Orlando Magic Playbook: Dwayne Bacon finding consistency and focus

ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 31: Dwayne Bacon #8 of the Orlando Magic drives against Seth Curry #31 of the Philadelphia 76ers at Amway Center on December 31, 2020 in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 31: Dwayne Bacon #8 of the Orlando Magic drives against Seth Curry #31 of the Philadelphia 76ers at Amway Center on December 31, 2020 in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images) /

Dwayne Bacon began his career with a Charlotte Hornets organization that offered him a limited opportunity to grow on the court.

It may be hard to remember now but that Hornets roster featured Marvin Williams, Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lamb and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, all of whom have since departed.

While the apportioned playing time was less than ideal, Dwayne Bacon was fortunate to start his career in Charlotte because his former (and now current) head coach provided him with the guidance he now believes was pivotal for his growth.

In an interview with the Orlando Magic days after joining the team, Bacon opined on the reason he ultimately signed with Orlando.

"“It had a lot to do with [Steve Clifford],” Bacon said when asked about whether Clifford impacted his free-agency decision. “He believed in me, and pushed me to limits that I didn’t even think that I could reach.”"

The Orlando Magic brought Bacon in as one of the players for the end of the roster. Someone they felt could contribute offensive in the case of an emergency.

Emergency has hit and Bacon has ended up playing a lot more than anyone could have anticipated.

Dwayne Bacon was brought in as an emergency player for the rotation. But he has turned into a key contributor off the bench, helping keep the Orlando Magic’s offense afloat as much as possible.

Through 22 games, Bacon has rekindled his game, showing even momentary flashes that were lost at the end of his tenure with the Hornets. A barrage of injuries has also been a blessing for Bacon — providing him valuable minutes, including those as the Magic’s starting small forward most of the early season.

So far this season, Bacon is averaging a career-best 9.6 points per game while shooting a 46.0-percent effective field goal percentage. He has shown an ability to create his own shot off the dribble and even hit from the outside.

His play has not been flashy, nor as consistent as the Magic would like. But his minimum value contract has been one of the bright spots in a rather difficult start to the 2020-21 season.

Shot Creation

It is no secret the Orlando Magic offense has been horrendous to start the season. Their offensive efficiency is 27th best in the league, just a point per one-hundred possessions better than the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves and surprising Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Magic have been strong offensive rebounders and limited their turnovers but have not been able to put the ball in the basket. Their 49-percent effective field-goal percentage is the NBA’s worst.

Bacon has not helped the Magic offensive in terms of efficiency (his effective field goal percentage is a mere 45-percent entering Tuesday’s game, in just the eighth percentile among combo forwards, per Cleaning the Glass).

But he has proven to be an above-average creator. He is also one of the few non-bigs on this Magic roster who has scored at an above-average rate at the rim.

Both in transition and half-court situations, Bacon shows a cerebral ability to digest the play. The key to his attack in the above clip is his change of speed as much as his change of direction. He never collapses into a frenetic hurry.

Bacon can save rudderless possessions from ending in disaster, an increasingly familiar trend during the Magic’s recent 2-14 stretch. The ability to self-create an opportunity at the rim, or set up a teammate for an open shot, is a skillset Orlando sorely lacks with Markelle Fultz out.

Another common flaw in the Magic’s halfcourt offensive execution is a tendency to attack toward the pass (an empirical observation not backed by data), rather than leveraging directional momentum to force the opposing defense to react across space.

Not Bacon. He shows an innate understanding of the flow of the possession and uses his 6-foot-10 wingspan to finish over the opponent’s rim protector, in this case, Cody Zeller:

The Magic’s anemic offense can use any extra insurance available, and so far Bacon has provided it in spots.

Inconsistent Play

Dwayne Bacon’s next leap will come from his consistent contribution on both ends of the floor. He has games of pure brilliance and then espouses indifference the next night.

Bacon runs extremely hot or cold.

Bacon’s best performance so far this season — a 16-point showing on the road against the Indiana Pacers — displayed the level he can reach as a scorer. In the second half of a closely-contested game, he showcased Jordan-esque contortion mid-air on an important Magic possession:

For the season, Bacon is making 52.1-percent of his shots within 10 feet of the rim on 4.4 field goal attempts per game. That places him fifth in shooting close to the rim.

According to tracking data from Second Spectrum, Bacon averages 5.2 drives per game. That ranks him fifth on the team. Bacon is often aggressive and able to get into the paint.

But there is part of the problem. Bacon makes only 37.2-percent of his shots on those drives and averages only 3.4 points per game off his drives.

Bacon often gets tunnel vision too. As Zach Lowe of ESPN.com noted a few weeks ago, Bacon is not a good passer. He has totaled only 22 assists in 22 games despite this abundance of driving. He makes only 13.8 passes per game according to data from Second Spectrum, the fourth-fewest on the team. Only James Ennis makes fewer passes among players in teh rotation.

Even during the course of Bacon’s “best” game, he had bizarre lapses of judgment and poise. Just a minute prior to the above highlight, Dwayne Bacon lazily threw a pass into the hands of T.J. McConnell while facing limited pressure from the Indiana defense:

Wasted possessions really matter for this Magic offense, especially in a single-possession loss in overtime. The details count.

Coasting at the wrong time

Much earlier in the season, when Dwayne Bacon was shouldering a heavier role in the lineup, he showed a tendency to coast in a similar manner on defense.

In one possession against the Philadelphia 76ers, Bacon summarized well how valuable he can be when engaged, and how obvious it is when he is lacking the extra mental fortitude on a play.

Bacon starts this possession deftly. He sees both his man and the ball, what coaches call having your “head on a swivel,” and is in a prime help position to assist his teammates if needed.

He is aware as Shake Milton begins his drive and does not overcommit when he sees Aaron Gordon contains it, not as easy as described during live action.

On the kick-out, both Dwayne Bacon and Michael Carter-Williams close to Matisse Thybulle in the corner, a far too common miscommunication that shows how difficult improvisational switching is at the NBA level. But Bacon recovers to responsibly shift to Carter-Williams’ man one slot up.

And then after five seconds of superb work, Bacon falters. On the rotation, he makes an indolent attempt to contain Tyrese Maxey and is flat-footed with his knees locked at the contest. By the time Maxey has attacked his hip, Bacon’s unable to recover.

Momentary lapses and poor decision-making are forgivable, they happen often at the speed at which the NBA game is played. It’s possible to find these lowlights for any player.

Poor effort, on the other hand, is unacceptable — especially for members of Steve Clifford’s outfit.

We may need to show some leniency toward Bacon here given the camera angle obscures the action on the screen. He may have awkwardly collided with Dwight Powell, which would have impaired his movement.

If not, that defensive effort is horrendous. This was a pivotal point in a rather crucial game for Orlando, who went on to lose by 14.

Up until this point in the contest, Tim Hardaway Jr. had been the Mavericks’ most-dependable source of offense. He had17 points after this possession and proceeded to score thirteen more in the final five-and-a-half minutes of the quarter to seal the victory.

Sometimes one possession can swing the course of an entire game.


Given Dwayne Bacon’s trajectory and his early play, the remaining two-thirds of this season could prove to be a pivotal reflection point in his career.

As the above film shows, Dwayne Bacon has displayed a propensity to implement Steve Clifford’s defensive principles and is gifted with intangible qualities  — long arms, quick feet, basketball IQ — to make an impact on both ends of the floor.

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Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Either from an experimental shake-up or a souring of his trust in Bacon, Clifford has slotted the fourth-year forward down a notch in the rotation during the Magic’s losing streak. James Ennis’ return from injury likely contributed to the decision as well.

If Bacon wants to maximize his remaining opportunity this season, including receiving the second-year team option on his non-guaranteed contract, he should focus on a couple of hyperspecific areas of development.

To earn additional minutes with Clifford, Bacon will need to raise his defensive presence to another level. A focus on help defense — coming over from the weakside to “trap the box” and mastering the improvisation of “helping the helper” — will be fundamental.

A dedication to keeping his long arms extended and his lower-half engaged should serve him well in this pursuit.

And, rather obviously, Bacon can best help this team by proving he can space the floor efficiently. If he were to elevate his respectable 35-percent 3-point form to a level closer to his 44-percent 2019 mark on the same two attempts per game, it would make him indispensable.

This will be largely be determined by his self-confidence and the ease that comes from having the “green light” to let it fly.

While neither improvements are guaranteed, an injury-ridden roster and a potentially inconsequential second half of the season could be the ideal sandbox for Bacon to prioritize his personal development.

Next. Magic need to master the basics to make progress. dark

The bond he has already developed with Clifford, both in Charlotte and through his 22 games in Orlando, should prove invaluable.