For better or worse, Josh Magette is the backup point guard for the Atlanta Hawks right now. Isaiah Taylor is out injured with a retinal tear and Malcolm Delaney has been moved to an off-ball role that better fits his skill set. This leaves Magette as the only backup to Dennis Schröder and although that will change soon (Taylor is expected back within the next week), it means that the two-way point guard is playing significant minutes for the Hawks.
He’s played a total of 45 minutes across Atlanta’s last three games and will continue to soak up those backup minutes until Taylor is fully recovered from his injury, barring a change of heart from the coaching staff regarding Delaney’s role. So what does Magette bring to the table for the Hawks?
There’s no way around it: Magette is a very good passer. He sees the floor well, makes crosscourt passes through traffic to find open shooters, and hits the roll man when the defense stays home on the weak side. He does a fine job operating in pick-and-roll, though his ability to create offense for himself in these situations lags behind his ability to find others. For as small as he is—he’s generously listed at 6-foot-1—his ability to find the right pass is impressive:
A lot of smaller guards have trouble with that cross-court pass to the weak side corner in pick-and-roll. Being able to see through the thicket of moving players and hit Marco Belinelli for an open jumper is a high-level pass and makes Magette dangerous as a driver with the ball in his hands in pick-and-roll.
His offensive skills translate from the G League to the NBA relatively well, though certainly his ability to score is even further dampened against bigger and smarter defenders. He’s picked up some other skills along the way to become more efficient, including putting his defender “in jail” when he drives to the rim in pick-and-roll:
In the above clip, Magette’s defender takes away his ability to go over the screen from Dewayne Dedmon, but this puts Magette just a half step ahead, allowing him to snake back in front of his defender to take him out of the play. Magette jumps back into his defender and gets fouled, a tactic that the best point guards employ on a nightly basis. Tricks like this help to boost his scoring efficiency, which needs all the help it can get, since he’s a poor finisher around the basket at the NBA level and doesn’t have a reliable three-point shot, especially off the dribble.
The three-point shot has never quite gotten to an acceptable level for Magette to really make a push for an extensive NBA career. Adding that extra dimension would open up his offensive game tremendously and complement his passing ability perfectly, but he’s simply never found that consistency with his shot.
Magette is a career 35 percent shooter from three-point range in the G League and his catch-and-shoot numbers are actually relatively good, which means his off-the-dribble numbers are what drags his percentage down. As the point guard, he has the ball in his hands the majority of the time, so being able to pull up for a three is far more important than being able to spot up. If he were younger, then perhaps it would be worthwhile for the Hawks to try to develop that part of his game, but Magette is already 28 years old and on a one-year contract, so sinking additional resources into him also doesn’t make a ton of sense.
Magette is fairly one-dimensional offensively with his passing being his only real NBA-level skill, but that’s better than what he brings on the other end of the floor. Three traits are required of a player to be an adequate defender in the NBA: he has to know how to defend, he has to be willing to defend, and he has to be able to defend. If a player ticks all three boxes, there’s a very good chance he’s an above-average defender. Some players can tick two of those boxes and overcome their deficiencies in the third. Magette is not one of those players.
He does check off two items on that list: he knows how to defend and he’s certainly willing to do so…but he just can’t do it. He’s too small and not quick enough to really be effective and while he can make up for his lacking physical attributes in the G League, the NBA is unforgiving of players of Magette’s size.
He can’t defend opposing point guards in the big leagues—even if he was the full 6-foot-1 at which he’s listed, he doesn’t have the lateral speed to stay in front of his counterparts. Screens eliminate him from the action completely, as he’s not long enough to go under and still contest the shot and not strong or quick enough to get over effectively. That means the Hawks have to hide him on the other team’s least-threatening wing, but this gets troublesome if his guy can shoot, since Magette’s diminutive stature greatly impacts his ability to deter shots when he closes out:
He’s a good team defender—he rotates well, tags the roll man when he should, and moves on a string with the rest of his teammates. He’s a very active help defender, although that can sometimes get him in trouble when he has to close out to his guy on the three-point line. It’s readily apparent that he understands various defensive schemes well and truly gives high effort on almost every possession (which is more than you can say for Schröder), but he’s just not physically able to defend at even a below average level in the NBA.
Magette is a high-level G League point guard who shines against lesser competition but doesn’t translate well enough to the NBA to be able to make a consistent positive impact. He gets other guys involved, which is essential in Erie, where the Hawks have sent wings Tyler Dorsey and Nicolas Brussino to gain experience. A pass-first point guard is perfect for Erie and can work at the NBA level, but he has to bring more than just passing to stick in the big leagues. Being able to knock down the three would boost Magette considerably, but at this point in his career, it’s fair to question whether he can reach the point where he’s above average in that department. It’s not imperative that Magette be good defensively to make it as a backup point guard; plenty of backups and even a handful of starters are actively bad on the defensive end, but it’s another skill that he doesn’t have.
Add all that up and it’s relatively clear why he’s never really gotten an NBA shot before this year despite putting up numbers in the G League. He’s in a good situation in Atlanta to showcase himself, but he just doesn’t knock enough items off the point guard checklist to make it in the NBA.