Gary Clark joined the Orlando Magic last year and immediately began firing away from three. The difference he can make as a stretch-4 will be vital.
When the Orlando Magic exited their season last year, they were a broken team. Injuries had consumed the roster, leaving a roster that was merely a shell of itself for the Playoffs.
Nikola Vucevic did his best to carry the team through it, stealing Game 1 and putting in one of the best individual playoff series in team history. But it was nowhere near enough against the Milwaukee Bucks juggernaut.
The Magic simply did not have enough talent to make it through the postseason or to remain competitive enough to steal more than one game.
Would the Magic have fared better with a fully healthy complement? Inside the bubble and with how poorly the Bucks were playing — not to mention with their attention rightfully thinking about their home community and the protests that galvanized the area — it is not impossible to think the Magic would have hung around a bit tougher.
Coach Steve Clifford was certainly more optimistic about his team’s playoff performance in 2020 than in 2019. The hope as the Magic enter the 2021 season is that they learned something from the experience.
The obvious answer, of course, is the Magic’s dramatic need for more shooting. That was plain to see well before the team began the postseason.
And it was plainly evident in how the Magic won and competed in the postseason. The two games the Magic truly competed in last season can be traced back to standout performances from one unsung player — Gary Clark.
Gary Clark scored 15 points on 4-for-12 shooting, all beyond the arc, in the Magic’s Game 1 victory. Despite the poor shooting percentage (granted still a 50-percent effective field goal percentage), the surprise impact gave the Magic a huge boost.
He did the same in Game 4 when he hit 4 of 8 3-pointers for 12 points. That game came down to a poor start to the fourth quarter that gave the Bucks a double-digit lead they would not give up. Orlando did not have the players to charge back.
But the lesson from all of this seemed to be the necessity for a stretch-4 or for someone who almost exclusively shoots threes. Terrence Ross already draws the defensive attention with his motion and ability to hit off the move. But a true spot-up shooting threat would be a huge boost to a lineup full of players who want the ball in their hands.
Clark is in the same boat. He exited last year as proof of concept that 3-point shooting from the power forward spot could be a huge boost to the team. Something that could even take them over the top in many ways offensively.
With Al-Farouq Aminu out at least to start the year — Steve Clifford said he is progressing after his surgery but is still not cleared for contact — Gary Clark will once again fill in as a critical player in the Magic’s rotation. At least until Chuma Okeke, who has shown off his shooting chops during the preseason, is confident and ready to play.
Clark came to the Magic as a bit of an oversized perimeter defender. At Cincinnati in college, he was the AAC Defensive Player of the Year. He has good instincts and discipline to defend power forwards especially, but he can switch on occasion to bigger players who stay on the perimeter.
What is really keeping Clark from unlocking his opportunities in the NBA is his shooting.
Cincy on the Prowl
He is a good enough shooter to hit from the outside and get hot. But the numbers are not quite catching up to perception.
Last year with the Magic, he shot 35.0-percent on 3-pointers last season for the Magic in 24 games. That was a relatively small sample — 60 total 3-point attempts in the regular season. That 3-point field goal percentage placed him third among Magic rotation players behind only Terrence Ross and Evan Fournier.
Clark should be considered one of the Magic’s better shooters. And because he is mostly a spot-up shooter, almost all of his field-goal attempts are 3-pointers, shooting is ultimately where he gets his value.
Last year, 60 of his 74 field goal attempts with the Magic were 3-pointers (81.1 percent) and 111 of his 133 field goal attempts for the entire season (83.5 percent) were 3-pointers. Clark took just one 2-point field goal (not including any fouls) during the entire playoffs.
Clark’s role is to shoot and make 3-pointers and that will be the ultimate judge of whether his season is a success. And, at least for now, statistics suggest teams largely leave Clark open at the 3-point line — Basketball Index rates his 3-point gravity at the 39th percentile. Clark is not exactly drawing in the defense.
But that is exactly where the Magic can take advantage of Clark and his shooting ability. That is where Clark must take advantage of his skills within this Magic offense.
If Clark wants to find a more permanent place on the team — he signed a two-year contract with the Magic this offseason — it will start with his shooting and how much better of a shooter he can be.
If Clark can come in and space the floor to the corners or the break with his 3-point shooting, the Magic’s second unit will become that much more potent. With Cole Anthony joining Terrence Ross as a potential scorer in that unit, the Magic need players who will create driving and cutting lanes for them as well as an outlet when defenses collapse around them.
This is the biggest role Clark will have to fill for this team.
If Clark becomes a more consistent and better shooter, a lot of the Magic’s offensive problems in the second unit will get solved very quickly.