal attempts per game.

Fultz is quickly becoming someone they can turn to late in games.

Fultz is clearly a dynamic playmaker. Nobody gets the team playing at a quicker pace better than him. And as a team is trying to get back into the game, they need to pick up their pace and try to steal possessions.

That is what Ross helps them do with his quick-trigger shooting. Ross can bring the team back into games quickly. Especially now that he has started heating up again. He becomes a major weapon.

But if Orlando wants to complete its comeback, it needs to trust its young players more. Gordon and Fultz especially have proven themselves late as more than capable of leading their team. And with their passing and playmaking, they can create good shots for Vucevic and Fournier.

Next. Orlando Magic's defense has betrayed offensive improvement. dark

A comeback takes all the pieces coming together anyway. Orlando needs to run its late-game offense more through these players to help the team fit.