The Orlando Magic have had some thrilling victories to start the season. They can thank a bench unit that has come together quickly and given a boost.
The Magic are third in the NBA in bench points at 44.2 per game, according to StatMuse. This is an improvement on last season’s 38.2, which ranked 12th in the league.
The additions of rookies Cole Anthony and Chuma Okeke are reasons for that. Anthony is an offensive-minded player who is averaging 10.0 points per game, albeit on just 33.3-percent shooting. Okeke is a necessary glue guy, who does plenty of positive things throughout a game that impact the team.
Okeke is going to miss several weeks due to a bone bruise in his knee. This will allow more playing time for Gary Clark, who is seen as more of a 3-and-D player than Chuma Okeke, who has shown some more versatility to his game.
A big reason for the Orlando Magic’s most recent blowout loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was because they didn’t have sharpshooter Terrence Ross available. So far he has been off to a blazing start, averaging a team-high 21.0 points per game on 51.3-percent shooting and 43.5-percent from three.
For Ross, these would all be career-highs. But again, it is a small sample size theater.
That typical bench unit has a -8.3 net rating. But replace Chuma Okeke with Aaron Gordon and the Magic have a +28.5 net rating with an 88.5 defensive rating in 24 minutes.
The biggest win for the Magic so far was their 17-point comeback against the Washington Wizards on Dec. 27. The bench had a lot to do with that fourth-quarter dismantling, in which the Magic outscored the Wizards 43-19.
The bench scored 19 of those points, with Michael Carter-Williams and Cole Anthony each snatching four rebounds apiece in the period. Anthony also drew a charge that swung the momentum in the favor of Orlando.
Carter-Williams scored three buckets in the lane off dribble penetration to help cut into the lead, and that game is not won without the contributions from the second unit.
Backup big man Khem Birch is also averaging a career-high 6.6 points per game to go along with three rebounds. He has even shown a bit of a shooting stroke, knocking down the rare 10-15 foot jumper that he has developed when the defense gives him some space.
Khem Birch has established a crucial role for himself on this team and when Mohamed Bamba comes back, it will be tough for the Magic to keep him off the floor. He is a great guy to have when it comes to how he works in the pick and roll offense, his ability to make free throws when he gets to the line (90-percent) and his overall work rate on both ends.
Anthony is still a young player trying to find ways to create his own offense, but the glimmers of potential are certainly there. He is not afraid to take shots, as he attempted a team-high 18 against the 76ers.
One would hope that the efficiency is going to come as he learns what avenues to take to the basket and how to approach certain defensive schemes.
He has not been an effective shooter yet, but the Magic are allowing him to take his chances, so there is belief in the 15th overall selection. Anthony has also shown some rebounding prowess, as it is very common to see him soaring through the lane trying to grab a board. He is a hard worker, and that will pay dividends down the road.
So far he is averaging 10.0 points with 5.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game on 33.3-percent shooting and 23.1-percent from three.
The Magic have immense trust in their bench to bring sustained playmaking and energy to the game once the starters leave the floor.
In the season opener against the Miami Heat, the Orlando Magic lost the first quarter by two points. In the second quarter, the bench scored 17 points and the team won the quarter by seven.
That is the difference a good bench can make. It can make up for a lackluster start. If the Magic can get this kind of production from their bench all year, it’ll make for a team that’s fun to watch for all four quarters all season long.