In December, the Orlando Magic had to make their roster completely on the fly.
The team got hit hard with injuries and then again with health and safety protocols sending almost the entire roster out for some time. The Magic did not have enough players to play a Friday night game against the Miami Heat and had to make several emergency signings to fill out the roster. More were to come.
For a young, rebuilding team, this was an opportunity those players could not give up. The Magic had the opportunity to spend and plenty to give out for these situations.
Very few of those players though were able to stick. None of the guards stood out for the Magic in this period of time. Few were able to latch on and most eventually returned to the struggling Lakeland Magic this season. It was hard to find something permanent.
This remains one of the big questions for the Magic and their relationship with their G-League affiliate. There has not been this successful direct pipeline from the G-League to the NBA. And the team has used a lot of its two-way prospects more to bolster the G-League team rather than use it on a potential young player to grow and develop into the main roster.
Finding diamonds in the rough is still tough.
The Orlando Magic’s emergency signings in December were able to make some impact in the front court as the team found some energy bigs to hold their ship steady.
Among the Magic’s bigs who came to the team, there were certainly a few standouts. There were players who made their impact and raised some eyebrows.
There were still none who stuck around, even with that intrigue they presented.
Orlando survived those few weeks in December with players on those emergency contracts. That was really all they could do in that situation. They found a few players worth mentioning in the process. But none who could really stick. Or none with many NBA prospects.
The Magic are still trying to figure out how to use their G-League team as a pipeline to the NBA rather than just a repository for players who are topping off at that level.
The emergency signings in December showed the team has some good ideas there, but nothing anywhere near a complete pipeline to get to the NBA.
B.J. Johnson — B-
The Orlando Magic have had B.J. Johnson on their radar for a few years.
He made a 10-day cameo for the team during the 2020 season, playing a major role in a fun upset of the Los Angeles Lakers in STAPLES Center. There is a lot to like about Johnson as a pure scorer. That is what he is clearly best at.
In the G-League, he has continued to be a scoring tour de force.
Johnson averaged 20.8 points per game in 29.0 minutes per game, making 42.7-percent of his shots and 37.6-percent from beyond the arc. That has been par for the course during his G-League career — he has averaged 20 points per game or more in two of his four seasons in the G-League.
He showed again that he can score in his four games with the Magic this year. He averaged 6.5 points per game and shooting 44.0-percent from the floor and 4 of 10 from deep.
Adding a more consistent spot-up 3-point shot has been critical for his development as he tries to break down the door and get some consistent run in the NBA. This was by far his best run in the NBA he has had to this point.
This included scoring 14 points in a win against the Atlanta Hawks on the road (against an also depleted Hawks team). Johnson is a scorer.
He was probably due for a second 10-day contract. But he also went into health and safety protocols at the end of his tenure with the team.
Johnson needs another opportunity to show his growth and that he can make it in the NBA. But it appears he is heading overseas to try to break that door down.
Aleem Ford — B-
Aleem Ford was not somebody on anyone’s radar when the Orlando Magic called him up from the Lakeland Magic. He is not a stats guy, but rather an energy big. Those guys are a lot harder to quantify.
But these are the players who make a bigger impact and make an impression in their short time on the floor.E
Ford certainly made that kind of an impact for the Magic. He looked like a guy who could provide some energy around the basket and do some cleanup work.
The numbers were not good, of course. Ford averaged 2.8 points per game and 3.0 rebounds per game in 14.8 minutes per game across five games for Orlando. In Lakeland, he averaged 12.5 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.
Everyone understood Ford was in there for his energy more than anything else.
There was still a lot more that he needed to be effective with. He was someone who contested a lot of shots at the rim but was not doing a whole lot to affect shots at the rim. According to data from Basketball-Index, Ford gave up 1.65 percentage points better than expected at the rim.
The energy was apparent. That was what got him the opportunity in the league. But there is still plenty of question about what his effectiveness would be if he makes it to the next level.
Freddie Gillespie — B
The best of the bunch from the Orlando Magic’s emergency frontcourt players was Freddie Gillespie. It is not a coincidence he is the one player with more NBA playing experience than anyone else the team brought in.
Gillespie averaged 2.3 points and 4.0 rebounds per game in 13.2 minutes per game across nine games. He also made two starts, showing that he indeed made an impression.
It was clear that Gillespie was just out there throwing himself around and playing hard. This guy is just a worker who wants to do the dirty work for his team.
He averaged 5.0 screen assists per 75 possessions and was an expert at cutting to the basket and making himself available for putbacks. He was a good shot blocker and a good rim protector — opponents shot 0.95 percentage points worse than expected at the rim against him. He was a good offensive rebounder.
This is exactly the kind of player a team wants for their 15th man or for end-of-the-bench help. If the Magic still need a third center at the end of the offseason, Gillespie should be a guy they have on their Rolodex of options.
In the G-League for the Memphis Hustle, Gillespie averaged 9.1 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. He just does all the little things teams need and does not ask for a whole lot more.
Out of all the guys the Magic brought in for that emergency in December, Gillespie was probably the best of the bunch.
It is probably telling he is one of the few guys the Magic brought in who were not from Lakeland.