Since the offseason started, the Orlando Magic have seemingly been on a huge mission to revamp the look of their team. That process just started before the 2016 NBA Draft, as they dealt Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the rights to the 11th pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Serge Ibaka. In the following draft, the Magic used their 41st pick in that year’s draft on UNLV freshman Stephen Zimmerman.
Orlando’s hunt for more front-court players continued into free agency. During that period, they signed defensive stalwart Bismack Biyombo to a four-year, $70 million deal. Alongside that, they signed veteran forward Jeff Green to a one-year, $15 million contract. Particularly with the additions of Biyombo and Ibaka, the Magic’s front-court has become more defensive-oriented which could create a good balance with Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon, who are more offensive-minded players.
With the Magic adding those veteran bigs to their rotation, and pursuing a playoff spot, it seems that one player might be left out the mix: Stephen Zimmerman. With playoff aspirations, the Magic likely won’t be looking to give Zimmerman much playing time during his rookie season, as the UNLV alum is an incredibly raw prospect. As we mentioned in a piece before the NBA Draft, Zimmerman needs to work on adding more strength and physicality on the defensive end, while also becoming more consistent on offense.
Those improvements would likely have to occur with Orlando’s D-League affiliate, the Erie Bayhawks. Over the years, the Magic have been willing to utilize the Bayhawks, as they’ve assigned a few prospects over the last few years. Just last year, they sent Dewayne Dedmon and Devyn Marble to the Bayhawks multiple times during the 2015-16 season. Alongside that, they sent 2nd round pick Tyler Harvey to the Bayhawks for the entire season as a “draft and stash” player.
Stephen Zimmerman should be following in Marble, Dedmon and Harvey’s footsteps as Magic prospects making their way to the Erie Bayhawks. Zimmerman might actually be the prototypical prospect that needs the D-League.
At first glance, Zimmerman has all the tools to be a great modern-day big, as he’s incredibly mobile, athletic and has a solid frame (7’0 with a 7’3 wingspan). Looking past those natural gifts, Zimmerman’s an incredibly raw player. While he was able to use that mobility and athleticism to create a bevy of fantastic plays, there were more instances where he just struggled around the rim when he was heavily pressured. Those struggles pushed Zimmerman to averaging 3.4 turnovers per game during his freshman season.
Those struggles continue into other elements of his offensive game, through his work as a perimeter weapon and post-up weapon. As a shooter, Zimmerman has a weird jumper as it appears that he starts the attempt with the ball near his ear like he’s shooting a shotput. That weird shooting stroke pushed him to only shoot 29% from beyond the arc. Through his work as a post-up weapon, he struggles to work against bigger front-court players due to his poor lower body strength
The Erie Bayhawks could be a great resource for Zimmerman to progress as an all-around player and fix those flaws. With the Bayhawks, Zimmerman will have a lot of playing time which would give him some additional experience and help fix some of those mental flaws. Alongside that, Zimmerman can utilize that D-League stint to fix his perimeter jumper or confidence from around the rim.
With a successful stint in the D-League, Stephen Zimmerman could turn into a valuable part of the Magic’s future. Zimmerman’s quickness, athleticism and size are tools that NBA teams around the league look for from a big man. If Zimmerman uses the D-League to work and fix the clear flaws that he has, he may make the rest of the NBA regret not selecting him in the 2016 NBA Draft.