Jonathon Simmons Starts at Point Guard Against Celtics

By John Denton
Nov. 5, 2017

ORLANDO – With his two top point guard options out injured once again on Sunday, Orlando Magic coach Frank Vogel was forced to think outside the box so that his team would have enough defense and playmaking available.

Not having Elfrid Payton and D.J. Augustin – both out injured with strains to their left hamstring – Vogel turned to shooting guard Jonathon Simmons to play point guard in his first regular-season start for the Magic. Orlando struggled mightily on Friday with Shelvin Mack as the starting point guard, leading Vogel to turn to Simmons on Sunday. Vogel’s move was made, however, with defense in mind.

``Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, we want to try and use a bigger guard against their starting lineup,’’ Vogel said. ``It’s more for Kyrie, but Horford triggers some switches from time to time (against smaller guards).’’

Simmons, 28, was Orlando’s prized acquisition over the summer after leaving the San Antonio Spurs to sign with the Magic. He filled in admirably for an injured Kawhi Leonard last spring in the playoffs and he’s grown his game even more in Orlando with an expanded role. After averaging 6.2 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 17.8 minutes over 78 games with the Spurs last season, Simmons has boosted those numbers to 14.7 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 25.4 minutes over nine games thus far with the Magic. And his biggest impact on the Magic has been the toughness that he plays with every night, Vogel said.

``He’s exceeded our expectations,’’ Vogel said. ``He’s a tough-minded dude who really cares and is well-liked in the locker room. He’s changed our team’s identity, ego and attitude. He gives us a little more edge and swagger.’’

SIMILAR INJURIES, SIMILAR PATTERNS: The fact that Payton and Augustin both play the same position and are injured at the same time is merely coincidental. But it’s the nature and manner of the injuries that the two teammates find somewhat strange.

Payton played in the season opener on Oct. 18 with a slightly sprained ankle and then severely strained his left hamstring in the second game on Oct. 20 in Brooklyn. That lingering injury knocked Payton out for an eighth straight game on Sunday night – bad news for a Magic team that was hoping to get him back after he practiced with the team on Saturday. Orlando’s thinking is that Payton should be able to practice on Monday and Tuesday and return without restriction for Wednesday’s home game against the New York Knicks.

``Elfrid Payton looked really good in practice (on Saturday), but the hamstring was still a little tight afterward – enough to give us some concern to not push through it (on Sunday),’’ Vogel said. ``We’ve got a tough stretch coming up where we have eight out of 10 on the road and we have two (practice) days behind this (Boston) game to make sure that it’s fully behind (Payton). So, we’ll need (to wait) one more game.’’

Without Payton and Augustin, Orlando started converted guard Jonathon Simmons on Sunday. The Magic’s offense sputtered in a Friday loss to the Chicago Bulls with Shelvin Mack as the team’s only true point guard.

Augustin said it was the opener when he turned his ankle slightly, an injury that he pushed through especially after the Magic lost Payton. Then, on Wednesday in Memphis, Augustin strained his left hamstring. Not only did that injury occur just as Payton was about to return, but it could be one that knocks him out of action for a week or more.

``It’s crazy and I was talking to E.P. about it. He turned his ankle and then right after that he pulled his hamstring,’’ Augustin said. ``I was talking to (Payton) about it after I had turned my ankle then my hamstring started bugging me. Then, (the hamstring strain) happened the other night.’’

Augustin’s injury occurred on Wednesday when he scooped up a loose ball and outran the defense for a layup. The veteran guard said he knew he was in trouble health-wise before the shot and the pain in his leg only intensified. He is highly hopeful that his injury won’t shelve him as long as Payton has been out of action.

``When Memphis turned the ball over, I took off running really fast and I felt it like a cramp. I kept running and it was locking up and when I came down I could even straighten my leg out,’’ Augustin said. ``It feels like a cramp that won’t go away. I was trying to stretch it out because it felt like a cramp, but it wasn’t going away.

``It feels a lot better than it did on Thursday and Friday,’’ Augustin added. ``This is my first time ever hurting my hamstring in my career or life. I’ve always dealt with tendinitis in my knees or ankle sprains, but with a new injury like this I’ve just got to listen to the trainers and do what they tell me to do. … I don’t know how long (he’ll be out), but I don’t think it’s as bad as E.P.’s was and I think I’ll be back as soon as I can. The only thing with a hamstring is that you don’t want to do something to reinjure it and then be out longer.’’

Payton, who was Orlando’s only player to appear in all 82 games last season, said his hamstring injury has been frustrating because he’s had to go against everything he’s always been taught as a determined and driven athlete.

``Being a professional athlete, just like (all of his teammates), you’ve gotten here by pushing yourself to try and get yourself to somewhere you have never been before,’’ Payton said. ``But with an injury, it’s hard to not keep pushing yourself (to get back on the floor). But the training staff has been good about bringing me along step by step with each day getting tougher and tougher, so it’s been good. You might feel like you can go, but you never know with these muscles.’’

FRIENDS HELPING FRIENDS: Vogel and Boston coach Brad Stevens have been friends for years, dating back to when Vogel was coaching with the Indiana Pacers and Stevens was across town in Indianapolis as the head mentor of Butler University.

So when Boston forward Gordon Hayward landed awkwardly in the Celtics’ season-opening game and grotesquely broke his leg and dislocated his ankle, Vogel texted Stevens to offer support. The next day, Stevens called his friend to ask how Vogel dealt with a similarly devastating injury in 2014. That’s when then-Pacers star forward Paul George suffered a compound fracture in his leg – an injury that Vogel helped George get through by keeping him involved in basketball-related duties.

``I was watching the (Celtics) game and I immediately thought of Paul. I sent (Stevens) a text and said, `I’m here if you need anything,’ and he called me the next day,’’ Vogel said. ``(Stevens) said, `Tell me everything that you went through from the beginning to end.’’’

Vogel’s advice to Stevens in dealing with Hayward’s injury was to try and keep the standout forward involved as much as possible even though he most likely won’t play again this season.

``We’d give (George) a clipboard, talk to him about our game plan each night and how we’re using the current roster and we treated (George) like a coach, so to speak,’’ Vogel said. ``Try to keep a ball in his hands, even if he’s sitting in a chair, throw a ball (to) him to let him dribble a little bit and (practice) shooting from the chair. Try to keep him engaged.’’

Said Stevens: ``Early on, I thought that was a guy I’d reach out to because he had an idea, from a coaching standpoint, what it was like. ... Frank’s been a guy who has been really good to me all the way through and I’m appreciative of that. So, I knew when I called he’d have great ideas.’’

UP NEXT: Orlando will have Monday and Tuesday to use as practice days before wrapping up its three-game home stand on Wednesday against the New York Knicks. The Magic dropped three of four meetings against the Knicks last season with the final two defeats coming at the Amway Center in March.

After Wednesday’s game, the Magic leave the next day on four-game, seven-day road trip that features stops in Phoenix, Denver, Oakland and Portland.

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