Coming off of a 29-53 campaign, the Orlando Magic look to rebound and compete in an extremely weak Eastern Conference. In addition to several new players, Orlando added Raptors executive Jeff Weltman to run the basketball operations department and poached John Hammond from the Bucks to become their new GM. This team is still several years from any sort of championship contention, but don’t count anyone out in a weak Eastern Conference.
During the offseason, the Magic gained a lot more than they lost. Although C.J. Watson, Jeff Green and Jodie Meeks provided decent numbers off the bench, they by no means made or broke the team. The additions significantly outweigh the losses for Orlando. The Magic completely reloaded their bench, signing Arron Afflalo and Marreese Speights, who will provide a veteran presence in the locker room and play a pivotal role in the success of the bench. In addition to Afflalo and Speights, the Magic picked up backup PG Shelvin Mack from the Jazz and SG Jonathon Simmons from the Spurs. In Mack, the Magic get a young point guard with potential upside. If Mack can perform with increased minutes, he may see more time than veteran backup PG D.J. Augustin. Jonathon Simmons was a solid role player for San Antonio, averaging just over 6 points a game for the Spurs. His defense is up there with the elite in the NBA, and with added minutes, the Magic may have gotten a steal in Simmons.
Perhaps the biggest acquisitions the Magic made were through the draft, taking forward Jonathan Isaac from Florida State and SG Wesley Iwundu from Kansas State. Iwundu will see time at both SG and SF this year, but expect the Magic to give him time to develop. His stellar perimeter defense paired with incredible athleticism give him a high upside, but his shooting must improve in order for him to be a threat. At 6 foot 7 with a 7 foot wingspan, it’s easy to see there is potential in this kid. At Kansas State, Iwundu did not shoot the ball from deep very often, attempting just over 2 shots from deep a game, but when he did he shot at about 36%. If Iwundu can develop a legitimate jump shot, he has the potential to be a solid NBA player, especially if he can play the shooting guard position at his size.
It’s hard not to get excited about Jonathan Isaac out of Florida State. On the defensive side alone, Issac can literally do anything and everything. He can hassle a guard and has the foot speed to keep up with them, while at the same time has the size to lock up either forward position. If Issac can fill out his now 205 pound frame, he will have the ability to guard all five positions, and the upside with that is incredible. On the offensive end, Issac has the ability to score, but does still need some work. He shot 31% from deep in his only season at Florida State, but his dribbling skills and ability to finish will help him immensly as he figures out his shot. All in all, Jonathan Issac has the tools to be an NBA All-Star. Now it’s time to find out how exactly he gets there.
The starting lineup for the Magic will most likely feature Elfrid Payton at PG, Evan Fournier at SG, Terrence Ross at SF, Aaron Gordon at PF and Nikola Vucevic at C. This is a lineup that has potential, but in order for the Magic to make a push for the playoffs all these parts have to click. At point guard, Elfrid Payton is a superior passer with the ability to get a triple-double every night given his rebounding abilities. Shooting has never been his strong suit, but Payton does have the ability to get in the lane and finish. On the wings, SG Evan Fournier looks to stretch the defense with his ability to hit from deep, averaging over 17 points a game last year. After acquiring him in a trade to Toronto for Serge Ibaka, SF Terrence Ross was a bright spot for the Magic, scoring a career high 13 points a game while in his new role as a starter. Ross has the ability to bang down a three, while at the same time being able to drive past you and throw down a highlight-reel dunk.
Perhaps the biggest question lies in PF Aaron Gordon, now entering his 4th NBA season. If Gordon wants to establish himself as more than a dunker, he has to establish the threat of hitting a midrange jumper and even be able to knock down a three. For a comparison, look at Blake Griffin, who developed a jump shot after being known primarily as a dunker. Gordon has had the patience from the Magic front office so far in his career, but look for him to take that next step towards being a leader in the locker room. At center lies perhaps the best player on the Magic in 7 footer Nikola Vucevic. Scoring hasn’t been a problem for Vucevic, as he can pour in a 20 point performance and add 15 rebounds on any given night. The problem lies in his ability to defend elite level defenders. His slow foot speed is often his kryptonite, leading to his name being just outside the big name centers. Vucevic will be essential to the success of the Magic.
On the bench, aforementioned guys like Arron Afflalo, Marreese Speights, Shelvin Mack, Jonathon Simmons, Wesley Iwundu and Jonathan Isaac pair with players that have been there before like D.J. Augustin, Bismack Biyombo and Mario Hezonja to create a bench that mixes both veteran and youth presences. The Magic’s bench depth and scoring abilities off the bench have improved immensely, giving them an extra edge.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The strengths and weaknesses for the Magic are pretty simple. Last season, the Magic scored the 4th least points per game while also ranking dead last in the Eastern Conference in three point percentage. The weakness of the Magic offense can be improved with new faces, especially guys like Simmons and Afflalo off the bench. The development of Mario Hezonja, so far a disappointment, could play a key role in bench scoring. The Magic defense wasn’t great last year, but Head Coach Frank Vogel expects big improvements on that side of the ball. Adding size and strength on defense in guys like Jonathan Issac, Wesley Iwundu and Jonathon Simmons should see vast improvements on the defensive end. Nikola Vucevic, however, does leave some room for exposure at the back end. Expect Orlando to be in a lot of low scoring games.
Going through and picking 82 games for the Magic was difficult, but I see them finishing with around a 35-47 record. This is a 6 game improvement for Orlando, and I do think this team has gotten better. 35 wins should put them right at the edge of contending for the 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, as crazy as that sounds. This season isn’t about making the playoffs as much for Orlando as it is developing their young pieces and using veteran leadership to help out along the way. Finding an identity on offense will be difficult, but if the Magic can do it, don’t count them out of a run at the postseason. However, this lack of offensive production could be problematic for Orlando.
(Photo credit: Denver Post)
Luke Owens is a freshman at Oswego State in the broadcasting program. He hopes to one day host his own TV and radio shows, while also announcing games. He roots for the Yankees, Bills, Magic, Sabres and Syracuse. Follow him on Twitter @LuketheKid3 and be sure to check out his podcast, Off the Wall with Luke Owens on Soundcloud.