2023 Orlando Magic Player Evaluations: Can Caleb Houstan continue developing into a contributor?

Orlando Magic, Caleb Houstan. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Orlando Magic, Caleb Houstan. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports /

In the present-day NBA, the hottest commodities are always going to be generational talents.

They are the toughest to find and the ones who galvanize and solidify a roster. They give the team and the roster clarity and direction. They help everyone fit into their roles. They come in many different sizes, but they unlock the potential in a roster.

But second to that need is perimeter wings who can play off of primary ball-handlers. The role players who make it easier for the stars and step up in the big moments when teams have the temerity to leave them open.

After all, Orlando has had back-to-back home-run drafts with Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero. Now for this rebuilding team it is about building around those players. It is about finding the players who make their jobs easier and who will fit in and feed off the attention those players create.

It is possible Caleb Houstan could have an effective and contributing career in Orlando. He has all the tools and skills that would seemingly make sense. He just needs continued time and patience to grow those skills.

Caleb Houstan showed promise as a key role player for the Orlando Magic throughout his rookie year. Now it is just about him getting the opportunity and developing into that shooter the Magic need to complement their stars.

Houstan, a 6-foot-8, 208-pound versatile positionless player, spent his rookie season in coach Jamahl Mosley’s schemes (and due to roster injuries) playing minutes at every position besides center. He did everything and found pockets of his success in his short minutes. He defended at a high level and showed potential there while also displaying his 3-point shooting potential.

Before we evaluate Houstan’s rookie season, his high school and collegiate history may set a blueprint for his success on the Magic.

Houstan left Canada early to play at the basketball powerhouse Montverde Academy along with notable players like Cade Cunningham, Jalen Duren and Scottie Barnes. In his senior year on those star-studded teams, Houstan was a five-star recruit averaging the second most points and rebounds on the 24-1 team.

Heading into college, the average spot in most recruit rankings including ESPN had Houstan listed as the sixth- or seventh-best player in his high school class.

Houstan went to Michigan, but he struggled some adjusting to the physical play in the Big Ten. He averaged only 10.1 points per game while shooting 35.5 percent from beyond the arc. The Wolverins went 19-15 and lost in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

This culminated in his value dropping. He was the youngest player in his draft class coming off a rough season and fell to the 32nd pick for the Magic to take him.

Houstan though found a place with the Magic in his limited minutes. For the season, he averaged just 3.8 points per game with 33.8 percent shooting from deep in his 51 appearances. Houstan was still catching up to the speed of the NBA. But he found his places to be effective and where he could continue to grow.

Houstan is an excellent cutter. That is a good place to start with his threat offensively.

His moving across the baseline tended to help open the floor from players settling into the paint trying to help on drives and post-ups for Wagner and Banchero. You would wish however that he ran toward the ball as he would often run from it, with what can only be assumed is a sincere attempt at getting the team to have the best shots taken by the best players and not a fear of needing to take and make shots.

According to Second Spectrum, Houstan touched the ball 14 times per game. Paolo Banchero, for reference averaged 64 touches and Franz Wagner and Wendell Carter touched it more than 50 times per game.

Houstan just was not involved, serving mostly as a standstill shooting option in his limited minutes. He held it a team-low 1.4 seconds per touch and dribbled 0.4 times a touch.

Averaging 3.8 points on 3.6 attempts with those touch numbers shows how hard it was in the flow of the offense for Houstan to score.

His chances were limited, to say the least. He was there to be a catch-and-shoot option and he struggled some with that — 45 of 137 catch-and-shoot attempts this season according to Second Spectrum.

What he needs to do is get in the lab this offseason and work on simple 1-2 dribble moves to open up his game as a threat when the ball enters his hand. Also adding some level of a secondary playmaker, able to penetrate and pass with the ball or run a quick pick-and-roll action when needed.

Earlier in the season, especially when Houstan got the ball in a scoring opportunity, his timing felt off. That is not uncommon for rookies to have poor efficiency due to the speed and size of the NBA game. Houstan will likely be average to above average his sophomore year as he continues to get used to the needs of playing time comes his way.

Mind you, besides October and March he shot 42.5 percent from three on a total of 97 attempts. In total his highest percentage three-point shot was in the corners shooting 46 percent. Interestingly enough, when playing as the small forward he shot 41 percent on all three-point attempts.

Defensively Houstan was average, on shots he defended per game, players hit their league-average percentages on him. Occasionally, players could cut on the rookie off the ball but as the season progressed his footwork and lateral movement kept up to where he went from a slight liability to playable in his minutes.

C. . SF. Orlando Magic. CALEB HOUSTAN

The biggest takeaway is Houstan played his rookie season with the Magic as if it was his sophomore year at Michigan, making movements and attempts that would benefit zone defenses in college.

Another likely summer league under his belt will only build his confidence which would lead to the shooting being on par with league averages. With his frame and youth, Houstan could make a run to be the late-game starting shooting guard.

Although I am a big proponent of Houstan and his game, the facts that lay in front of us is that close to only 41 second-round players since 2010 have played more than eight seasons. His career will be built on the work and improvement he has to make before his guaranteed contract is up in 2025.