Orlando Magic have created uncertainty for Wesley Iwundu

Wesley Iwundu has made a positive impact when he finds his way ontot he floor for the Orlando Magic. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)
Wesley Iwundu has made a positive impact when he finds his way ontot he floor for the Orlando Magic. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images) /

Wesley Iwundu struggled to get off the bench for the Orlando Magic this year. When he has, Iwundu has made a positive impact. That makes his future cloudy.

In the dark reaches of Orlando Magic Twitter on certain nights, one question has often come up as much as any other.

Outside of asking why Mohamed Bamba is playing so few minutes, many Magic fans will ask: Where is Wesley Iwundu?

This is a fair question. The former second-round pick proved to be a vital part of the Magic’s playoff run. He showed tremendous growth as an individual defender and as an outside shooter. He was reliable and not someone who was going to do too much. He would always play within his role.

There was little to complain about with Wesley Iwundu. And he was playing exceptionally well too. At least when he got consistent minutes.

So the question was always where is Iwundu? Why is he not playing more?

The bigger question now that the season is almost over — and on hiatus following the coronavirus outbreak — what does the future hold for Iwundu?

The tables have to get turned a bit. Does Iwundu fit into the Magic’s future? Or does Iwundu want to be part of a team with a crowded lineup at his position and skill set?

The Magic have needed Iwundu for sure. But they have not always used him. And so it seems this summer could be a breaking point for a quiet, but important player for the Magic.

Iwundu is slated to become a restricted free agent this offseason. So the choice is not entirely his. The Magic will retain the ability to match any contract offer he receives.

But there are several factors — from his lack of clear playing time to the expected decrease in the salary cap — that could ultimately lead the two sides to part.

It would be a big loss for the Magic if he does so. Iwundu has proven to be everything the Magic hoped for when they drafted him.

The Ultimate Utility Player

Iwundu’s averages are nothing special to look at. He is averaging 5.3 points per game on a 45.1-percent effective field goal percentage in 18.0 minutes per game across 45 games. He was at least on track to play the same 68 games he played last year.

But his role was far different.

Last year, Wesley Iwundu only had to beat a struggling Jonathon Simmons to get minutes. Once he did, he took off and owned the role as an energetic defender and decent outside shooter. He made 36.7 percent of his 3-pointers last year, a marked step up and a sign of his improvement.

This year has seen Iwundu’s minutes be far more inconsistent. He was buried on the depth chart behind Al-Farouq Aminu, Jonathan Isaac and Michael Carter-Williams. There was a difficulty in getting him consistent minutes.

Coach Steve Clifford admitted several times that finding minutes for the young forward was always going to be tough. With the addition of Al-Farouq Aminu into the rotation, he got squeezed out of the rotation. Then the team added James Ennis to the rotation and again Wesley Iwundu went to the bench.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Iwundu essentially became the Magic’s security blanket. He was someone Clifford had a lot of trust in but actually could not find minutes on the floor. He was good enough to keep around but not good enough to carve out his role consistently.

That is probably an oversimplified and unfair description.

When Iwundu has gotten consistent minutes, he has played exceptionally well.

From Dec. 23 to Jan. 27, Iwundu went 19 games of playing at least 15 minutes. He averaged 6.5 points per game and shot 40.5 percent from deep in 22.1 minutes per game (and seven starts).

The consistent minutes helped him find his shot and he provided solid defense during that time — the Magic had a 100.2 defensive rating with Iwundu on the court during that initial stretch.

But then he went back to inconsistent minutes yet again. He still had a few games with increased minutes, especially heading toward the trade deadline, but they were hardly as sustained as that period.

Since Evan Fournier went down with his elbow injury the last three games before the NBA’s hiatus, Wesley Iwundu was again stepping up. He averaged 8.0 points per game hitting 60.0 percent of his field goals (although just 25.0 percent of his 3-pointers). The Magic had a team-best 96.7 defensive rating with Iwundu on the floor the last three games.

With the league currently in hiatus as the nation and world deal with the coronavirus pandemic, it is safe to assume Evan Fournier will recover and be back in the starting lineup when play resumes. Iwundu’s minutes will quickly evaporate despite his solid play.

It is not as easy as throwing Iwundu in there too.

Searching for Time

Clifford repeatedly said it would always take time for Iwundu to get into a rhythm. He held him back because Clifford believes each player in the rotation needs a full stint to get themselves going. It is better to play one player 15 than to paly two players seven each.

Everyone in the rotation deserves that time. That philosophy left Iwundu out of the rotation.

To Iwundu’s credit, every time he was called upon he proved himself ready. Not only ready, but Iwundu also proved himself valuable and a positive contributor to the team. It feels very disappointing Iwundu could not get more time.

Iwundu, the Magic’s second-round pick in 2017, was part of the ideal for the team. He was a long and athletic player who had defensive proclivities and an improving jumper. The Magic have taken plenty of flyers on guys like him.

Throughout his three years, he has stepped up when called upon. The Magic have been saved on several occasions with Iwundu’s energy. The Magic needed him on several occasions. And his depth is valuable. He has improved his offensive game to be a reliable outside shooter — although defenses will still dare him to shoot.

But the business of this league and the dynamics of this team are going to force a really difficult choice.

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  • Orlando is going to be capped out next summer — especially considering the expected decrease in the salary cap from the loss of revenue this season. The team cannot pay everyone and it has to make room to add new players where it can. Finding value players are going to be more important.

    Adding more pressure to Wesley Iwundu perhaps is the presence of 2018 second-round pick Melvin Frazier. He was drafted with the same idea as Iwundu — a lengthy, athletic wing with an improving jumper.

    Melvin Frazier has spent two seasons not playing. He has not gotten any meaningful minutes in the NBA, spending most of this season in the G-League. He averaged 18.1 points per game on 50.0-percent shooting (33.3 percent from beyond the arc) with the Lakeland Magic this year.

    Frazier may not be the answer either. But for a Magic team with limited cap options, he is someone who is worth a try. Especially if the Magic continue to find it difficult to fit Iwundu into the rotation and do not want to commit too much to retain him.

    The season has proven that Iwundu is a good player and a rotation-caliber player, at least for this team. Iwundu has earned the right to test the market and find a deal that can promise him more playing time.

    Yet, the Magic always need a utility player. They always need a versatile security blanket like Iwundu. He is reliable that he can be called upon at a moment’s notice and provide a positive impact.

    Next. Orlando Magic have a chance to optimize Evan Fournier. dark

    Even with the Magic struggling to get him the playing time he needs to shine and really show his improvements, Iwundu has still made a positive impact. And that will put the Magic in a bind whenever the offseason starts.