Fans of the Orlando Magic have experienced winning seasons before, but recently the team has been far from successful. However, the new look Magic are looking to turn some heads, and in the process maybe win a few games.
When the team hired Jacque Vaughn, who is going into his third season with Orlando, nobody expected him to instantaneously turn the Magic into a playoff contender. Last season, Orlando sported a 23-59 record, which was good for 13th in the Eastern Conference, so it’s likely they won’t become playoff bound this year either.
Although, this year’s team has amassed some serious talent, and it all starts with last season’s rookie of the year candidate Victor Oladipo.
The drafting of Oladipo was a solid pick for a Orlando team that has not had a playmaker of his caliber since Tracy McGrady.
Oladipo flashed tremendous upside and potential during his rookie season with the team, as he averaged 13.8 points, 4.1 assists, and 4.1 rebounds a game for the Magic. The combo guard showed a tremendous ability to shoot the ball, especially the three-point shot.
While last season was a tremendous step forward for Oladipo, he will need to become more of a factor this year.
The team traded leading scorer Aaron Afflalo to the Denver Nuggets, and saw starting point guard Jameer Nelson leave via free agency.
Oladipo will carry the burden of Orlando’s backcourt, although if things go as planned he might not be doing so for long.
At the 2014 NBA draft, Orlando made a draft-night deal with Philadelphia that sent the team rookie guard Elfrid Payton out of Louisiana-Lafayette.
Payton has the ability to become an effective point guard in the NBA. He possesses incredible ball-handling skills, and his ability to pass the ball has drawn comparisons to that of Rajon Rondo.
During an interview with The Orlando Sentinel, coach Vaughn praised Payton and his ability to break down defenses and score the basketball.
“I think part of that aggressiveness is a mindset of wanting to put the ball on the ground and getting in the teeth of the defense and making plays at the rim. He has the ability to get into the paint. He has the size to do it and some instincts — just natural instincts — of what to do when he gets to the rim. So I’ve been very pleased with that.”
Aside from the addition of Payton, Orlando has added a few extra pieces to deepen their depth at the guard positions. The team added veteran Luke Rindour, and acquired Evan Fournier in the deal that sent Afflalo to Denver.
Both Rindour and Fournier have the ability to shoot the three-point shot, and will serve as quality options off the bench.
One player that is looking to stay off the team’s bench is Tobias Harris. The small forward had somewhat of a breakout year last season averaging 14.6 points and 7 rebounds per game.
Supposedly Harris is coming into camp lighter and more agile than he was a year ago, so his production rates could see a huge increase. Tobias will serve as the team’s starting small forward, but could also see some time in Orlando’s suddenly impressive frontcourt, which is looking to build off a solid 2013-14 campaign.
Despite the team’s lackluster record last season, they possessed a solid collection of big men. Led by Nikola Vucevic and Kyle O’Quinn, the team ranked 12th in basketball with an opponent shooting percentage of 53.1 at the rim.
Vucevic was the team’s biggest star pacing them with a healthy 11 rebounds a game. Vucevic also picked up the slack offensively, as he averaged 14.2 points a contest. The only downfall to Vucevic is his knack for injury.
Last season, Vucevic played in only 57 games, which left Orlando very thin down low.
With Vucevic’s injury history, and the relatively weak depth the team had there were few options to rely on down low. However, unheralded Kyle O’Quinn was able to come through big time for the team. During the month of March, O’Quinn averaged 8.6 points and 7.4 rebounds a game for the Magic.
The month of April was even more impressive as he increased his points per game average by three additional points.
Despite the impressive play by O’Quinn, and the leadership of Vucevic, the team felt they needed to add more depth to its weakened roster of bigs. With only O’Quinn, Vucevuc, and underachieving third-year player Andrew Nicholson in its rotation, the team focused heavily on improving the frontcourt.
Orlando used the fourth overall pick in this year’s NBA draft on Aaron Gordon, an explosive forward that has drawn comparisons to Blake Griffin.
Gordon, while freakishly athletic, might not be ready for consistent NBA minutes.
His biggest problem is where he fits in with the team. Gordon, who measures at 6’9, has been profiled as a power forward, but he might not grow into a full-fledged big man in the NBA. He will need to improve his jump shot if he plans to play at any position, but he has the full support from Jacque Vaughn, who stated to The Orlando Sentinel his pleasure with Gordon’s ability to adapt.
“He’s very strong, so it allows him to be physical without fouling. That’s a key component in today’s world of defense: being physical but not fouling. He’s shown the capability to guard out on the perimeter but also show resistance if the ball goes into the post because of his strength. So I’ve been pleased to see that from him.”
In addition, the team also signed free agent Channing Frye to a three-year $32 million deal.
The addition of Frye will give the team the ability to spread the floor and create more scoring opportunities. Frye shoots incredibly well for a big man, evident by his 5.3 three-point attempts a game last season.
The one downfall to Frye’s game is his defense. Opponent’s shot 52.3 percent against him, which is one of the lower marks in the NBA.
With all of the additions and losses, it will be fun to see how Jacque Vaughn rotates his roster this year. Will the team give more reps to Oladipo at point guard, despite the addition of Payton? Will the team’s signing of Frye impact the minutes given to O’Quinn?
Can Nikola Vucevic stay healthy enough for a full season? Will Tobias Harris take the next step, or is he just a flash in the pan?
It won’t be an easy season for the Magic. The team did lose some scoring punch, and didn’t upgrade the roster as they should have, but when you’re a re-building team the process of turning into a winner doesn’t happen overnight.
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