2021 Orlando Magic Player Evaluations: Magic still struggle to find home for G-League guards

Devin Cannady turned a strong run for the Lakeland Magic into a chance with the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Devin Cannady turned a strong run for the Lakeland Magic into a chance with the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

The Lakeland Magic have been an unequivocal success on the floor.

In the last three seasons, Stan Heath has led the team to two conference finals and the most regular-season wins in the league. That all culminated with a title in the G-League bubble this season behind a stellar defensive effort.

The idea behind the G-League when Jeff Weltman came in and the team moved from Erie to Lakeland was to use it more like a feeder system for the team. The team wanted to have players close by that would be familiar with Orlando’s system and hopefully have a few players graduate to the main roster.

Using the G-League as a developmental or rehab tool was off the table this year because of the bubble and the pandemic. But the Magic have built one of the most successful franchises in the league with its ability to get players to come together on the court and produce within the confines of the season.

For the first time too, it seemed like there might be a place for a few of these players to supplement the Magic too. The team sank in the standings and dealt with tons of injuries, opening up roster spots and opportunities for playing time.

The Orlando Magic were able to give opportunities to several of their G-League players as injuries ravaged the roster. But few played enough to find their footing with the main team.

Orlando leaned on its Lakeland brethren more than at any other point in the franchise’s short experiment with the G-League.

Still, something is left wanting. The Magic are a team that should be pressing the advantages they have gained from their G-League success. And it has not quite translated yet.

Orlando throughout the season still leaned on more experienced players who were staying close in the G-League or were already well established in the G-League rather than players who shined for their team.

One player who shined for Lakeland and made his way to the Orlando Magic experienced some success. But, of course, because it was this season, his year was cut short just as he was getting a rhythm.

The fact is too that Orlando’s G-League guards struggled with injuries just like the rest of the roster and never really got that full opportunity. The Magic at a certain point were just looking to fill spots on the roster and even had to abandon one of their long-term projects to make sure they had enough playable players on the roster.

A lot of projects this year were pushed to the wayside. The team was not able to complete a lot of the things it hoped to accomplish because of injuries. And that was no different from their guards they brought in to fill in for the team.

That will not lessen the impact the Magic’s G-League experiment will have moving forward.

With the Magic fielding a young roster and still in a bit of a chance, they will need to be smart with how they use the G-League and those level players still. Orlando could still benefit from unearthing some gems from that level to supplement the roster, especially as the team tries to maintain some cap flexibility.

Still, the Magic have to get more on the main roster from the success they have experienced in the G-League. That picture is unfortunately still incomplete.

B-. . PG. Orlando Magic. CHASSON RANDLE

As the Orlando Magic looked to supplement their roster in the wake of Markelle Fultz’s injury, they consistently turned to more veteran players like the 28-year-old Chasson Randle. He got one of the team’s two-way contracts in February and ended up getting some of the most playing time of the Magic’s G-League players (he did not play with the Lakeland Magic this season).

Randle averaged 6.5 points per game in 20.4 minutes per game. He showed a solid ability to hit from the outside and make 3-pointers, which always stands out for this Magic team. He looked like he could admirably play some spot minutes for the team.

But Orlando really needed a point guard. And Randle struggled on that front. He was not a particularly strong playmaker and he was certainly not a great defender.

The Magic relied on him more than they should have or that he is capable of providing. That is a problem of the injuries the Magic faced and the realities of a team struggling to find its footing.

Randle played his best when he could play more off the ball and stretch the floor as a shooter. That probably is not a role he can find a long-term future in the NBA with.

INC. . PG. Orlando Magic. FRANK MASON

When the Orlando Magic needed point guard help just so they could have two ball-handlers on the floor, they turned to the best point guard in the G-League. G-League MVP Frank Mason was a huge pickup for the team and he delivered in the limited minutes he got with Orlando.

Because, of course, Mason got hurt four games into his tenure with the team. To that point, he averaged 6.3 points per game and 3.0 assists per game and made two of five 3-pointers.

Mason had a good command of the offense and at least knew how to organize a team. His groin injury that ended his season while the team was in San Francisco on a West Coast trip was the worst timing — a game after Cole Anthony suffered a rib injury that would keep him out for two months.

Mason likely would not have “saved” the Magic’s season, but it would have slotted players into better positions and he was arguably the best G-League player the Magic called up.

Orlando Magic. DEVIN CANNADY. B+. . G

The most promising player the Orlando Magic called up this season was a player who earned that spot thanks to his strong play in the G-League for the Magic’s G-League team.

Devin Cannady was stellar in the G-League bubble, averaging 11.7 points per game with a 53.5-percent effective field goal percentage. He jumped his game up during the playoffs on his way to earning MVP honors in the G-League championship game, where he scored 22 points and hit four 3-pointers.

Cannady was a solid defender but he made his pay with his jump shooting and scoring. His arrival on the main roster was certainly a reward for his play in the G-League. And he looked like he might have some staying power.

In eight games, he averaged 4.3 points per game and shot 6 for 16 from beyond the arc. There were a lot of minutes in blowout losses mixed in there, but Cannady was coming off a 17-point performance in that blowout loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. He never really got enough time to play meaningful minutes to see what he could really do.

That time was cut short because of a horrific injury. Cannady checked into the game late in the first quarter against the Indiana Pacers and came down awkwardly after challenging a layup just one minute into his time on the floor.

He suffered a dislocated ankle and needed to be stretchered off the floor. Just as he was getting a rhythm, his NBA dream was cut short. Hopefully, he works his way back because Cannady was the model for what the Magic want their G-League program to become.

C+. . G. Orlando Magic. KARIM MANE

The Orlando Magic used one of their two-way slots on the raw Canadian prospect, Karim Mane. They knew that he was not going to be quite NBA-ready when they signed him. They just loved his athleticism and length. So the goal was to expose him to NBA-level action and then have him play in the G-League to get his playing experience.

Coach Steve Clifford was nothing but complimentary about Karim Mane’s work ethic and approach to the game. Mane might still become a NBA player in the long run. But this was not his year.

In the G-League, Mane averaged only 5.5 points per game, shooting worse than 40-percent from the floor. He did average 5.2 rebounds per game too. Mane is certainly more ahead on his defensive abilities than his offensive abilities.

He did not do a whole lot with the main roster, rarely getting minutes in meaningful action. Mane scored 11 points on 3-for-13 shooting in 88 minutes across 10 games. He grabbed 14 rebounds. So at least that seems to be a skill he can continue to develop.

Next. Orlando Magic silver linings: Takeaways from the season. dark

Ultimately, the Magic cut him loose because they needed someone who could play well enough at the NBA level to contribute with all the injuries they face. The hope has to be that they can keep Mane, who is still relatively new to basketball, with the Lakeland Magic for another year and continue to foster his growth and maintain this long-term project.