Orlando Magic

Orlando Magic suffer tough injury amid battle with Bulls for No. 8 seed

Orlando Magic suffer tough injury amid battle with Bulls for No. 8 seed

On Thursday, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac had an MRI, revealing a severe sprain and bone contusion.

John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com reported specific details on the injury, stating that it was a "posterior lateral corner" injury and gave a timeline about the same as Woj's. 

The Magic also released an official statement on Isaac's condition:

Why is this news so important to the Bulls?

Chicago is locked in a tight race for the No. 8 seed with the rest of the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Heading into Thursday's game against the Utah Jaz, the Bulls are 2.0 games back of Orlando in the standings. The Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Hornets are both 3.0 games back of Orlando for the No. 8 seed. 

Isaac is arguably the Magic's most important player outside of All-Star center Nikola Vucevic. Isaac is second on the team in Net Rating (0.3) tied with Vucevic for the team-lead in defensive rating (105.1). 

The versatile 6-foot-11 forward is averaging 12.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 2.4 blocks per game, all career-highs. The gaudy defensive numbers particularly stand out and put him in an exclusive club of one at this point of the season.

Without Isaac in the lineup for at least two months, the Magic will likely rely on young swingmen Wes Iwundu and Melvin Frazier Jr. to fill the void at the forward opposite Aaron Gordon.

The playoff race is the main reason the Bulls should be monitoring Isaac and the Magic but there is also the off-chance that the Magic are looking for a trade to add some frontcourt depth. While extremely unlikely, the are permutations of a Bulls-Magic trade that could work financially. 

The more likely scenario, of course, is the Magic trade with a non-Bulls team for help or simply stand pat as they await the return of their young defensive star. 

Per Tankathon.com, the Magic have the 14th toughest remaining schedule in the league, while the Bulls have the 2nd toughest schedule the rest of the 2019-20 regular season.

UPDATE: After the Bulls' 102-98 loss to the Jazz, they sit tied with the Charlotte Hornets in ninth at 2.5 games back of the No. 8 seed (Orlando). 

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What to watch for: Bulls visit Orlando Magic with a chance to build on momentum

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USA Today

What to watch for: Bulls visit Orlando Magic with a chance to build on momentum

Ready or not, here they come: With a win over the Magic tonight, the Bulls could move into a tie for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Exciting stuff. The game tips off at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here's what to watch for:

Magic’s last five games (1-4)

  • Dec. 20 — L at Trail Blazers: 118-103

  • Dec. 18 — L at Nuggets: 113-104

  • Dec. 17 — L at Jazz: 109-102

  • Dec. 15 — W at Pelicans: 130-119

  • Dec. 13 — L at Rockets: 130-107

Storyline(s) to watch

This is a matchup between two exceptionally well-matched groups, at least in output. As my colleague K.C. Johnson alluded to today, these teams are closely aligned in their point differentials (Magic -1.8, Bulls -1.3), offensive rating (Magic 105, Bulls 103.7) and defensive rating (Magic 107.2, Bulls 105.1). Orlando enters play 12-17, the Bulls 12-19.

In profile, though, there are interesting contrasts between the two. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Magic put up the fifth-highest percentage of their shots from mid-range (35%), the eighth-least from 3-point range (32.2%) and the fifth-least at the rim (32.7%). The Bulls, famously, have effectively eschewed mid-range looks — 23.6% of their shots come from there, 25th in the league — in favor of rim attempts (39.5%, fourth) and long-range chucks (36.9%, 10th). 

Where they come back together: Both teams are largely inefficient within their respective offensive gameplans, ranking 27th (Bulls) and 28th (Magic) in Cleaning the Glass’ eFG% calculations. Defensively, both force a ton of turnovers and are effective in transition. All of this is to say, the aesthetics of this game might be jarring, but if the Magic stick to their standard shot profile, it could play well into the Bulls’ aggressive defensive strategy.

And the brass tax, of course, is that a Bulls win tonight would move them into a tie with the Magic for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Magic are just off a four-game road trip, but will be well-rested (they haven’t played since Dec. 20), while the Bulls are closing out a four-game out-of-town swing of their own.

Player to watch: Evan Fournier

We’ll get to the Magic’s boisterous big-man rotation in the next section, so it’s worthwhile to profile Fournier here. He is the Magic’s highest-usage player and preeminent ballhandler, after all, and with Nikola Vucevic back from injury (plus a host of hard-screening bigs around him), Fournier is a dangerous proposition in the pick-and-roll, as well as off-the-catch and one-on-one. The man is just crafty: 

 

He’s the Magic's leading scorer (19.6 ppg) and is hitting 42.3% of his 3-pointers on 6.2 attempts per game this season (41.2% on pull-ups) on a team without much in the way of plus-shooting. He stumbled on the Magic’s most recent road trip, averaging only 16 points and shooting 26.9% from deep, but could be due for a breakout with fresher legs tonight. For what it’s worth: Kris Dunn will in all likelihood take lead duties on Fournier, and the way he’s playing right now, the Bulls like their end of a Dunn matchup against most any guard or wing in the league (though Fournier averages only 1.9 turnovers per game). 

Matchup to watch: Rebounding

One area the Magic figure to have a substantial advantage in is the boards. Between Mo Bamba, Jonathan Isaac, Vucevic, Khem Birch and Aaron Gordon, Orlando currently trots out five players listed at 6-foot-8 or above in their regular rotation (and Fournier is 6-foot-7). Per Cleaning the Glass, they rank fourth in the NBA in defensive rebounding rate (24.1%). Given the Bulls’ struggles at times in this department, it would be unsurprising if the Magic put a strain on their guard-heavy lineups tonight.

The rub: The Magic shoot an alarmingly paltry 59.2% (26th) at the rim and rank 29th in the NBA in points per play (per 100 possessions) on putback plays (98.1), according to Cleaning the Glass. The Bulls dominated the glass Saturday night against the Pistons, winning the rebound margin 46-29, and tallied 14 second-chance points, though it should be noted the Pistons were without Blake Griffin and on the second night of a road-home back-to-back. 

If the Bulls endure an off-shooting night (plausible, given the length Orlando will throw at them), this is an area that could swing the energy and tempo of the game. All eyes will be on Jim Boylen’s deployment of his four-big rotation of Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Thad Young and Daniel Gafford, especially if foul trouble becomes a theme.

Trends to watch:

  • Coby turnaround?: Entering play Saturday, Coby White’s shooting splits for the month of December were 29.3/31/77.8. He went 5-for-7 from deep against the Pistons. Shots falling for him raises the ceiling of the Bulls’ bench (and team) substantially.
  • LaVine building All-Star case: Zach LaVine is averaging 37.8 minutes, 31.8 points and 3.8 assists per game on 48.8% field goal shooting (39.4% from three) in his last four games, dating back to him closing out the Clippers in Chicago on Dec. 14. And that’s on 21 field goal attempts, 8.3 3-point attempts and 9.3 free throw attempts per contest. All-Star voting kicks off this week, and LaVine is building a case.
  • The worst is yet to come: Per Basketball Reference’s Playoff Probabilities Report, the Bulls have the second-hardest remaining schedule in the NBA, but their odds of the eighth seed have climbed to 12.2%. Games such as this and their matchup with the Hawks in Chicago on Saturday need to be wins to keep the playoff dream alive, even if we’re not even halfway through the season yet.

  • Shoutout Markelle Fultz: After enduring the most bizarre start to a highly-touted player's career in recent memory, Fultz has found his footing in Orlando. He's playing 26 minutes a night, averaging 11.6 points and 4.1 rebounds for the Magic, and making highlight-reel plays on the reg. Hard not to be happy for him.

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Dunc'd on Podcast suggest possible landing spots for Bulls' Jabari Parker

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USA TODAY

Dunc'd on Podcast suggest possible landing spots for Bulls' Jabari Parker

On Wednesday's episode of the Dunc'd on Podcast, hosts Nate Duncan and Danny Leroux wento over the current state of the Bulls and discussed potential teams that could be interested in Jabari Parker.

Duncan and Leroux are two of the more reasonable basketball minds, and they quickly came to the conclusion that it would be tough to find a team that necessarily needs Parker. But they nonetheless went through a couple of teams that could possibly make good use of the 23-year old forward.

Orlando Magic:

Duncan and Leroux weren’t that into the idea of Parker on Orlando but acknowledged that they certainly could use some help in the scoring department.

The Magic are currently 26th in the league in PPG (103.5) but are hovering around a .500 record due to their strong defense and slow pace of the play—the same style of play that has improved the Bulls D while torpedoing their offensive efficiency.

But the Magic do have skilled offensive players like DJ Augustin, Terrence Ross and Nikola Vucevic. All three players have managed to be efficient scorers this season, but only Vucevic and Ross have been able to do it while also shouldering a big offensive workload. Outside of Ross, Jonathon Simmons is the only other Magic bench player who carries a decent usage rate. Parker—for all of his shortcomings—offers more size and upside than Simmons.

On top of that, the Magic are one of the more pass-happy teams in the league, averaging just over 25 assists per game. It would be a solid team to compensate for Parker’s occasional penchant to develop tunnel vision when looking to score.

Parker’s terrible assist-to-turnover ratio wouldn’t hurt Orlando too much either, as they currently sit inside the top 10 in team AST/TO ratio.

Atlanta Hawks:

The Hawks are very short on quality forwards. And that is exactly what Leroux stated when trying to picture Parker on the Hawks:

“[Atlanta] needs depth basically everywhere on the forward line, especially with Taurean Prince out.”

At full strength they place John Collins—a very solid young talent—at the four next to Dewayne Dedmon or Alex Len, with the latter being the much stronger tandem. But with Atlanta rebuilding at the moment, having functional lineups is much more important than having effective ones. And that is where Parker helps them.

According to Basketball-Reference play-by-play information, 41-year old Vince Carter is playing 61 percent of his minutes at power forward. So it is no shocker that he is posting one of the five worst individual defensive ratings on the team.

After Collins and Carter, rookie Omari Spellman and Taurean Prince play the most minutes at PF. Spellman is more of a center and Prince is good enough at guarding small forwards and wings to make it unnecessary for him to play the PF.

Slotting Parker into their rotation allows all the aforementioned players to return to their natural positions more often. At his natural PF position, Parker would be free to slide into a role as a (moderately) high usage player. Trae Young, Collins and Jeremy Lin could actually form quite a potent offensive combination with despite how bad that lineup would be.

But being bad at defense is another key to Parker’s possible success with Atlanta. Out of all the likely NBA lottery teams, perhaps only the Hawks, Knicks and Cavaliers had less expectations than the Bulls, who some (not many) pegged as a possible dark-horse No. 8 seed in the playoffs.

New Orleans Pelicans:

The Pelicans are in the same situation as the Bulls in terms of needing a quality small forward and struggling to attract star free agents. Parker doesn’t help with either of those issues and that is why Duncan suggested he could essentially be a nice depth piece for New Orleans, stating that Parker could help just by being on their roster as “a forward for when [Julius] Randle and [Nikola] Mirotic are inevitably hurt.

Though Pelicans general manager Dell Demps has had his fair share of misses, it is unlikely he would be looking to back up his oft-injured forwards with another injury-prone player. But if the New Orleans front office truly thinks Parker can improve from his current level of play, it would be worth it to part ways with Solomon Hill and salary filler for Parker. Whatever draft compensation Chicago wants would make or break this deal.

But with fellow Chicago-native Anthony Davis drawing tons of attention on his dives to the rim, it isn’t impossible to imagine a world in which Parker scores effectively as a pick-and-roll ball-handler with Jrue Holiday providing some floor spacing.

Philadelphia 76ers:

We’ll keep this one short. Nate Duncan had perhaps the best line of the episode when he stated flatly “they don't need more usage on this team.”

But while the Sixers certainly don’t need more player who want the ball in their hands, Duncan himself brought up the fact that they need more quality players in general. Parker has glaring holes in his game but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t be good in a complementary role.

After the recently acquired Jimmy Butler and Wilson Chandler, the Sixers don’t have many players who can hold down the forward spots. Ben Simmons can obviously play in the frontcourt in a pinch, but the point of Simmons’ uniqueness is that you can keep him at the one and surround him with big, two-way guards and forwards.

So Parker would actually fill somewhat of a need for the Sixers. Again, for all of his shortcomings, I don’t think anyone is going to strongly argue that Mike Muscala is clearly a better backup option at power forward than Parker. Muscala fits better because he is a great 3-point shooter, whereas Parker would cramp the floor spacing in Philly. But Muscala is a terrible rebounder for his position, averaging 4 rebounds per game compared to Parker’s 6 boards a game, which actually leads the rebound-deficient Bulls.

And in a best case scenario where Parker is engaged on defense, he and Simmons could have some great success as a duo in transition.

They both possess the coveted “grab-and-go” ability that allows them to turn quick shots by an opponent into an easy bucket. Parker was around the 60th percentile as a transition scorer in his last year in Milwaukee (which is good) but has fallen off this year on an injury-riddled Bulls team.

A big reason for Parker’s transition offense falling off is his high turnover rate. But the hope would be that Simmons—who also turns the ball over a lot—Butler and Embiid would have the ball in their hands so much that Parker’s turnovers would decrease dramatically.

As far as the framework for this deal? Markelle Fultz, Muscala and Jonah Bolden would be enough to make the trade work. This trade wouldn’t really weaken the Sixers in any way on the court. And off the court, Parker’s expiring deal would be interesting for a Sixers team that will be trying to re-sign Butler while adding depth around the margins.