By John Denton Jan. 10, 2018
MILWAUKEE – Orlando Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and GM John Hammond have long histories of success in the NBA, including with the Milwaukee Bucks, and both Orlando coach Frank Vogel and Milwaukee’s Jason Kidd sang the praises of the executives as talent evaluators and team builders prior to Wednesday’s game.
Both Magic execs have recent ties to Milwaukee what with Hammond serving as the Bucks’ GM from 2008-17 and Weltman being the team’s Assistant GM from 2008-13. Hammond won the NBA’s Executive of the Year award in 2010 after helping the Bucks to a 12-win improvement and a 2010 playoff berth. Both Hammond and Weltman are also credited with the monumental success of finding franchise star Giannis Antetokounmpo with the No. 15 pick of the 2013 NBA Draft.
Hammond was the Bucks’ GM in 2015 when the franchise hired Kidd as head coach – another positive move for Milwaukee.
``Hammond is one of the best at putting teams together to win,’’ Kidd raved. ``You talk about a great individual at understanding college talent at a very high level, he’s a competitor and he wants to win and I enjoyed him when he was here (in Milwaukee).’’
Vogel echoed those thoughts about working with Weltman and Hammond, who were hired last May to lead the Magic front office and to try and turn Orlando into winners again.
``John’s been great, he has great experience and he did a great job helping build this current Bucks team,’’ Vogel said. ``Both he and Jeff have been really supportive – Jeff was here (in Milwaukee) also – and I’m really enjoying getting to know them.’’
GIANNIS JUMP LIKE GORDON’S: Antetokounmpo came into Wednesday’s game averaging 28.7 points, 10.1 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.7 steals a night, making him a leading candidate to win the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award.
What is somewhat shocking, however, is that Antetokounmpo has been able to become one of the league’s most effective and efficient players while largely ignoring the 3-point shot. One of the primary reasons the 6-foot-11 forward has bucked the sweeping trend across the NBA of taking and making more threes is the fact that he’s shooting just 27.4 percent from beyond the arc this season. For his career, Antetokounmpo is just a 27.7 percent shooter from 3-point range.
One potential target he could look to as someone who has used the 3-point shot to greatly enhance his effectiveness is Orlando forward Aaron Gordon. The Magic standout came into this season as a career 28.9 percent 3-point shooter and he had never made more than 29.6 percent of his tries from beyond the arc. This season, however, Gordon has been solid from 3-point range (38 percent), causing foes to close out harder on him and open up more driving lanes.
``The three has become a very big shot and being able to do what Gordon has done just shows how hard he’s worked on it,’’ said Milwaukee’s Kidd of Antetokounmpo, who came into Wednesday averaging just 0.5 3-point makes a game on 1.7 attempts per game. ``Giannis is the same way and he’ll make that jump in due time. But there’s no rush with him shooting the three more than he’s doing. I mean, he’s averaging almost 29 points without shooting the three, which is pretty special in itself. The jump shot will come and knowing when to use the three is probably the next step for Giannis to take that next jump.’’
SIMMONS SIMMERING: Jonathon Simmons is in his third NBA season, but this first one with the Orlando Magic – where he is being looked to as a primary rotation player – is very much unlike his first two with the San Antonio Spurs.
Simmons, 28 and a started for the Magic for much of the last month, has already played 1,147 minutes in 40 games this season or 28.7 minutes a night. That’s close to the amount of minutes that he played last season in 78 games with the Spurs – 1,392 minutes or 17.8 minutes a game.
Simmons, a breakout star in the playoffs last spring for the Spurs, signed with Orlando in July and his first season got off to a stellar start. Even though he’s still averaging career highs in points (14.0), rebounds (3.8), assists (2.3) and steals (0.8), Simmons’ play has leveled off dramatically of late. And Magic head coach Frank Vogel thinks that part of the reason could be fatigue setting in for the guard.
Simmons missed a game-and-a-half last week because of back spasms and he returned on Tuesday in Dallas, but only made one of his seven shots and was mostly ineffective in 20 minutes. He came into Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee averaging just 9.0 points on 34.4 percent shooting over his last 10 games. Even more troubling is that over his last seven games he’s gotten to the free throw line just 12 times (1.7 per game) – down dramatically from the 3.4 attempts that he’s averaged per game for the season.
``It’s a little bit of everything,’’ Vogel said of the guard who has started 21 games and come off the bench in 20 of them. ``Teams are playing him for (his drives to the rim) and I think he was a little worn down and his legs were heavy for a stretch there. So, it’s a combination of things.’’
UP NEXT: After playing Tuesday in Dallas and Wednesday in Milwaukee, the Magic will have Thursday off. The team planned to stay in Milwaukee on Wednesday night after facing the Bucks and it will fly to Washington, D.C. on Thursday. The Magic will face long-time nemesis John Wall and the Wizards on Friday. Washington won the only meeting between the teams this season 130-103 on Dec. 23. That night, Orlando started the game without three starters because of injuries and then lost center Nikola Vucevic to a fractured bone in his left hand. Elfrid Payton scored a career-best 20 points against the Wizards on Dec. 23.
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