Gary Clark was a little-used emergency option for the Orlando Magic in the regular season. He will become a vital rotation piece with the season resuming.
As the season is gets set to resume Friday, the Orlando Magic are in a good position to make their second straight playoff berth.
With Jonathan Isaac returning and playing in good unison with Markelle Fultz, the two young playmakers looked explosive together for their short time on the floor during the team’s third and final scrimmage victory over the Denver Nuggets.
The Magic had their best scrimmage and fans were rightly buzzing over how the team looked with these two players back in the lineup. The team felt whole again, even if it was just for that brief seven-minute spurt.
But there was another critical player who showcased his talent in that game. An unlikely player who the Magic could keep their eyes on to get some extended minutes when the games go live: Gary Clark.
Gary Clark, filling in for an injured Aaron Gordon (he should be fine to play for Friday), played a game-high 35 minutes in the Nuggets scrimmage and scored a game-high 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting including 4 for 8 from beyond the arc. He scored 12 of those points, including all four 3-pointers, in a tight third quarter as the Magic’s starters put distance between them and the Nuggets.
He could feature with the Magic’s second unit and fit in with any combination of lineups featuring Michael-Carter Williams, Terrence Ross, Khem Birch and Mohamed Bamba.
Clark has been used pretty sparingly since signing with the Magic in January. He is averaging 2.5 points per game in 12.5 minutes per game in 17 appearances. The Magic signed him needing a better floor-spacer and mobile defender at power forward after Isaac’s injury — their experiment putting Birch at the 4 was not quite working out.
Clark is useful as a shooter, and when hot on a given night could give the Magic a good boost off the bench when paired with the scoring prowess of Ross in the second unit.
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That second unit struggles to score at times and relies on Ross to do the heavy lifting. Having someone like Clark who spaces the floor and supplements that scoring is vital. He showed he can score at a high clip in the Nuggets scrimmage is a good sign for the team, especially a team that has struggled to hit shots at times from any unit they have.
For his career, he averages around three points per game in around 12 minutes per game, and if he can increase those totals that would be a boon for the Magic. He should play about that many minutes as the team slowly re-integrates Isaac into the rotation and relies more heavily on the bench with players still rounding into shape.
But if he performs and hits shots, he could see an increase in his playing time. His minutes increased gradually from each of the three Magic scrimmages, so perhaps the Magic have a plan for how to use Clark in a different way.
In the Clippers game, he played 13 minutes, in the next game that increased to 21 in the Lakers game, and then the 35 in the Nuggets game with Gordon out with an injury. Clark played with both the starters and with the deep bench players in the fourth quarter of the team’s final scrimmage.
The only downside to Clark’s performance was his plus/minus for the Nuggets game which was a pedestrian -12, which was the worst on the Magic. The majority of that minus likely came in the fourth quarter when the Magic struggled to get much going offensively and gave away a double-digit lead before holding on for the win.
Clark is someone the Magic signed because of his defensive reputation — he was the AAC player of the year at Cincinnati in college — and his shooting ability. He had that all on display in his extended minutes Monday against the Nuggets.
He is someone the team trusts.
As Orlando expands its rotation and goes deeper into its bench to manage conditioning during the seeding round, the team will need contributions throughout the roster. Clark will play more than he did during the regular season — even with Isaac back in the fold.
And the Magic may not need 17 points from him like they got Monday night, but they will need him to be able to hit from the outside, help on the glass and defend.
These are the exact reasons why the team brought him in January. And exactly what the Magic hope they can get now that the season is set to resume.