Few people noticed when the Orlando Magic signed Dewayne Dedmon to a 10-day contract, and then a rest-of-year contract, in the late doldrums of the 2013-14 season. In that season, Dedmon had already played for a D-League team and two other NBA teams (Golden State Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers), and his contract was mostly unguaranteed. In fact: his contract with the Magic for this season—which is just under a million dollars—wasn’t even guaranteed until August 1 of this season.
But Dedmon isn’t just sticking around on the roster because the Magic can’t find anybody else to take up a spot. As Orlando’s strongest defensive big, I suspect that new, defensive-minded head coach Scott Skiles will play Dedmon significantly more than the 845 minutes (that’s 14.3 minutes per in 59 games) that Dedmon played last season. The entire Orlando defense takes a completely different shape when Dedmon is in the lineup, compared to when he isn’t.
Here’s an example of the kind of defensive breakdown that seems to happen frequently when Dedmon is not in the game, from Orlando’s preseason game against the Houston Rockets last week. Note Corey Brewer in the corner, being guarded loosely by Orlando’s Tobias Harris:
Using a screen from Rockets guard Patrick Beverley (wearing #2), Brewer is totally free to receive the pass, and has an unimpeded lane into the key:
While all five Magic players are near Brewer as he takes his shot, none of them are actively in position to actually defend the shot. The result is an easy floater, two points for Houston:
While veteran center Jason Smith does a lot to stretch the floor for the Magic on the offensive end, this lack of anticipation on the defensive end is part of the package with Smith. Dedmon did not play in this game against Houston, and the Magic gave up 71 points. In the first half.
By contrast, here is the significant effect that Dedmon has while he’s on the floor. On this play, in Orlando’s next game against the Miami Heat, Dedmon is actively tracking the play from his spot in the low post as Miami guard Tyler Johnson splits a pair of defenders:
As Johnson drives, Dedmon shows excellent timing as he slides across the key to provide help. Also, encouraging for Magic fans, Dedmon’s teammate, Victor Oladipo, “helps the helper,” moving behind Dedmon to guard the Heat center in the post:
The driving Johnson does not see his open man in the corner (by splitting the double team, Johnson had effectively created a 5-on-4 situation), and Dedmon easily blocks his shot, with the Magic retaining possession:
While Dedmon’s ability to sky for the block is impressive, what truly makes this play happen is his anticipation of the entire possession, starting from when the ball was on the other side of the floor.
Flamengo recovers and the fast break is on. Getting up quickly off the ground, Dedmon goes from trailing the play…
…to getting out in front of it. By hustling, Dedmon cuts off a clear passing lane (dotted arrow) that would have led to an easy two points for Flamengo, who are forced to slow down into their half-court offense:
The numbers back up Dedmon’s significant influence: last season, Magic opponents scored 8.5 points less per 100 possessions when Dedmon came on the floor, compared to when he was on the bench. For a team looking to establish a defensive identity, giving Dedmon more playing time would go a long way.