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Portland Trail Blazers forward Cliff Alexander (34) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Nov. 9, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

New player scouting reports: Magic training camp invites

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Earlier this offseason, we provided scouting reports on the Orlando Magic’s new additions. You can check out previous editions that went deep on Serge Ibaka and Jodie Meeks, Bismack Biyombo and Damjan Rudez,  D.J. Augustin and Stephen Zimmerman and Jeff Green and C.J. Wilcox. This round will cover the Orlando training camp invites: Cliff Alexander, Branden Dawson, Nick Johnson, Kevin Murphy and Arinze Onuaku.

 

Cliff Alexander

6’8’’, PF, age 20 at start of season, 1 year NBA experience

Coming out of high school, Cliff Alexander was one of the most sought after recruits in the country. He signed with Kansas and gave the Jayhawks one relatively non-descript season before turning pro after he was ruled ineligible by the NCAA. He went undrafted in 2015 and signed a contract with the Portland Trail Blazers. With the Blazers having plenty of open roster spots after losing many free agents, Alexander made the club out of training camp.

Unfortunately, things didn’t get any better for Alexander from there. He appeared in only eight games his rookie season, starting none and only playing a total of 36 minutes. There is almost nothing to be gleaned from his time with the Blazers. Adding to the mystery, Alexander only played four games in the D-League when he was loaned to the Santa Cruz Warriors, because Portland does not have their own D-League franchise.

While in the D-League, Alexander showed some ability to play as a power forward. He was able to muscle inside for scores and was also a solid rebounder. He did struggle mightily on defense, yielding 106.5 points/100 possessions. This isn’t uncommon for a young player and Alexander will only be 20 years old as the season tips off. The small sample size makes it hard to make any definitive judgements.

Ultimately, Alexander doesn’t have the game to slide down and play wings at the small forward spot. And he’s not really big enough to be a full-time power forward. This makes him a tweener, which isn’t the worst thing in the NBA right now.

Unfortunately for Alexander, he lacks the necessary range to really fit as a small ball player. The lack of size to play big and lack of athleticism to go small means he’ll probably have to develop his game overseas or in the D-League before he gets another NBA shot.

 

Branden Dawson

6’6’’, F, age 23 at start of season, 1 year NBA experience

Branden Dawson was drafted after a four-year career at Michigan State by the New Orleans Pelicans and was subsequently traded to the Los Angeles Clippers in a draft-night deal. In his one year with the Clippers, Dawson rarely saw the floor. He played in just six games and only had 29 total minutes of playing time.

For most of the year, Dawson was shuttled back and forth from L.A. to the D-League. The Clippers don’t have their own D-League squad, so Dawson logged time in Bakersfield, Erie and Grand Rapids. It may have been his time in Erie (Orlando’s D-League franchise), as well as consecutive Summer League stints in Orlando, that convinced the Magic to take a chance on Dawson.

Much like Alexander, Dawson is a tweener who doesn’t have the size to regularly play power forward, nor the skill to play small forward. In his D-League time, Dawson took just nine total threes, making four of them, over the course of 29 games. This is actually an improvement over his time at MSU, where he was 0-9 over his entire collegiate career.

Because of his lack of range, Dawson has to get his points by getting to the basket. He doesn’t have the size or length to get up and over players at the NBA level. And he hasn’t developed enough of a mid-range shot or a shot from deep to get by on the offensive end, either.

On the other end of the court, Dawson was an effective defender in college where he was good in Michigan State’s generally terrific defensive scheme. In the pros, he lacks enough quickness to defend on the perimeter and his lack of size makes it difficult for him to compete with bigger players. Again like Alexander, he probably needs a significant amount of D-League time to hone his skills for another NBA roster spot.

 

Nick Johnson

6’3’’, G, age 23 at start of season, 1 year NBA experience

Nick Johnson was drafted by the Houston Rockets in the second round of the 2014 draft after three standout seasons at Arizona. His rookie year saw Johnson regularly shuttling between Houston and the D-League team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, as there were few minutes to be had in the Rockets’ backcourt at the time.

After the season, Johnson was part of a package that the Rockets traded to the Denver Nuggets to acquire Ty Lawson. Johnson didn’t make it out of training camp with Denver before being released, with the Nuggets eating the remaining guaranteed years on his contract.

After being waived, Johnson signed in the D-League and spent the year with the Austin Spurs, starting 25 of 34 games. Johnson generally played well for the Spurs as he swung between both the point guard and shooting guard positions. He shot slightly better from deep and flashed some playmaking skills.

This summer at the Orlando Summer League, the Magic asked Johnson to solely play point guard. Due to his lack of prototypical size at the shooting guard spot, running an offense is probably where he needs to be to have a future in the NBA.

Summer League stats don’t always translate well, but Johnson seems to have passed the eye test for a PG. He confidently ran the offense, pushed the ball when he should, but rarely forced anything. His overall shooting wasn’t anything to write home about, but he hit over 39 percent from three. The ability to consistently hit from behind the arc will be key for Johnson in his transition to being a full-time point.

In college, Johnson flashed incredible athleticism for a player his size and those skills are still there. He’s able to elevate up and over bigger players to finish at the rim. He also gets good lift on his jumper, which helps him to get it off against bigger players. His leaping ability also makes him a very good rebounder for a smaller player. And he has great quickness, showing really good explosiveness off the dribble when he attacks the basket.

In the end, Johnson faces a logjam in front of him at point guard with Elfrid Payton entrenched as the starter, new acquisition D.J. Augustin behind him and C.J. Watson holding the third spot. That depth could make it hard for Johnson to break through and snag a roster spot. With Jodie Meeks being injured to start the year, Johnson’s ability to swing over and play some shooting guard does aid his cause. He’s got an uphill battle, but he’s more than up to the task.

 

Kevin Murphy

6’5’’, SG/SF, age 26 at start of season, 1 year NBA experience

Kevin Murphy was drafted in the second round by the Utah Jazz back in 2012. He made the Jazz roster out of training camp, but rarely played, appearing in only 17 games his rookie year. He did play 14 games in Reno, Utah’s D-League franchise at the time. After his rookie year, he was part of the trade package that landed Andre Iguodala in Oakland with the Golden State Warriors.

Since that point, Murphy has bounced between the D-League with several franchises and has had multiple stops overseas. Over the course of his previous D-League time, Murphy has been very good scorer, putting up more than 20 PPG. He spent last year in Japan with the Hitachi Sun Rockers, averaging 14.7 PPG and generally playing some solid defense.

Murphy won his camp spot with an impressive Summer League performance. He was one of the Magic’s best defenders over the course of the summer. He was often the loudest voice in the gym as he communicated with his teammates and called out opposing sets. He also played with a very high motor, never slowing down or relaxing. In Summer League, hustle can lead to standout performances and Murphy definitely made an impression.

As far as his game goes, Murphy fits the tweener theme of the three players covered above. He has a traditional small forward’s game in a shooting guard’s body. What sets Murphy apart is that he has the size and strength to defend against small forwards. He’s able to hold his own consistently on that end of the floor.

If he can show any sort of consistency with his outside shot, he could have a shot at making an Orlando team that could use another wing. If he can’t shoot it well enough, Murphy is likely looking at another trip overseas or back to the D-League.

 

Arinze Onuaku

6’9’’, PF, age 29 at start of season, 2 years NBA experience

Arinze Onuaku is the unquestioned veteran of Orlando’s preseason invites. He went undrafted out of Syracuse way back in 2010. Since that point, Onuaku has had a handful of 10-day contracts with Cavaliers, Pelicans and Timberwolves. He also went to training camp with the Indiana Pacers in 2014.

Outside of the NBA, Onuaku has played four seasons in the D-League and split last year between teams in the Philippines and Israel. While in the Filipino league, Onuaku’s superior size and strength allowed him to dominant to the tune of 18.7 PPG and 17.3 RPG. Given the lack of competitive big men, it is hard to put much stock in those numbers. In a more competitive environment in Israel, he wasn’t quite as productive, averaging under double figures in points and rebounds.

Over the course of his D-League action, which has featured 116 games played and 78 starts, Onuaku has proven to be a good inside scorer and rebounder. He’s also a rugged interior defender who isn’t afraid to battle for position inside. And he has a nice sense of timing on when to go for blocks, or when to hold his position and play straight up.

Onuaku’s challenge, like that of all the players mentioned previously, is that he’s a tweener. He doesn’t have enough size and length to play the center spot on a full-time basis. And he doesn’t have the quickness to defend most power forwards.

He’s an extremely hard worker who gets the most out of his limited skill set, but that limited skill set is what has kept him on the NBA fringe instead of in the NBA. With a deep frontcourt in front of him that includes veterans and a developmental prospect in Stephen Zimmerman; Onuaku will have to have a huge camp to make the Magic roster.

 

Overall Impressions

The Orlando Magic have shown a tendency to start the season with only 14 players on their active roster. Rob Hennigan likes the flexibility that an open roster spot can provide for making trades or in-season signings. With 13 guaranteed contracts already, the five players mentioned above along with Damjan Rudez (written about previously), are likely fighting for one roster spot. If two players prove deserving, the Magic could keep a full 15-man roster out of preseason.

Given the Magic’s continued need for shooting and Jodie Meeks’ injury, Damjan Rudez and Nick Johnson may have the inside track. If nothing else, Orlando should have a very competitive training camp. That will allow new coach Frank Vogel and his staff the opportunity to get a good read on exactly what they have as they enter their first season in Orlando.

New player scouting reports: Magic training camp invites

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