Wesley Iwundu will be a big key for the Orlando Magic

Wesley Iwundu stepped into the starting lineup and helped the Orlando Magic withstand another injury. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
Wesley Iwundu stepped into the starting lineup and helped the Orlando Magic withstand another injury. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images) /

Every time the Orlando Magic have needed a player to fill in, they have turned to Wesley Iwundu. When games resume, they will turn to him again.

The Orlando Magic have released about a minute’s worth of video from their practices for local television stations to use and to share on social media. They have been fairly tame and not at all a representation of the full two-hour session the players are going through.

Fans have noted they have seen very little of Mohamed Bamba at work. Even the other starters get maybe a clip in each one. There is a lot of Khem Birch, it seems. And a bit of Wesley Iwundu.

Who knows what this is representative of. The reports from coach Steve Clifford and players at practice is that things are going well. Clifford said the team is ahead of where he thought they would be.

But there is still a lot more work to do before the games begin. Nobody is quite sure whether the team is ready for games. They will find out exactly where they are next Wednesday when the team plays its first scrimmage.

But one thing that is abundantly clear is that depth is going to matter a lot. Teams are not going to be able to play their starters their full minutes. They are going to have to find players to step up throughout their roster.

Focus is rightly on the Magic’s starters and the potential they have. It is rightly too on Bamba, whose noticeable weight gain could give him a bigger role.

But this reality is probably going to make Wesley Iwundu a whole lot more important than he otherwise would have been. His role and his importance will certainly expand once the season begins.

It must. And Iwundu has to step up and play a larger role if the Magic are going to succeed.

Steve Clifford’s utility infielder

Steve Clifford has largely used Wesley Iwundu as something of a utility player throughout the season.

Iwundu has sometimes struggled to find minutes in Clifford’s preferred nine-man rotation. But whenever someone is out with an injury or he has minutes he needs to fill, Iwundu has been a guy Clifford has not hesitated to use.

This season, Iwundu is averaging 5.3 points per game and shooting a 45.1-percent effective field goal percentage. It is not the most impressive stat line.

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But a lot of that is because his minutes have been so inconsistent this year. He has played in just 45 games this year. He played in more than 15 minutes in only 32 of those games. The Magic have been hesitant to use him then when they do not have the minutes to give him extended time on the floor.

Iwundu has been deployed more as a guy Clifford can trust to jump into the lineup when he needs him. That does not mean opportunity has been easy. The team went out and acquired James Ennis even with Wesley Iwundu already on the roster. That kept Iwundu in that 10th man role.

Iwundu’s lack of shooting ability still likely keeps him from taking a bigger role in the rotation. But Iwundu’s defense and versatility still make him a useful player. One the team has consistently turned to at key moments.

The Magic used Iwundu extensively during the team’s Playoff run last year. And he delivered, averaging a mere 5.5 points per game but shooting 43.9 percent from beyond the arc in 19.8 minutes per game. His spark was a big part of the team’s surge. He fills in gaps, especially defensively and in transition, the team needs.

But Iwundu has struggled to get those kinds of minutes this year or expand his role.

Time on the court

The problem for Wesley Iwundu has simply been the inability to get time on the court. Iwundu is consistently the man Steve Clifford squeezed out of the rotation to maintain a nine-man unit. To Clifford’s defense, he is right that players need consistent playing time to get a rhythm and be effective.

That line of thinking is going to have to change once the team resumes the season in the campus setting. Clifford has already admitted it will be difficult to run a nine-man rotation when the season resumes.

It will be difficult to run the starters through their normal minutes even after nearly four months off. Even more than a week into practice, Clifford said players are nowhere near where they would be for a regular training camp. He predicts the basketball is going to be rough in the early going of this restart.

That will open up room for Iwundu to get minutes.

It will make Iwundu even more important to fill in those minutes. As much as, if not more, than anyone, the Magic will need Iwundu to step up.

Iwundu is the 10th man in the nine-man rotation. And every time the Magic have needed someone to fill in a spot in the rotation, Iwundu has been the guy Clifford has turned to time and time again.

Insurance plans

One thought that has filled a lot of time throughout the early practices is the concern over injuries and keeping everyone healthy. A lot of the focus has been on managing players and making sure they get through these early practices without significant wear and tear.

All they can report right now is general soreness. That is to be expected.

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But this concern will not go away any time soon. Nobody knows how players will react to playing real games when they begin. And the games will come fast and furious. That is eight games in 15 days — a day between each game and one back-to-back.

So on top of everyone having to work to get in shape, they will also be playing an extremely compressed schedule. Depth is going to matter a lot. Starters likely will not be able to play their full minutes, especially at the start.

And that should give Wesley Iwundu the minutes and the time he otherwise would not have gotten. The kind of time he struggled to carve out throughout the course of the season.

To be sure then, the Magic need Iwundu to play a major role for the team.

That will mean Iwundu has to be a more effective shooter. That means shooting better than the 31.6-percent he is hitting from beyond the arc.

It means the team will need his disciplined and energetic defense. Iwundu is a strong defender when he is locked in, but he can get caught out of position sometimes going for steals.

They will need Iwundu to continue being effective in transition, both as a passer pushing the ball up the floor and as a slasher trying to find lanes to the rim. This is where he is most effective on offense as he has a good sense of when to take a hard cut to the basket.

The Magic have counted on all of that when they have needed it throughout the season. Iwundu has been a security blanket, someone they have been able to turn to and provide quality minutes at a moment’s notice.

That role for Iwundu will inevitably expand with the team entering the campus setting and these rushed seeding games. They will need Iwundu to fill in these minutes as he has throughout the season.

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Undoubtedly, Iwundu will become a very important player for the Magic as they try to manage these seeding games.