5 Orlando Magic lineups that are struggling and how to save them

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Gary Clark, Orlando Magic, Dallas Mavericks
Gary Clark has been forced into the lineup for the Orlando Magic and has struggled to make a meaningful contribution. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic have had to piece together a rotation through all the injuries the team is facing. Here is how to fix five struggling groups.

Things have fallen apart quickly for the Orlando Magic.

Injuries derailed whatever original plan the Magic had for the season, sending them into minor chaos. The team has struggled to find its footing. The team has dropped to the bottom of the league in net rating. The drop in the standings has not occurred yet but feels imminent.

Orlando is trying its best to keep the ship steady. The team is still trying to compete. But it is finding it very difficult.

This is nobody’s fault at this point.

The team has been hit with injuries to two starters for the rest of the season in Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz. Another starter has missed nearly the majority of the season at this point in Evan Fournier as he continues to deal with back spasms. Another starter in Aaron Gordon (that is four if you are counting) is going to miss significant time.

And that does not get into rotation players that have missed significant time like Michael Carter-Williams, Al-Farouq Aminu or Chuma Okeke. Okeke has returned to the team after a month-long absence with a bone bruise. Aminu appears set to return within the next week.

Reinforcements, in other words, are on the way. And that should give coach Steve Clifford some options in reshaping and redoing the lineup and rotations.

But with few alternative options, Clifford has had to piece together a rotation carefully. And there has been little room to make adjustments.

Predictably, the team has struggled. Without some of its most talented players, the team has tried to find ways to make things work. But there is only so much a team can do. Especially without the practice time to implement things and fully try them.

Dropping Frank Mason into the lineup has helped stabilize the team a bit and create some organization. But it escaped no one that on one of his first plays, Frank Mason ran into Terrence Ross on an inbounds play.

Things are not looking good right now — the team has a league-worst -12.8 net rating since Fultz’s injury, a mark that is nearly four points per 100 possessions worse than the next-worst team.

The Magic have to be considering some lineup changes. And, yes, Clifford is going to have to go outside of his comfort zone and perhaps be willing to experiment with reason during games without practice time.

It is time to go through some lineups that are getting minutes that are struggling and suggest some solutions. Obviously, players getting healthy would be the easy answer, but we will endeavor to suggest ways to make the lineups workable with some tweaks.

Cole Anthony-Dwayne Bacon-Terrence Ross-Khem Birch-Nikola Vucevic

50 minutes, 67.3 Off. Rtg., 133.0 Def. Rtg., -65.7 Net Rating

The Orlando Magic do not have a lot of options on their bench right now. The injury to Aaron Gordon combined with the injuries to Jonathan Isaac, Al-Farouq Aminu and Chuma Okeke all gutted the Magic’s frontcourt depth. They have had to start Gary Clark and run Khem Birch for extended minutes as the backup power forward.

To say the least, it has not been successful. And it will probably be a theme throughout the course of this post all the lineups with Khem Birch and Nikola Vucevic together.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

It just does not work. Not with the combinations the team is using at least.

Orlando is posting a -27.8 net rating with Nikola Vucevic and Khem Birch sharing the floor together. The team has a 91.2 offensive rating. It just is not good. And the team does not have the shooting to make it work — and even that does not work as we will discover later in the post.

Maybe adding Evan Fournier would make it work better — lineups with that trio on the floor have a -7.5 net rating in 70 minutes together. But, hey, that is the best of any trio with Birch and Vucevic on the floor together.

That should be another theme that will play out in the course of this post. The Magic need more reliable shooting — or at least the perception of shooting since five players in the Magic’s regular rotation shoot better from deep than Fournier. But that is not likely to come in this roster even if Dwayne Bacon and even James Ennis have shot a bit better.

So that is probably not the way to fix this group. What it really needs is another creator, which of course the team is also short on without Markelle Fultz in the lineup.

That is another theme of this series . . . the team is going to have few options to solve many of these problems.

The Magic are going to have to think outside the box at some point. Could they go with a three-wing lineup that features James Ennis as the power forward (Gary Clark should not be an option with how poor he has played, but we will get to that later on)?

The answer might well be to push Okeke forward a bit more.

Theoretically, Okeke is someone who can spread the floor and shoot as well as defend at a high level. He is still working his way back from the bone bruise but showed good promise defending Carmelo Anthony in Tuesday’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

It feels like the team is waiting for either him or Al-Farouq Aminu to show enough consistency to take over these power forward minutes.