Orlando Magic should prioritize small forward in offseason

Orlando Magic forward James Ennis held his own in the playoffs, but ultimately could not provide enough offense to make a difference. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Orlando Magic forward James Ennis held his own in the playoffs, but ultimately could not provide enough offense to make a difference. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic were left short at small forward when the Playoffs began. As they rebuild their roster for 2021, this is where the focus should be.

The Orlando Magic need help at small forward next season.

The team returned to the playoffs for a second straight year and again avoided getting swept in the first round. But thanks to accruing too many injuries at the most inopportune time, they lost in five games to the Milwaukee Bucks.

No shame in losing to the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference and the entire league from the regular season.

One of the biggest reasons for the loss besides the talent disparity is how injuries negatively affected their ability to have a balanced scoring attack. Outside of veteran center Nikola Vucevic, who had a monster series, who else was there to carry the load? Unfortunately, he was their only consistent scoring threat in a series against an extremely stifling defense.

The biggest concern is that they did not get enough production on offense. The team could not find enough outside shooting, the consistent variety on offense or playmaking and creation for others.

It is no wonder ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy made the observation about how limited offensively the Magic were in the bubble come playoff time. In fact, they were second-worst among the playoff teams in offensive rating.

Perimeter liabilities

This was obviously an incomplete roster. Both Al-Farouq Aminu and Jonathan Isaac were out of the lineup for much of the season and during the playoffs. Aaron Gordon‘s absence further dug into the team’s depth.

But the Orlando Magic were desperate for perimeter help. They acquired James Ennis for a heavily protected second-round pick at the trade deadline. He was serviceable but hardly a long-term solution despite his solid defense and stability on offense.

The Magic had three main liabilities on offense once the playoffs began — and they all point to a definite need on the perimeter for the team to address.

Evan Fournier, who has struggled in consecutive years in the playoffs, particularly with outside shooting. Evan Fournier was one of the Magic’s most consistent scorers and the one reliable outside shooter in the starting lineup throughout the season. But he was never quite right when the season resumed.

James Ennis, who was recently acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers and was forced to start at small forward as a result of the Jonathan Issac torn ACL injury. He got himself ejected from Game 3 and struggled mightily in Game 5, missing costly shots, committing momentum-changing turnovers and rueful fouls.

Gary Clark became a key offensive cog. His four 3-pointers helped key the Game 1 victory and his four 3-pointers in Game 4 helped the Magic make that a game entering the fourth quarter. But he was still far too inconsistent as a shooter to make much of an impact. He only made one-third of his shots in the series.

Ultimately, the Bucks were fine letting him shoot, betting that he would miss far more than he made even if there was one game where he caught fire.

Quite simply, the Magic did not have enough offensive weapons to compete in a playoff series with the best regular-season team in the league.

Down at small forward

How the Orlando Magic treat this position and treat these needs in the offseason will be difficult. Orlando will get some reinforcement already on the roster though.

Aaron Gordon will be back at full strength next season with what looks like a long offseason before a potential start to the season in January or February 2021. The Magic will also have rookie Chuma Okeke back after he finishes his recovery from a torn ACL that cost him his true rookie year.

With Aminu also returning from a torn meniscus too, the Magic are suddenly fairly well stocked with versatile forwards to split the minutes between those two spots.

That may not fully solve the Magic’s offensive issues. Gordon is a decent scorer and an improving playmaker, but he does not have a lot of shooting gravity, especially after shooting just 30.8-percent from deep in 2020.

Evan Fournier is likely to return next season as starting shooting guard and hopefully will retain the shooting touch that he had for much of the regular season last season. Not to mention, he would once again be in a contract year if he does opt back in, so he needs to have a good regular season and hopefully postseason to secure that bag beyond 2021.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The real issue then will again be at small forward. While the Magic had some success with James Ennis in the starting lineup, he is not a long-term solution. And he should not be the starter if the Magic are serious about competing for a third straight playoff berth and serious about doing more damage in the playoffs.

Wesley Iwundu is not capable of starting next season for Orlando and the Magic opted to bring in James Ennis rather than fill him into that role.

Terrence Ross is strictly the sixth man and that is the role he embraces as one of the best in the game. Issac is out all of next season. Unless you want to draft a day-1 starter at small forward that was a non-lottery pick, the Magic will have to think outside the box, especially considering how little financial flexibility they will have this season.

Offseason options

The Orlando Magic will have to be smart and economical as they pick which free agents they want to spend on. After all, they will have virtually only their nontaxpayer mid-level exception (roughly $9 million per year) to spend.

The Magic are not likely looking to tie up any more long-term money. And they will have a trade period to add to the roster too.

But with Isaac out and the team still likely hoping to make a playoff run (at least as currently constructed), they will need as much help as they can get.

If the team wants to make a big splash and add the kind of scoring they need to take the next step, they are probably not going to find a better option than Portland Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony in this free-agent market.

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  • Anthony is a household name who has redeemed himself this season, averaging 15.4 points per game while shooting a 48.5-percent effective field goal percentage, including 38.5 percent form beyond the arc.

    He is a more feasible option than likely trade candidates and is easily one of the better options in free agency that also makes sense for this team and its timeline. The Magic, after all, are merely keeping that spot warm for a year for Isaac.

    It is pragmatic to try to look at potential trade candidates, such as Tobias Harris or Andrew Wiggins. But free agency is a cheaper, less risky alternative. And those two players, along with fan-favorite Zach LaVine, all come on longer-term contracts and much steeper salaries.

    Anthony certainly could look to take on more of a primary role. But this season really helped save his career. He embraced his role this season as a third and oftentimes fourth scoring option. He was efficient and unselfish on the offensive end and silenced critics who said he is washed up with nothing to contribute on a playoff team. He even improved his defensive game while in Rip City.

    Carmelo Anthony is already 36 years old so you do not have to make a long-term investment in him. Besides that, he can likely be had on the cheap due to the fact that he was amenable to taking the veteran’s minimum with Portland.

    There are some other viable options at small forward in free agency, such as Glenn Robinson III, Maurice Harkless and Jae Crowder. But none are the offensive threat that Anthony is.

    While Anthony is definitely willing to stay in Portland and seemed happy there, would he really turn down an opportunity for an even big role in a less competitive Eastern Conference? Is the front office in Portland even that keen on bringing him back?

    Orlando needs a scorer and Anthony can definitely fill that void.

    That certainly would be thinking a bit outside the box and would be a major play to stay relevant and competitive in the 2021 season. The Magic have made it clear they believe competing for the playoffs is the best way for a young team to grow.

    It is not likely, barring any changes this offseason, the Magic will be bad enough to slip deep into the Lottery. But if they want to stay competitive, they need to find scoring.

    Next. Orlando Magic cannot stand still, but still need patience. dark

    This idea is as good as any other to solve that problem for 2021.