Orlando Magic are urging Chuma Okeke to shoot his shot

Chuma Okeke is slowly breaking out of his shell and becoming a solid 3-and-D weapon for the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Chuma Okeke is slowly breaking out of his shell and becoming a solid 3-and-D weapon for the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports /

Everyone on the Orlando Magic insists Chuma Okeke is the funniest guy on the team. They see a version of Chuma Okeke that nobody outside of the team sees.

His appearance on the Orlando Magic Pod Squad earlier this week and his Inside the Magic on Bally Sports Florida earlier this year gave some glimpse into the young player’s personality and a little bit of an insight into who he is.

His teammates have always known who he is and what he can give the team. They have often been the ones talking highly of the second-year forward and trying to coax more of that out of him.

Just like there is a latent personality underneath the surface of the understated forward, there is also an understated part of his game. To some degree, this whole season for Okeke has been about creating that comfort and getting him out of that shell.

As the Orlando Magic’s season comes to a close, the team is trying to get their young center to break out of his shell further and become a 3-and-D wing.

Okeke has had his ups and downs this year. Injuries slowed him down early in the year. And that had the second-year forward behind. He was in a protracted shooting slump early in the season even as his defense shined and excelled — he remains one of the top players in steals per 75 possessions.

The end of the season has brought opportunity. And the Magic want to give players different opportunities.

And that includes Okeke. The Magic are doing one thing as they try to squeeze out the last bits of this season: And that is encouraging Okeke to shoot.

He did that in Wednesday’s loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, taking a season-high 16 field goal attempts. The Magic are clearly grooming him as a potential 3-and-D player with his ability to guard multiple positions and his penchant for creating deflections and steals.

Okeke did not even realize he had taken so many shots. But that just goes into the aggression the Magic are looking for him. They want Okeke to put up his shots.

"“They’ve been very consistent with it ever since I started playing again telling me to shoot it,” Okeke said after Wednesday’s game. “I just have to keep on believing in my shot and keep on being consistent with my shot and keep knocking it down.”"

Neither Okeke nor Mosley seemed to realize Okeke was getting that many shots up. But that continues the encouragement the team wants from Okeke.

A good chunk of his shots Wednesday, just as they have been all year, came from ball reversals around the perimeter. His best shots and his most effective shots have come when he gets catch-and-shoot opportunities.

But the Magic have not minded him taking contested shots or just firing. There have been plenty of games where Okeke misses a ton of threes. But the team wants to build confidence and comfort in taking those shots at this point.

And when Okeke hits, he can help turn games around. They see all the hints of what he can become.

Okeke is averaging 8.5 points per game while shooting 31.5-percent from beyond the arc. There have clearly been some struggles in the process. But Okeke has also started to come through.

Since returning from his last injury in early January, Okeke is averaging 9.4 points per game and shooting 35.8-percent from beyond the arc. There are still wild ups and downs. And as Okeke’s field goal attempts have gone up, so too has his efficiency gone down.

But there are still plenty of encouraging signs to explore.

Okeke has been stellar as a catch-and-shoot option. Okeke is hitting 32.3-percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-pointers this season, according to NBA.com. Since Jan. 1, Okeke is hitting on 36.0-percent of his catch-and-shoot threes. That is on more than five attempts per game.

Okeke is certainly letting them go too.

Since Jan. 1, Okeke is shooting 36.4-percent on 11 attempts from beyond the arc when the closest defender is 2-4 feet away and 34.5-percent on 87 attempts when the closest defender is 4-6 feet away. He is hitting 36.8-percent on a team-high 106 attempts when the closest defender is six or more feet away.

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Teams certainly saw the scouting report on Okeke and may be more inclined to leave him open. But Okeke has started to make them pay more and more.

Still, there is consistency Okeke needs to find.

For now, that is part of the process of finding Okeke his role. It starts for him on defense, where he has been fantastic. The Magic are now trying to instill that confidence in Okeke’s shots by letting him shoot.

"“With all of our guys, we constantly talk about keeping it simple,” Mosley said after practice Friday. “If you’re open, shoot it. If you’re not, pass it. If they’re jamming you, drive it to create for your teammate. Just about the decisionmaking of our young guys, just keeping it as simple as possible to make the reads easier.”"

It is hard to describe very many of those 16 shots from Okeke on Wednesday as anything but simple. The ball rotated to him and he took the shot that was there. On a few occasions, the Thunder closed him out and he looked to attack the basket a bit more.

There have been few occasions for Okeke to drive. And getting him to shoot more and shoot more effectively will create those opportunities.

Mosley said after Wednesday’s game that part of what the team is doing in constructing its current rotations and lineups is to give Okeke that chance. The team is trying to expose players like Okeke to different situations so they better understand their responsibility and role moving forward.

That is what a lot of this late-season experimenting and work will be about.

Mosley said he wants everyone on the team to feel more confident as they grow. He wants them to be exposed to all these situations as an opportunity to get this experience now.

That still goes back to the work. And if there is one thing everyone has learned and seen about Okeke, it is that he keeps a pretty level head. He is going to keep working.

"“Just keep doing what I’ve been doing,” Okeke said after Wednesday’s game. “Keep getting shots up. Keep working in the gym and keep playing to get better. Just keep on, keeping on what I’ve been doing.”"

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Okeke is slowly breaking out of that shell. Everyone is starting to see who he is on the court and off. And that has allowed him to blossom and make an impact for the Magic overall.