Orlando Magic are hoping to find more in Dwayne Bacon than meets the eye

Dwayne Bacon’s stats hardly impress. But the Orlando Magic are hoping they can fish out a solid driver and scorer to fill out their bench.

When it came to the Orlando Magic’s offseason, there was not a whole lot to get excited about. The team’s biggest acquisitions were rookies taken in the middle of the first round the last two years.

Other than that, this will be virtually the same team that played last year. Those two young players will have roles for the team. But rookies are notoriously difficult to project and count on. Even if they hit.

The other category of acquisition the Magic made are players coming back from injury. Chuma Okeke fits into both buckets. Al-Farouq Aminu made only an 18-game cameo last season.

This team will feel familiar even if there are a few changes coming off the bench. The Magic are going to count on the same starting lineup that carried the team to the end of last season.

There was one new addition, however. A change that may turn out to be largely inconsequential. But one that could still give the Magic value where they least expect it.

Orlando signed fourth-year wing Dwayne Bacon to a minimum contract to fill out minutes at the end of the bench.

It was a sign the team was looking for more veteran experience to fill out their roster, anticipating a rushed training camp and perhaps the need to count on all 15 players on the roster at some point this season. Dwayne Bacon’s experience — particularly with coach Steve Clifford — is probably the biggest thing that attracted him to the Magic.

Bacon did not have a strong 2020 season. Still, there are more behind these numbers. And like with Michael Carter-Williams, the Magic seem to be hoping familiarity will help Dwayne Bacon unlock something.

The only difference, of course, Carter-Williams had proven he could do a lot more in the NBA prior to jumping in with the Magic. Bacon has a lot to prove.

He averaged only 5.7 points per game on a 38.7-percent effective field goal percentage in 17.6 minutes per game across 39 games (including 11 starts). Those numbers are not screaming that he should sign with the Magic, let alone remain in the NBA.

Muddying the picture further is his G-League performance. He averaged 31.8 points per game with a 51.3-percent effective field goal percentage in eight games. That included a 50-point game for the Greensboro Swarm.

Bacon is a year removed from a pretty solid season with the Hornets. He averaged 7.3 points per game on a 54.9-percent effective field goal percentage in 17.7 minutes per game across 43 games in 2019.

Essentially, the numbers tell us that Bacon’s sample sizes are too small to say much of anything about him. He could be a 40-percent 3-point shooter this year or he could be a sub-30-percent 3-point shooter like he was in 2018 and in 2020.

His free throw percentage does not even reveal much of anything — it was at 80.0-percent his rookie year and 66.0-percent last year. Again, all this is on extremely small sample sizes.

In his sophomore year at Florida State in 2017, he averaged 17.2 points per game and shot a 51.0-percent effective field goal percentage. He was a 33.3-percent 3-point shooter and a 75.4-percent free-throw shooter in his final year in college.

During the 2020 season, Bacon averaged 17.1 points per game with a 54.2-percent effective field goal percentage in seven games he played 25 or more minutes. In the 14 games that he played 20 or more minutes, Bacon averaged 11.3 points per game with a 45.4-percent effective field goal percentage in 14 games he played 20 or more minutes.

These are still extremely small samples. They say something but do not paint the entire picture for Bacon. It shows what he can do with opportunity, but little else. Or even if opportunity alone can wring out consistent production from him.

It is safe to assume his NBA numbers do not quite reflect his ability. He just has not been on the floor enough. Bacon can score. He knows how to put the ball in the basket.

Clifford should certainly know that from watching over him his rookie year. The question is whether he can find those gaps for the Magic.

Still, there are plenty of tendencies the Magic can look at and build upon.

Bacon can work in isolation and get his own shot. According to statistics from Basketball Index, Bacon averaged 1.7 isolations per 75 possessions. But he was still largely not effective at this. He shot a 38.5-percent effective field goal percentage off his isolation attempts.

Bacon has the strength and size to attack and absorb contact, he is effective at getting to the foul line. But Bacon’s drives largely end up with wild shots or tough fadeaways. He is simply not effective enough to play this way.

This is a fairly typical attack for Bacon. He gets repelled in the first attempt to get into the paint. And then is able to create space to get his jumper off. But it is still a fairly difficult jumper to take.

His eyes are always on the basket. He certainly has a scorer’s mentality at all times.

What makes matters worse is that when Bacon gets the idea of going to the basket, he is going to the basket. Bacon is not much of a passer or creator off his drives, although he can create some assists with the defense shifting to deter drives to the basket.

But there are still hints of success there.

Bacon can get to the rim and draw contact around the basket. That is a skill the Magic simply do not have on their roster. Even if they need it just for simulation in practice, Bacon can make a home in the paint.

Here Bacon has a nice drive against a bigger defender. He is able to get to the right side of the rim, hang long enough to draw the contact and still put up a shot to go with the foul. Bacon’s size and build allow him to absorb contact effectively.

While Bacon is a solid driver, teams still largely leave him open on the perimeter too.

His openness ratings are similar to plenty of other Magic players. Defenses essentially ignore Bacon on the perimeter and dare him to shoot.

Perhaps where Bacon really has value is with his defense. The same strength that could make him a more effective driver, he uses to be a strong defender.

Teams do not hunt him out in isolations, and he is solid at picking up steals and disrupting the man in front of him.

Bacon’s size makes it difficult for opponents to get by when he is able to size someone up one on one. And he still has the speed and hand-eye coordination to deflect passes and get into passing lanes.

His strength is a skill too as he has plenty of instances where he sneaks over from the weak side and strips the ball from unsuspecting players.

But most of the players he defended last year were shooters. That means his defense is predicated on getting around screens and sticking to the 3-point line. Both areas he rated out well according to Basketball Index.

If Bacon has the potential to make an impact anywhere, it is on defense.

The Magic have always favored those kinds of players for the end of their bench. And in that sense, if Bacon is truly the 15th man, he is an upgrade over Melvin Frazier because he seems to have an already-proven NBA skill.

At the end of the day though, the Magic are expecting Bacon to come in and fill out that roster spot. They can turn to him for games if they need him, but likely they are hoping he adds to the competition in practice.

If the Magic are using him significantly, that probably means something went wrong elsewhere on the roster.

Still, Bacon will be ready if the Magic need to call on him.