Though his remarkably successful Georgia Tech career wasn’t quite enough for an NBA team to take a draft-day flyer on him, Marcus Georges-Hunt hasn’t taken his foot off of the gas pedal in pursuit of a fruitful NBA career. A year after playing summer league with the Brooklyn Nets and preseason basketball with the Boston Celtics, the College Park native is showing out once again — this time with the Orlando Magic, where he has a much better shot at making the team’s final roster. Let’s take a look at why that’s the case.
Timing is everything
Marcus Georges-Hunt just so happens to be a successful D-League player at the best possible time to be a successful D-League player. For the first time ever the Development League (now called the Gatorade League, regrettably) is being seen as a viable option for developing young players, not unlike the Minor Leagues in baseball. Players such as Yogi Ferrell (Dallas Mavericks) and Hassan Whiteside (Miami Heat) have turned D-League stints into multi-year deals with guaranteed money from NBA teams, effectively creating a new pathway to the league for players who may have been overlooked coming out of college. There’s tremendous value to be had in signing these players to cheap contracts, especially at a time when an eight-figure salary has become standard for any remotely competent NBA free agent.
Numbers on the uptick
Bad players don’t play in the NBA. Fortunately, Marcus Georges-Hunt is not currently not has he ever been a bad player — and he’s only become statistically better since departing Georgia Tech. Here’s a quick look as his career progression, with his final season of college hoops on top and his extended stint with the Maine Redclaws on the bottom:
Base Statistics: Marcus Georges-Hunt
That's what we call across-the-board improvement. Georges-Hunt showed increased production in every major statistical category with the exception of points per game, which was to be expected given that he was relied upon so heavily as a scorer in college. His PER did dip pretty substantially, but that just reflects the jump in competition. As for other advanced stats, Georges-Hunt saw an uptick in true-shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage — both great indicators of a fundamentally better shooting stroke.
It’s that jump in shooting efficiency that has made Georges-Hunt a much more viable NBA option. His body control has always been elite, as we saw plenty of times with his ability to drive through traffic against the elite bigs of the ACC. He’s physical, he draws fouls, and he plays fantastic defense — an upside of playing under Brian Gregory for four years. Those skills translate incredibly well to the NBA and are quite rare.
Interestingly, Georges-Hunt is now listed at 6-foot-6 after playing his college career listed at 6-foot-5. There are a thousand reasons why that could be, but it certainly doesn’t hurt his case. Neither has his summer league performance, which has been phenomenal to this point — Georges-Hunt has been one of the most consistent players on the court for Orlando. His hard work, especially on defense, hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Magic coaching staff.
Taking advantage of Orlando’s 2016 mistakes
The Magic’s complicated and constricted salary cap situation could make it much easier for Marcus Georges-Hunt to find his way onto the final fifteen-man roster. Orlando went out and signed the likes of Bismack Biyombo, Evan Fournier, and D.J. Agustin to rich contracts that guarantee a combined $41.25 million this year alone. Those choices all but sapped any flexibility that the Magic could potentially have had this season, leaving the team with just $11 million to work with after the salary cap was announced to be an unexpectedly-low $99 million this year.
It seems like plenty, but $11 million doesn’t go far in today’s NBA. In fact, it goes exactly nowhere if you’re the Orlando Magic; they can’t even afford to re-sign their own free agents with that type of money. With just twelve players on the current roster, a number that includes Georges-Hunt, they have plenty of physical space but relatively little monetary space for new faces.
Orlando signed Georges-Hunt to a contract near the conclusion of last season with an unguaranteed salary of $1.3 million for the 2017-18 league year. This permits the Magic to release him without consequence in the event that they are able to sign a free agent or decide to take a bad contract into their cap space in exchange for a future asset, as other teams have already begun to do. It sounds bad, but NBA teams value that type of flexibility — particularly on low-risk, high-reward contracts like Georges-Hunt’s.
We won’t know officially for quite some time, but Marcus Georges-Hunt’s odds of cracking the Orlando Magic’s opening day roster are likely at an all-time high. It’s a combination of hard work and right-place-right-time for the former Yellow Jacket, whose best basketball is still ahead of him.
Expect to see Georges-Hunt finish out summer league with Orlando and be invited to participate in the preseason with the team barring anything unexpected personnel-wise. From there, all of the pieces seem to be in place to allow him to keep his roster spot; his NBA career is finally gaining traction and this could be the best chance he gets to make the rest of the league regret passing on him. Hopefully Marcus Georges-Hunt can continue taking advantage as he draws ever-closer to realizing an NBA dream.