The Veteran Grinders
Michael Carter-Williams – edge
Michael Carter-Williams’ career was near its end when the Chicago Bulls cut him in January 2019. He was working out in California at a gym regular people use just trying to stay in shape and hoping for a call. It was not clear if it would come.
The former Rookie of the Year had been humbled by the grind of the NBA. A league that saw value in him quickly spat him out. Injuries slowed him down, but his lack of a shot slowed any development and teams quickly discarded him.
The Magic were desperate for a third ball handler to make their playoff push. They needed someone who could jump in quickly and make an impact. And so Carter-Williams redefined his career and who he was.
He leaned harder into his length and defense. He gave the Magic an incredible edge, not afraid to mix things up and be an instigator. He was always going to be there to defend his teammates.
Carter-Williams played only 12 games to end the 2019 season, but it felt like he always belonged. And his presence became absolutely necessary to the Magic’s 2020 playoff push.
He has truly found a home here, signing a two-year deal to stay with the Magic. And Magic fans could not be happier that Carter-Williams has found his home.
Al-Farouq Aminu – defense
Orlando Magic fans have not had much of a chance to meet Al-Farouq Aminu yet. He played in only 18 games last year. And he had his worst offensive season.
Aminu has become somewhat of a sign of the Magic’s poor free agency decisions. The team had other needs to fill in last year’s free agency and Aminu’s absence was felt.
But what most Magic fans probably forget was how good he was on defense. The Magic’s defense started to turn south when Aminu went out with his injury — the team had an 100.1 defensive rating with Aminu on the floor last year. The tape also shows how strong Aminu was with his anticipation and positioning throughout the season.
Aminu has a lot to prove as he gets back onto the court — more than a year after his last game with the Magic. And he will figure to be a key part of the Magic’s defense.
James Ennis – belief in himself
James Ennis had a no-trade clause essentially written into his contract with the Philadelphia 76ers. He had a lot of control over where he went. But he had very little control over his playing time. He was not playing for the 76ers.
So when the Orlando Magic approached the Philadelphia 76ers with a trade idea to acquire Ennis, he had to evaluate his opportunity. At the end of the day, he saw an opportunity with the Magic. He believed in himself and took the chance with the Magic.
That has paid off for him. Ennis slotted in as the starting small forward and immediately brought balance to the team. The Magic’s offense quickly started to take off with other players put into better roles. And the coaching staff quickly rewarded that belief in himself by believing in him.
The Magic brought Ennis back on a two-year deal. The belief Ennis showed in himself to carve out a clear role for a playoff team more than paid off.
Khem Birch – quiet professionalism
Khem Birch is a quiet guy. No offense to him, but interviews and media availabilities can be a little rough with him. He is not the most expressive person. Birch always lets his play do the talking. That is how he prefers it.
More from Orlando Magic Daily
- 2023 Orlando Magic Playoff Lessons: Philadelphia 76ers can’t seem to avoid conflict
- 5 worst starters of the Orlando Magic’s Shaquille O’Neal era
- Orlando Magic FIBA World Cup: Franz Wagner can be a star if he takes it
- Orlando Magic are going to find out who they are in 2024
- 2024 Orlando Magic Player Outlook: Moe Wagner is the spark off of the bench
And that is actually one of the things that has made him so endearing and such a big part of the Orlando Magic. He does his work. That is how he approaches everything. When he is called upon, he is there to provide for the Magic and give them whatever they need in the moment.
Play him out of position at power forward? Birch is willing to try it. Need him to play backup center? Birch will be there for that.
Birch has largely stepped up whenever the Magic have called on him. And he has always stayed ready. That quiet professionalism is always valuable.
Gary Clark – Game 1
Every playoff victory has a hero. Sometimes that hero is exactly who you expect — the star of every team. Sometimes it needs to be someone you least expect.
Last year it was D.J. Augustin hitting the game-winning shot to defeat the Toronto Raptors. This year, it was Gary Clark.
Clark was the difference in the Orlando Magic’s Game 1 win over the Milwaukee Bucks. He hit four 3-pointers to help pace the Magic and did some incredible work to try to slow down Giannis Antetokounmpo on the other end. He had several key stops as he did his best to corral the league’s MVP.
Clark was the story of that Game 1. He hit timely shots that gave the Magic confidence throughout the game. It was not the crazy moment that Augustin had in 2019. But it should be a performance that remains legendary for Magic fans for some time to come.