ORLANDO – The Lakeland Magic are the hottest team in the G League right now. They’ve won nine of their last 11 games and sit just a ½ game back of first place in the Eastern Conference, remarkable considering they started the season 2-6.
What, you may be wondering, has led to Lakeland’s emergence?
Above all else, the Magic are deep – so deep that often six or seven players score in double digits. Through Lakeland’s first 33 contests, eight of its players who have appeared in at least 10 games are averaging double figures in scoring.
Lakeland’s most recent win – a thrashing of the Maine Red Claws at the RP Funding Center on Feb. 5 – showed how broad its talent pool is.
Seven Magic players scored in double figures, including Jeremiah Hill, formerly a star at Division II’s Valdosta State. The 6-foot-2, 170-pound guard erupted for 30 points and made eight of Lakeland’s 22 3-pointers.
Depth is especially important in the G League because players get called up periodically to the parent clubs, which is what occurred this week with Amile Jefferson, one of the Magic’s two-way contract players who happens to be Lakeland’s leading scorer and rebounder.
“In the G League when your rosters change or guys get hurt or guys get called up, there are some very good players that fill in or play more minutes and play a bigger role,” Lakeland Head Coach Stan Heath said. “More than anything, the hardest thing, is to get a group of guys to just be connected, offensively and defensively, who are willing to play the right way, share the ball and help each other on the defensive end. When you are doing those kinds of things, you have a good chance to win.”
Lakeland’s versatility gives them an advantage most nights, too. Troy Caupain, the Magic’s other two-way contract player, is one of only a few players in the G League currently averaging at least 15 points, five rebounds and five assists. Braian Angola-Rodas, Caupain’s teammate with the Magic in the Las Vegas Summer League last July, flirted with a triple-double against Maine with 10 points, 10 boards and seven dimes. Jefferson toyed with one recently, also, when he racked up 22 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in Lakeland’s win over the South Bay Lakers on Jan. 28.
Playing inside-out has helped Lakeland become a prolific outside shooting team. The Magic, in fact, rank No. 1 in the G League in 3-point percentage and are sixth in made threes.
Not previously known for his shooting range while at Tulane, Melvin Frazier Jr. was scorching hot from distance during his G League assignment. In 13 appearances with Lakeland earlier this season, the 22 year-old New Orleans native made 14 of his 28 attempts from beyond the arc. He’s one of only six players this season in the G League shooting at least 50 percent from downtown with a minimum of 20 3-point attempts.
John Petrucelli, BJ Johnson and Antonio Campbell are also each shooting higher than 40 percent from 3-point distance.
Anthony Brown, a 6-foot-7 former second round draft pick of the Lakers who briefly played overseas before coming to Lakeland, was impressed with his new teammates as soon as he walked through the door. Although it’s only been a month since he joined the squad, the Bellflower, Calif. native has had no problem fitting in.
“I think first and foremost everybody here enjoys being around each other,” said Brown, a G League All-Star in 2017, a year he also signed a 10-day contract with the Magic. “In the G League, that is important. Everyone just plays together. It’s a good culture around here, especially when I came in everybody was welcoming and it just kind of flows.”
With how well they have bonded in such a short amount of time, Lakeland’s players believe they have the right chemistry and spirit to contend for a G League title. Jefferson, who knows what it takes to win a championship after doing so at Duke in 2015, is confident that this team has the right formula.
“For it to only be the second year, the path that the organization is on is incredible,” the Philadelphia native said. “AP (Anthony Parker, Lakeland Magic General Manager) and Tunji (Adedipe, Assistant GM) did an amazing job picking this group and coach has done a remarkable job using our various talents. Our team is really close and that is rare to see. We have a tight-knit group and we have guys that are really welcoming.”