Some observations heading into a busy few days for the Magic. The game tonight at 7 at the Avenir Centre versus the St. John’s Edge starts a stretch of 3 games in 4 days.
1. Is it weird that I’m tempted to cheer for Billy White to miss a few more threes? The emotional fulcrum of the team (sometimes to the benefit, sometimes the detriment) is also its most necessary component offensively. For all the backcourt and wing scoring available up and down the roster, it’s White’s unique gifts that make the Magic so difficult to handle. One of those gifts is his ability to hit perimeter shots when nervous defenders give him space to better deal with his multiple moves and countermoves off the bounce. Through three games, White is making 40% from downtown on 5 attempts per game. Great right? Well, maybe. Last season he shot 33% on almost 3 attempts per game, but I think his last year in Halifax in 2017/18 is the gold standard. He shot almost 38% on just over 2 attempts per game. It may not sound like a big difference, but 2 or 3 possessions is often the margin of victory in this league. Is the tick up in percentages this year sustainable? Perhaps. Maybe hard work has made this shot more consistent. Maybe the laws of big numbers mean misses are coming. Either way, given how effective he is getting the ball in the high or low post and causing fits in the lane, maybe clanking a couple against the Edge will change White’s mindset and make him more aggressive……or maybe I should shut up and enjoy the highest scoring offense in the league with multiple guys (I see you Corey Allmond and Jason Calliste….and Wayne McCullough, and….) draining shots from everywhere? Yeah, maybe that.
2. When the whole finally eclipses the sum of its parts, how is ANYONE going to score on the Magic?Individually, the Magic have been frighteningly good defensively in spurts so far. I love watching Jeremiah Mordi bump and muscle and turn point guards as they bring the ball up, digging at the rock and making it difficult for them to get their teams into their offense. Denzell Taylor’s penchant to disrupt screen and roll actions with his ability to help and recover can single-handedly change a game. Mo Jones Sr. always gives up size in a matchup, but his quick feet and quicker hands more than make up for it. Ronald Delph and Billy White do a good job remaining straight up at the rim and using their length to avoid fouls and cause point-blank misses. Both Jason Calliste and Marcus Lewis use their strength and quickness to muscle wing players and make even simple curls and dribble handoffs complete nightmares. And Wayne McCullough’s help defense on penetration and screen and roll make passing out of double teams and traps a dangerous proposition. The problem for the Magic has been getting all those efforts and second-efforts on every possession. Look for a complete game out of the Magic (at least one) over the next few days. If we get that, get your popcorn ready.
3. A few words on Maurice Jones Sr. He’s a former Rookie of the Year, League All-Star, All-Defensive Team member and averaged 20 points a game in Sudbury last year. He didn’t see the floor at all in a second-half rally against the Edge last Friday. So what did he do when Jason Calliste was under the weather and Coach Salerno needed good minutes in his stead? He was a plus 20 in 30 bench minutes, accounting for 20 points, 6 assists, and zero turnovers while playing his usual excellent defense. Matchups may mean a guy like Maurice plays 10 minutes or starts and plays 40. Most nights will fall somewhere in the middle to be sure, but so far, Jones is excelling in whatever minutes and role he’s been handed. Coach Salerno will be nailing down a more consistent rotation soon and you can fully expect Jones’ level of play to remain high no matter where he falls.
4. How does St. John’s meld their desired style of play with Elijah Macon and Mike Edwards? The Island Storm are looking more and more like a problem for the rest of the league with their array of long, athletic, fast shot makers and the Edge attempted to match that with a smaller lineup on New Year’s Eve to no avail. Until there are roster changes (which there ALWAYS are in the NBL), the Edge’s quickest path to righting their ship, in my opinion, would be to find a way to max out the minutes of their two big men. Both Edwards and Macon have been efficient scorers and solid rebounders in their minutes and are agile enough to not be played off the floor defensively. I foresee some different looks and more minutes from this duo tonight against the Magic.
5. How much are the off the floor distractions affecting the Edge so far? This is a LOOOONG road trip to start the year for St. John’s and, for now anyway, being away from the Rock might be the best place for them. There is a small uproar amongst media and fans about the lack of a role for Carl English on the team, either on the floor or in the front office. For several reasons (how beloved Carl is in the province, not wanting to risk the huge amount of goodwill from a large and loyal fan base so far, the distinct possibility they work out the issue and everyone is all smiles soon) the team has been silent on the issue. However, one wonders if the players are feeling some additional pressure to put some crooked numbers in the win column, and soon. To be sure, it’s a hungry squad taking the floor tonight against the league’s lone unbeaten team.