It does not take Caleb Houstan long to get warmed up or to get his shot off.
With the Orlando Magic’s win over the Houston Rockets all but assured, it did not take long Houstan to make his imapct felt. A quick feed from Jett Howard from the top of the key to Caleb Houstan in the corner led to a quick 3-pointer.
It was already a party at the Amway Center, but this first point from the deep bench crew really cemented how thorough the Magic’s victory was.
For Houstan, any opportunity on the court is precious for him. He has a skill set the Magic need as an excellent shooter. Even when the Magic took him in the second round of the 2022 Draft, they knew he would be a long-term project. Houstan was the youngest player selected in that draft.
It was a rookie season of waiting for an opportunity. And it feels like it will be a sophomore season waiting for an opportunity on a suddenly deeper and more ambitious roster.
Caleb Houstan has grown and still has a skill set the Orlando Magic need. But opportunity will be precious for the second-year forward on a much deeper team.
Where does Houstan fit in? Because what has become clear in his limited opportunities already this season, Houstan’s shooting is something that could be a quick spark for the team when they do call on him — and it should be emphasized, everyone is going to get their chance this season.
All Houstan has to do is be ready for that opportunity.
"“Honestly last year, I didn’t really know what I was getting into,” Houstan said at media day. “I hadn’t really been through it. I think just having that comfortability to know I have been through a year and know what to expect definitely calms some nerves and makes you a little more confident going into training camp.”"
Houstan obviously did not get a ton of opportunities last year. He averaged 3.8 points per game across 51 appearances and 15.9 minutes per game. He shot 33.8 percent from deep on 2.7 attempts per game. In 11 games for the Lakeland Magic in the G-League, he averaged 15.5 points per game and shot 38.9 percent from beyond the arc.
Houstan’s skill set was abundantly clear. He is a solid shooter who can get his shot off quickly. That has been on display.
Houstan dealt with a sprained ankle through much of training camp and did not play in the preseason until the final game against Flamengo (not that he would have squeezed into the regular rotation before then either). But he made a quick impact in that game, scoring 13 of his 15 points with four 3-pointers in the first quarter of the game to pace the team to that blowout win.
Like with his two shots in Wednesday’s game he showed his quick trigger and the kind of impact he can make as a shooter.
Houstan said at media day he worked on his footwork and shooting off the move. He know where his bread is going to be buttered this year and what the Magic will need him to do when he gets on the floor.
But that is the thing with so many of these promising players, there just is not a lot of room for all of them to play. There is a lot of internal competition for minutes but there are promising players who are going to struggle to get the on-court development time that they need.
It is going to be a fight for scraps and opportunity. The benefit of depth is that when players do have to miss time, the Magic should have players they can rely on. Houstan is certainly one of those guys who could be in the mix for minutes when that happens.
Like so many of them, it is just about waiting for that opportunity.
"“Just coming in every day, working hard and doing my job,” Houstan said at media day. “Not doing too much and just being myself. Just coming in and working, then things will take care of themselves in that way.”"
It is a bit unfair to ask a 20-year-old to play like a veteran so quickly. It is hard to ask a player who is still getting his feet wet in the NBA to define his role and execute at a high level. The benefit of rebuilding teams is that they lose but allow these players to make mistakes — hopefully in a way that teaches them how to win eventually.
Houstan is not going to get afforded that opportunity with how quickly the Magic have improved. The good news for him is that he has a skill that seems quickly translatable to the kind of winning team the Magic want to be. They need shooting.
But there is the chicken and the egg problem once again. Can a young player prove his worth with just practice and shootarounds? How do you earn playing time without playing time?
All Houstan can do is be ready. That has been a constant state of being for any young player and any player on the bench. He will have a chance at some point this season. And when that opportunity comes, he has to take advantage of it.
"“Caleb is probably one of the most consistent guys we have in a lot of ways,” Jamahl Mosley said after the Magic’s preseason game against Flamengo. “He is the first one in often. He comes back at night. He’s got an unbelievable routine. He’s just steady at all times. If he misses one, it doesn’t phase him. If he makes three, it doesn’t phase him. He sticks with the process. It’s what we want all our young guys to recognize that when you stick with the process and put in the work, you get the results.”"
That is a lot to ask. But such is life at the end of the bench. The margins are narrow. Even for a young player like Houstan who may get a benefit of the doubt or two more than other veteran players waiting for their shot.
What matters then for Houstan is being ready and locked in when that chance comes. With his shooting, he certainly can make an impact when that opportunity comes.