It's still a bit difficult to make complete sense of the Orlando Magic's decision to sign and trade Ryan Anderson given how the Dwight Howard saga played out, but the acquisition of former New Orleans Hornet Gustavo Ayon does at least give the Magic a useful supporting part at a tremendous value. Ayon is under contract for the next two seasons at a total of just $3 million, and considering his position and on-court value, that's a tremendous asset for a team looking to rebuild by way of its cap space.
Ayon didn't exactly make waves while doing the dirty work for a lottery team last year, but he managed to put up 10.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per 36 minutes while working exclusively within the gaps of the Hornets' offense. He's a bit older than the traditional sophomore—as is often the case with international imports—but in Ayon the Magic have scored themselves a terrific cutter and active defender.
That's a nice package of skills for a big man off the bench, particularly in an age in which defenses are sophisticated enough to marginalize the overall impact of centers and power forwards with minimal offensive skills. Ayon may not offer much in the way of post play, but he has incredible basketball instincts and a knack for finding open lanes to get both scoring opportunities and rebounds. He's far too mobile for opponents to cheat off of him on defense, thus affording any team lucky to have him with some consistent back-line movement in its offense.
Defensively, Ayon brings the very same awareness and timing to his rotations—an area in which he couldn't necessarily anchor a defense but would do incredibly in a well-constructed system. We have yet to see Ayon's abilities on that end really put to work in an ideal context. (Credit to New Orleans head coach Monty Williams for trying, but last year's Hornets didn't provide much defensive stability.) But the fundamentals, size and athleticism are all in place for a player who could prove tremendously useful for a franchise a bit further along in its teambuilding process.
He may not be the kind of piece that Orlando can build around in the wake of Howard's departure, but Ayon is actually a best-case acquisition for a team that needs to get even worse before it gets better. Ayon's style of play ultimately helps win games but would be far more effective for a team with better playmakers and a proven offensive structure; the Magic under rookie head coach Jacque Vaughn (and orchestrated by Jameer Nelson) don't exactly meet those criteria, thus keeping a quality player in house while Orlando can initiate its spiral into the lottery. NBA teams just good enough for mediocrity have a way of getting lost in the uncomfortable cusp of playoff contention, and if nothing else this dismal Magic roster runs absolutely no risk of that.
And so Ayon can hustle and roll and rotate his way through his affordable deal for a team that he'll improve without nudging into uncomfortable territory, all while his placement on a team well out of the spotlight might also aid in suppressing his eventual free-agent value. He may not be equivalent in value to the tremendously useful Anderson, but he's skilled nonetheless and perfect for an Orlando team looking to roll over.