As teams begin to get back to work and prepare for the season to resume, they will all have to rely on their depth. The Orlando Magic will have to build it.
There is precious little news coming out of the Orlando Magic’s offices these days.
Players have not been made readily available to the media during the hiatus. The most contact anyone has had with the team is pre-recorded versions of Inside the Magic that aired on social media and season ticket holder calls with players to keep them engaged (and hopefully invested in the team with the possibility that there will be no fans for some of the 2021 season).
That is where we discovered Mohamed Bamba claimed he added 28 pounds in (mostly) muscle during the hiatus. That news was potentially exciting as the team starts to gear up for the return of the regular season.
But otherwise, the Magic are seemingly beginning to ramp up in relative quiet.
Aside from the Mohamed Bamba revelation and Jonathan Isaac telling media at a community service event that he was starting to run on the Alter-G machine again, it is hard to tell where the Magic stand.
They, like the rest of the league, are in a holding pattern. Players are back in almost every training facility and starting to get back to more formal workouts and basketball skill work. But everyone is waiting for word on how the season will resume.
That decision is likely coming in the next few weeks. With other leagues — in the U.S. the NHL is the latest league to announce its return to play plan and internationally the Premier League and Serie A have announced their returns — starting to make moves to resume their seasons, the NBA cannot be too far behind.
Players know they can expect training camp to begin again in the next month — the NBA likely will allow informal small group workouts for a few weeks beforehand — with an aim of restarting the season in mid- or late-July.
Whether the league goes with some abbreviated regular season to finish things off or goes to some type of play-in or group-play tournament, every team should be preparing for one truth — depth is going to win the 2020 NBA championship.
The teams that find success are the teams that are going to be able to go deep into their bench.
Realities of a restarted season
This is just a physical reality. Players have lost a lot of conditioning and muscle elasticity that they gain through the course of the season. It will be nearly impossible to ask starters to play nearly 40 minutes or more than 35 minutes per game and physically make it through the rest of the season.
It is not clear what the schedule will look like when the NBA returns. The league probably will still try to avoid using back-to-backs or three games in four nights, but it could very well try some condensed schedule. Teams and players will not have their normal recovery time.
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And this is on top of needing to get reconditioned to the grind of a NBA season and games.
At least for the completion of the regular season or early rounds of the postseason, teams are going to need to rely on their depth to supplement their teams as everyone gets back into shape. The teams to bet on are the teams with good depth — like the LA Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers at the top and sneakily the Washington Wizards, San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA’s middle.
The good news, at least, is that every team is going to have to go through this process. Everyone is on the same footing (virtually, some teams have an advantage depending on when their facilities reopened).
The teams that can more readily rely on their bench are the teams that are probably going to have an edge early on in the postseason. If there is any potential for an upset in the early rounds of the season, it will be from the teams who can rely on their depth.
The Orlando Magic’s bench
The Orlando Magic have boasted some about their depth. Coach Steve Clifford has a long list of players he can rely on to fill minutes. But the Magic are still a pretty starter-heavy team when it comes to point production.
Orlando’s bench ranks 18th in the league in bench efficiency, according to HoopsStats. Despite improved efficiency and Terrence Ross‘ sudden outburst, it still ranked 18th after the All-Star Break.
That makes sense.
While the team certainly has strong defenders off the bench in Wesley Iwundu, Khem Birch and Michael Carter-Williams, there is still little offensive punch outside of Terrence Ross. Ross is essentially playing starters’ minutes at 27.3 per game.
Still, surprisingly, Orlando is a team that relies on its bench to some extent. Clifford does a good job interspersing his starters throughout the game to make sure there is some offensive balance and punch. That is partly a necessity of the roster he is dealing with.
Only three players on the team average more than 30 minutes per game this season — it was the same last year. And nobody plays more than 35 minutes per game. Clifford does not push players to play a ton of minutes until he has to but still limits himself to a nine-man rotation.
Some of that might have to change. He might have to increase minutes for reserve players and reconfigure his rotation to maintain balance. He might have to go back to an early-season rotation that features 10 players.
In that sense, the Magic should be able to play a relatively normal rotation when the season resumes. They might rely more on Terrence Ross and D.J. Augustin than they normally would otherwise. But the team is going to have to fill in minutes from these players.
The Magic are certainly an offensively challenged team. The lack of scoring punch off the bench and the reliance on at least one starter carrying their load offensively at all times is one of the inherent weaknesses of the team.
It helps to have a player like Ross who the team can center its offense around. The Magic have one of the best sixth men in the league in Ross. But as the team has learned this year, he can go hot and cold.
D.J. Augustin too provides some consistency. He helps get the team into its offense effectively without making too many mistakes. Orlando has guys the team can rely on to pace the team, even if the offensive options are still few.
Development to boost depth
The hiatus and reliance on depth is only going to heighten the team’s weaknesses in many ways.
That is perhaps why there was some excitement for Mohamed Bamba putting on all that muscle and strength (reportedly).
Bamba’s physicality is undoubtedly his biggest weakness still. But he was showing signs of progress in the last few games. His jumper was starting to fall with more consistency and while he still made young player defensive mistakes, he was starting to play more solidly on that end.
If the Magic return and have a reliable Bamba who can spell Nikola Vucevic for long stretches, it gives the team a huge advantage. It honestly might become a necessity for the team to have Bamba ready to contribute and play more minutes.
That all remains to be seen of course. Nobody has played contact, 5-on-5 basketball yet. That step is likely still a few weeks away.
No team has any feeling for what the season is going to look like. They have no feeling when they will be able to get back to basketball work.
But everyone needs to recognize that it will take time for everyone to get back up to speed. And that means teams are going to need to rely on their depth to get them there faster.