Orlando Magic

Jonathon Simmons helps but doesn’t solve Magic’s main problems

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Jonathon Simmons, one of the more intriguing NBA free agents who was left on the market, has made his decision. Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Simmons has agreed to a three-year deal with … the Orlando Magic.

Yes, the Magic. The franchise with no organization-altering talent on the rise and no direction, shown by a record of head-scratching moves that have left all of us wondering what in the world they’re trying to accomplish. Simmons is an interesting, athletic, versatile talent to add, but one who only continues an emphasis on defense, rather than addressing any of the Magic’s blatant offensive and spacing issues.

The Magic had enough money to tempt Simmons away from San Antonio, though, and while we don’t know the financial details of the contract yet, it’s safe to say he’ll be getting a fair pay rise after only making $874,636 last season.

So, as Simmons joins a group of wings highlighted by Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross, one would think that Simmons will play off the bench. Fournier is the obvious choice to start at shooting guard, while Ross started all 24 of his games with Orlando last season at small forward and spent 90 percent of his minutes there. Both provide solid, necessary 3-point shooting, which should take priority over Simmons. On top of that, Simmons arriving to play plenty of small forward allows Aaron Gordon to stay focused on his actual position of power forward; at least, so long as the Magic actually use some logic next season.

Defensively, Simmons clearly helps the Magic. He’s explosive, quick on his feet, has pretty good instincts and applies strong pressure on the ball. And he can guard multiple positions. In lineups using Simmons next to Gordon, Orlando will have two long, highly athletic wings who can switch across every position from 1 to 4 and cause real problems for opponents. When center Bismack Biyombo is on the floor as well, the Magic’s mobility and ability to switch will be rather formidable.

However, Simmons really doesn’t do much to address the Magic’s issues at the other end of the floor. So many problems stem from a lack of shooting from three starters in Elfrid Payton, Gordon and Nikola Vucevic, who combined to hit a measly, inefficient total of 1.8 3s per game last season and pose no real threat from deep. The Magic ranked 25th in made 3s per game with just 8.5, and ranked 29th in True Shooting Percentage at 52.4.

(They’re going to need to hope that their 2017 lottery pick Jonathan Isaac develops quickly. As a 6-foot-10  power forward with a 7-1 wingspan, exceptional defensive potential and some 3-point range, he could provide more diversity and spacing at the 4, and ideally the 5, when he comes into his own.)

Whenever Simmons is with that trio at small forward, or in bench lineups that feature the zero-spacing Biyombo at center, he doesn’t help too much. Simmons’ 29.4 percent mark from 3 last season is bad, especially as he only made 0.8 per 36 minutes. He shot 38.3 from deep the season before, but the sample sizes are awfully small (only 18 total makes in 2015-16). Even landing in the middle of those two percentages wouldn’t be efficient, not to mention he no longer has the benefit of playing in San Antonio’s fantastically run offense.

He’s in Orlando, the opposite of that. For all his signs of promise as a developing ball-handler when he’s driving to the basket or showing off a little playmaking ability (things he’ll have less space to utilize in Orlando), Simmons doesn’t solve the Magic’s biggest issue of shooting in an offense that’s cluttered around weird pieces that don’t fit.

Not even new backup point guard Shelvin Mack does anything to move the Magic’s broken 3-point needle; he hit 30.8 percent of his 3s last season, a shade under his career percentage of 32.1

So, sure, Simmons helps the defense, adds some more athleticism and depth, and keeps Gordon at power forward more often. Those are all bonuses. Unfortunately, Simmons isn’t someone who can help the team’s biggest flaws. And on top of that, it’s a terrible situation for Simmons to continue the development he had with the Spurs as he started finding his way in the NBA as a 28-year-old sophomore.

This isn’t exactly a fantastic piece of free agency news.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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