2023 Orlando Magic Player Evaluations: Chuma Okeke gets lost in the shuffle

Oct 7, 2022; Dallas, Texas, USA; Orlando Magic forward Chuma Okeke (3) and Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) in action during the game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Orlando Magic at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 7, 2022; Dallas, Texas, USA; Orlando Magic forward Chuma Okeke (3) and Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) in action during the game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Orlando Magic at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Where to start with Chuma Okeke?

That seems to be the most pressing and difficult question when it comes to the third-year forward. It certainly felt like, at times, the Orlando Magic could not quite find the right place to start with him either.

This player that seemed to check all the boxes for the Magic and have all the skills and personality that would work has struggled to find his fit.

And as the roster has shifted around him and the coaching staff changed, he has struggled to adjust and struggled to get himself going. His skill set still shows potential and everything this team can believe in. But it has never fully crystallized on the court.

Some of that is because of injuries that just keep getting in the way of his growth and development. Some of that is his skills not quite living up to the billing.

And some of that is a roster that is getting fuller more and more. As time goes by, opportunities slip away. And the competition becomes greater. The margin for error smaller.

Chuma Okeke struggled again this season as he could not fill his role as a shooter and injuries put him further behind an Orlando Magic roster that is getting fuller.

Quite simply, Okeke is starting to get lost in the shuffle of all of the Magic’s young players. Forwards like Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner overtook the starting forward spots. They pushed Jonathan Isaac into a bench role. Bol Bol arrived and demanded and earned some playing time.

Okeke struggled in the process. And with injuries slowing him down and preventing him from earning his own spot, Okeke never got himself going. That only leaves his future and his place on the team in greater question.

That is what happens when you come off your worst statistical season and the most injury-filled season you have. The Magic picked up the final year of Okeke’s rookie contract before the season began. But by the end of it, it was hard to know what the Magic could count on from Okeke.

Availability is the best ability — a truism that is essential to the Magic experience of the last three seasons — and Okeke simply was not available.

He has put the knee injury from college well behind him after playing 45 games in the COVID-shortened rookie season and 70 in his sophomore season last year. But this year, Okeke played in only 27 games — missing time in November, December and January with a left knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery.

By the time Okeke was active again in February, the team’s rotation was set and the group was healthier. It was more difficult for Okeke to break into the rotation and his playing time was sporadic.

The unfortunate part is that Okeke’s play did not demand that he get more regular minutes. This season was a major step back for him.

Okeke averaged only 4.7 points per game in 19.2 minutes per game, both career lows. The inconsistency is certainly a reason for his poor shooting percentages as Okeke could never find a rhythm. He shot only 30.2 percent from beyond the arc. This a year after shooting just 31.8 percent from beyond the arc as almost exclusively a 3-point shooter.

Okeke has other skills — he is a better-than-average post scorer. But under Jamahl Mosley, his value has been his 3-point shooting. And that is just not something he delivered.

He made only 24 of 75 (32.0 percent) catch-and-shoot jumpers this season, according to NBA.com’s tracking stats. He hit only 33.1 percent last year. All but two of his 3-pointers came with the closest defender four or more feet away, but he still struggled to hit from deep.

Related Story. 3 mistakes the Orlando Magic must avoid this offseason. light

About the only area he did well offensively from deep was from the corners where he hit just 8 of 17 3-pointers.

Okeke could be a player who benefits from the team improving its passing. But the role the Magic have carved out for him has not served Okeke well at all.

If Okeke wants to carve out a role next year, it will have to start with his 3-point shooting, undoubtedly the team’s biggest need. If Okeke cannot hit from deep, the Magic are going to move on.

That is despite his strong defensive play.

It is easy to watch Okeke play and see he has a good understanding of where to be defensively and how he can be disruptive on that end. In his limited minutes, he averaged 1.3 steals per 75 possessions and 2.6 deflections per 75 possessions. According to Basketball-Index, he rated in the 69th percentile in their pickpocket rating and 72nd percentile in their passing lane defense rating.

The numbers back up the observations that Okeke can be incredibly disruptive, using his size to get into opponents and keep them from getting to their spots without some resistance.

Okeke’s defense is what keeps him intriguing and leaves him open to getting opportunities. He is a strong defender and, like his shooting, that would only get better the more he plays and the better rhythm he gets.

But therein lies the problem. It is hard to draw too many conclusions about him because he simply did not play enough. Whether that was because of the injuries knocking him out of rhythm or his inability to get consistent playing time.

Okeke played the first 18 games before his injury took him out of the lineup. He did not play consecutive games again until the final three games of the season when the Magic were resting rotation players.

The lack of consistency in those first 18 games probably put the writing on the wall. Once he was out of the lineup with injury, it would be tough to add him back in considering how well the team was playing and how established the playing groups had become.

. F. Orlando Magic. CHUMA OKEKE. D

So what to make of Chuma Okeke’s 2023 season?

It is hard to be too harsh because injuries were such a huge factor for him. He missed so much time dealing with the knee injury, that it was impossible for him to get into a rhythm and make an impact.

But that is a statement in itself. The team moved on. It had to move on. And it did not have time for Okeke to catch up.

Okeke put himself behind the 8-ball with his struggles to fill his role as a shooter for the team. It was hard to have trust in him because he was not owning that role or succeeding in it.

Whether the decision to turn him exclusively into a shooter was the right call or not — 70.5 percent of his field goal attempts this year were 3-pointers, compared to 64.5 percent in 2022 and 43.5 percent his rookie year in 2021 — no longer seems to matter. This is what the Magic want out of him and he continues to struggle with it.

That is why it seemed so easy to put him to the side and try out other players — like Bol Bol or even Admiral Schofield. It became just a matter of trust and they had built up more trust while Okeke was out.

There is still opportunity if Okeke can seize it though. But it will not be easy.

Everyone senses the Magic could use another big forward to back up Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero and give them cover for Jonathan Isaac’s injury history — Isaac certainly got a benefit of the doubt from his injury that Okeke did not, but Isaac earned that chance too.

But everyone also sees that potentially coming from the draft in the form of Cam Whitmore, Taylor Hendricks, Jarace Walker or Brice Sensabaugh.

That is to say, Okeke is entering a contract year with his opportunity and chance to play still uncertain. He is going to have to change and improve in a lot of areas. He is going to have to become the player the Magic imagined when they drafted him — the analytics darling that helped push Auburn to the Final Four.

Next. Evaluations: Bol Bol remains a promising enigma. dark

That player simply has not shown up consistently enough. And that is what has put Okeke in the hole and fighting for his NBA life this offseason.