ORLANDO – Much like how the Orlando Magic have utilized the improved playmaking skills of Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon this season, their G League affiliate in Lakeland has been able to do the same with Amile Jefferson, one of the Magic’s two-way contract players.
Through his first 31 games with Lakeland, the 6-foot-9, extremely polished power forward is averaging 3.6 assists. Because of how versatile he is on the offensive end, the 25-year-old who is originally from Philadelphia has flirted with a few triple-doubles this year – including recently when he racked up 22 points, 14 rebounds and seven dimes against the South Bay Lakers on Jan. 28.
“For me, it’s just being a complete player,” Jefferson, a collegiate champion in 2015 while at Duke, said about how his game has progressed this year. “What I like about being in Lakeland is that I get to work with the ball a lot, so I’ve been getting a lot of assists, especially this last month or so. Being able to handle the ball, be a playmaker, read the defense and just show my basketball IQ.”
Similar to Vucevic in that no matter where he is on the floor he can pick apart a defense with his supreme vision and awareness, Jefferson has done an excellent job finding teammates. Whether it’s kicking passes out from the post, spotting cutters or locating mismatches, the former McDonald’s High School All-American has made excellent decisions when he has the ball in his hands.
“A lot of times we play through him,” Lakeland Head Coach Stan Heath said. “We give him the ball at the elbows and he becomes a passer, a driver, a screener. He’s very involved in a lot of things we do. He’s a central figure.”
It’s not just his passing that’s drawing praise, though. His defensive tenacity is what many admire most about him.
“He’s just that anchor guy,” Heath said. “He anchors the defense with his rebounding and his versatility to be able to switch and guard at different (positions), whether it’s the pick-and-roll actions or screen actions or one-on-one, not having to do a lot of doubling with him.”
As a two-way contract player, Jefferson is allowed to spend as many as 45 days with the Magic’s parent club. He’s currently in Orlando practicing and recently traveled to Oklahoma City for the Magic’s game against the Thunder.
Regardless of whether he goes from Lakeland to Orlando or vice versa, transitioning from one team to the other has been seamless for Jefferson because of how similar Heath and Steve Clifford are when it comes to what they expect from him and how they run their practices.
“You can tell they spend time together,” he said. “We’re taking a lot of stuff the (Orlando) Magic do and incorporating that into the fabric of what we do and so there are a lot of similarities. That’s really helpful when days like this where we come off the road and I come straight up, I know some of the plays or at least I know the language and that’s the biggest part of the battle. I’m really glad that our programs are pretty much identical.”
Jefferson was already familiar with how the two-way contract system worked prior to joining the Magic, as he was one of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ two-way players for a portion of last season. Although he never played in a game for Minnesota’s parent club, the former Duke Blue Devil earned several accolades for his outstanding play with their G League squad in Iowa, including being named to the 2018 G League All-Rookie and All-Defensive Teams.
Now, while playing some of the best basketball of his life, Jefferson believes his current team in Lakeland has a real chance to compete for a G League title.
“I’m really proud of what we have been able to do so far,” he said. “We haven’t done much but the trajectory that we’re on is a good one. If we can stay with it, stay at it, keep chipping away, I think when it comes time to do something special, we will be able to.”