On Friday afternoon, the Orlando Magic announced that they signed six free agents to training camp deals which included: Branden Dawson, Nick Johnson, Kevin Murphy, Arinze Onuaku, Damjan Rudez and Cliff Alexander. In terms of training camp invites, that’s an impressive group, as each of those six players have spent time with an NBA franchise. Alongside that, both Onuaku and Murphy stand as former D-League superstars. Onuaku was a 3x NBADL All-Star while Murphy was an All-NBA D-League First Team during the 2013-14 season.
However, the biggest name on that list was probably Cliff Alexander. Just two years ago, Alexander stood as one of the best high school players. Within the class of 2014, both ESPN and 247sports had him as a top-five prospect, as he was listed 3rd and 4th, respectively. Following his season, Alexander was named as the 2014 Mr. Basketball USA and 2014 Naismith Prep Player of the Year. Alexander’s terrific play caught the attention of the University of Kansas, where he committed to play before the start of his senior season.
However, the hype and promise that surrounded Alexander seemed to evaporate once he stepped foot on campus. Despite his high school success, Alexander spent most of the season on the bench, as he only played 17.6 minutes per game. That inconsistent play was likely due to two separate factors:
- No longer being the biggest and strongest player on the court.
- Not meshing well with Kansas coach Bill Self.
In regards to that first issue, Alexander had many problems scoring inside the paint. Due to underdeveloped footwork and a lack of inside moves, Alexander wasn’t really able to find success when he was asked to score inside the low-post. According to Synergy Sports, Alexander shot just 33% in post-up situations while turning the ball over on 20% of attempts. Although he did have success as an offensive rebounder, collecting 4.5 offensive boards per 40 minutes, that didn’t hide the other offensive struggles that he had.
Some of those struggles could’ve led to Alexander’s second possible issue at Kansas. In a 2015 interview with DraftExpress, Alexander said the following about his situation with Kansas:
Those two major issues wasn’t the only negativity to surround Alexander prior to the 2015 NBA Draft. In a May 31st workout with the Lakers, Alexander suffered a right knee injury which kept him sidelined for the remainder of the pre-draft process.
Just one year after being a McDonald’s All-American and the top-five player in the country, Alexander wasn’t selected in the 2015 NBA Draft. Just hours after being undrafted, Alexander signed to play in Vegas Summer League with the Brooklyn Nets. Alexander had some success in that Summer League stint, as he averaged 8.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game in 22 minutes per game. That solid performance led to Alexander signing a partially-guaranteed contract with the Portland Trail Blazers.
As he looked to start training camp with Portland, Alexander’s right knee injury continued to linger. That injury kept Alexander out for most of training camp and prevented him from playing a single preseason game. While that situation may seem dire for an undrafted player trying to make his way onto an NBA roster, Alexander was still able to make Portland’s regular season roster.
Despite making his way onto Portland’s roster, Alexander was still slated for a major uphill battle. That battle was due to the huge array of front-court players that Portland already had on their roster. The likes of Mason Plumlee, Meyers Leonard, Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh and Al-Farouq Aminu were placed ahead of Alexander on Portland’s depth chart.
That placement basically prevented Alexander from getting any kind of opportunity with Portland. Throughout the entire season, Alexander only played a total of 36 minutes. Although most teams would ultimately place a player in that situation in the D-League, it was a different case as the Trail Blazers didn’t have their own NBADL affiliate. Portland had to use the flexible assignment rule to send Alexander to the NBADL, which ultimately led him to the Santa Cruz Warriors. In four games with Santa Cruz, Alexander averaged 15 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2 blocks in 27 minutes per game.
As he’s set to make the transition from Portland to Orlando, that rough situation looks destined to continue. Similar to his stint with the Trail Blazers, Alexander is going to be in for an uphill battle on Orlando. That’s mainly due to how deep their front-court is, as the Magic feature Serge Ibaka, Jeff Green, Nikola Vucevic, Bismack Biyombo and Stephen Zimmerman as players that either have guaranteed or partially-guaranteed contracts.
So even if Alexander is able to make Orlando’s opening day roster, he’d likely be placed towards the bottom of their depth chart. However, unlike when he was at the bottom of the heap with Portland, Alexander could still have an opportunity to shine within Orlando’s organization. That’s due to the Magic actually their own NBADL affiliate, the Erie Bayhawks.
Since starting their hybrid relationship with the Bayhawks in 2013, the Magic have been more than willing to send their players to their D-League. Last season, both Dewayne Dedmon and Devyn Marble spent time with Erie. Alongside that, 2nd round pick Tyler Harvey decided to spend his entire season with the Bayhawks rather than fighting his way to making his way onto the Magic roster.
Erie could be the best route for Alexander, who’s looking to re-energize his career. With the Bayhawks, Alexander would have something that hasn’t had since he was in high school: a consistent role. After spending the past two seasons just struggling to get any kind of momentum, getting an opportunity to play 25-30 minutes per game could be a huge help towards Alexander’s continued development. For one, it would help with the 20-year-old’s psyche as he’d have a chance to just be comfortable within an organization
And when that comfortably occurs, magic could happen (no pun intended) once again for Alexander. Because if he combines his athleticism, bulky frame and great hustle with confidence, then there’s a chance that Alexander could show some of those flashes that we saw in high school.
Once that initial process occurs, Alexander would be able to start developing some of his other skills. Whether that would be as a mid-range shooter, post-up threat or more reliable defender. Although that process will probably expand past the upcoming season, Alexander could use the 2016-17 campaign to restart that developmental process.