G League Proving Helpful for Magic's Young Players

by John Denton

ORLANDO – For the first time in their 29-year history, the Orlando Magic had their feeder minor-league team in close proximity and the benefits of such a setup were innumerable for the franchise this season.

Then again, the benefits for the players who shuffled between Orlando and the Lakeland Magic of the G League were highly helpful as well.

Take it from shooting guard Rodney Purvis, Lakeland’s leading scorer who ultimately played his way onto the Magic’s roster and was a key figure on Wednesday when Orlando closed out a tight victory against the Dallas Mavericks.

``It’s been huge for us as far as our development,’’ said Purvis, who had seven points, three rebounds and a 3-pointer in Wednesday’s 105-100 win. ``With the G League team being in the area, it’s been so convenient as far as (Magic) practices and playing games (in Lakeland). The Magic keep a good eye on their G League guys and support us a lot at the games, so it’s been a big plus for everybody.’’

At different points in the past two games, the Magic have had four players – Khem Birch, Jamel Artis, Wes Iwundu and Purvis – simultaneously on the floor both at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Tuesday and Orlando’s Amway Center on Wednesday. And those players haven’t just filled spots for the injury-riddled Magic; they have thrived at various points in the season.

A big part of the reason for that, Magic coach Frank Vogel said, is because of the symbiotic relationship the organization has developed between the NBA and G League programs. That was the grand vision of Magic CEO Alex Martins and President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman, and it’s come to fruition in this first season of the Lakeland Magic’s existence.

``It’s been invaluable, just with those guys having the opportunity to grow and develop down there (in Lakeland),’’ said Vogel, who has been complimentary of the jobs done by Lakeland GM Anthony Parker and head coach Stan Heath this season. ``It’s paying dividends with how comfortable they are getting into NBA games now.

``The other piece of it is it has allowed them to stay in shape and in rhythm,’’ Vogel continued. ``There was a tendency, before this (G League relationship) was going on for guys who weren’t in the rotation to rot away at the end of the (NBA) bench. They de-condition and they get out of rhythm and it takes them four or five games to get back in rhythm. For those guys who have been playing down there (in Lakeland), it’s just a seamless transition.’’

Orlando’s rookie cast with G League experience figures to play a prominent role again on Friday night when the Magic (24-54) host the Charlotte Hornets (34-45). Tipoff is just after 7 p.m. and Orlando will be looking to snap a 10-game losing streak against the Southeast Division rivals.

The Magic have been especially hard hit by injuries this season, losing key players Aaron Gordon (23 games), Evan Fournier (21 games), Nikola Vucevic (24 games), Jonathan Isaac (51 games), Terrence Ross (56 games) and Jonathon Simmons (nine games) for big chunks of time. In all, Orlando has lost 211 player games to injury and has been forced to start 26 different lineups.

Having the G League franchise an hour’s drive away has allowed the Magic to fortify their roster when injuries hit. This season alone, the Magic have recalled players from Lakeland 14 times, they’ve transferred two-way players to the NBA level five times and they signed Purvis from the G League team to three separate deals.

In years past, the Magic’s G League team was in Erie, Pa., making it nearly impossible for players to shuffle back and forth between the NBA and the minor-league system efficiently. Previously, players would have to fly from Orlando to Buffalo and then make the often-treacherous drive to Erie in snowy conditions. Now, the only impediment to getting in extra work at the G League level is the construction on Interstate 4 between Orlando and Lakeland.

At several points in the season, the Magic used the proximity between Orlando and Lakeland to benefit both teams. At various times, Isaac, Iwundu, Birch, Purvis, Artis and others would practice in Orlando in the morning and then play in Lakeland later in the night. And when Isaac was rehabilitating from an ankle injury, he played two games with Lakeland in late February to get himself ready for his NBA return.

``The G League helped with that confidence level and being in the (NBA) now, it’s just about realizing that you are really here and, it’s just basketball,’’ said Purvis, who averaged 20.5 points in 39 games with Lakeland and has averaged 5.3 points in 12 games with the Magic. ``Not trying to throw shade or anything, but we all put our shoes on the same way – NBA and the G League – so it’s all about confidence level and being ready to play when your name is called.’’

Artis, a 6-foot-7, 215-pound forward out of the University of Pittsburgh, has certainly been ready to play – both at the NBA and G League levels. He averaged 19.5 points a game this season for Lakeland to help that first-year team make the G League playoffs. And at the NBA level he’s picked up where he left off in the G League, setting career highs of 16 and 18 points in each of the Magic’s last two victories.

Artis surprisingly went undrafted last June’s NBA Draft, but he was able to use the G League to show that he is worthy of playing in the NBA. He said he is thankful for his time in Lakeland, and he feels the Magic’s close setup between their NBA and G League teams helped him prove his is a pro-level player.

``I loved the G League and the guys who were there with me, we built a family and a bond,’’ said Artis, who has made 14 of 23 shots with four 3-pointers in the past two games with the Magic. ``At the end of the day, I’m still hooping and playing the game that I love. (Thinking of the G League) takes me back to the road trips, the long nights on the road and planes getting delayed, but it was an experience and a path that I took. Maybe I took the long way.

``Having the G League right down the road was great for all of us,’’ Artis added. ``The (Magic front-office staffers) get to see you, come to the games and watch you, and having that connection (nearby) is great. … I’m just trying to come in each game and each day and play the game the right way. I think I belong here (in the NBA).’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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