This was a hard one to peg. Just looking at NBA team page rosters and thinking about some of the league’s younger prospects, the Orlando Magic are one of the most intriguing groups in the NBA.
I forgot who was the first wise-ass to point this out, but when you revisit the Dwight Howard blockbuster party-day trade just two years later the Magic are inexplicably the clearcut winners. Sure, Andre Iguodala’s swiss-army knife versatility was a key component of Denver’s 57 win season (including 38-3 at home in the Pepsi Center!) but one year later he’s requesting a trade to the team that upset them in the playoffs. Go get it. The Dwight Howard in L.A. experiment caused a serious reversal in me losing my mind over the news at a 4th of July barbecue and proclaiming them instant title favorites to the hilariously depressing “Stay” billboards that the team was forced to put up around Los Angeles just one grisly season afterwards. Which, of course, can only be topped in sorrow by Andrew Bynum’s time in Philadelphia.
Yup, the only real take-away from all of this was the Magic falling into one of the league’s best offensive centers in Nikola Vucevic and the conditional first-round pick that they would use to move up in the 2014 draft for Elfrid Payton. And now, going into their fourth round of tanking-not-tanking, Orlando has a ton of compelling young players, with their three trips to the lottery resulting in the aforementioned Payton, Victor Oladipo, and the hyper-athletic, as of yet positionless, Aaron Gordon. There’s definitely a lot to like about all of these selections and the general path this rebuild is going, especially when you consider how few rotation players Philly has pulled out of their ping-pong picks. (Wow, should’ve put that last hyperlink in the Sixers preview somewhere)
The only question is when are these guys actually going to get any better? The Magic had a decent amount of promise last year as well with a solid defensive back-court in Elfrid and Payton, two capable 20 point per game scorers in Vucevic and the combo-forward/64 million dollar man Tobias Harris, and some veteran leadership and stretch 4 shooting in Channing Frye. Certainly they’d be able to compete on a nightly basis in the woeful East?
Nope. The Magic were actually one of the few teams to finish in the bottom 5 in both offensive and defensive efficiency last year (I see you Knicks!!) and were quite frankly, pretty much a train wreck to watch. A lot of that had to do with a serious lack of shooting; Orlando ranked in the bottom 10 in both 3 point attempts and percentage on those shots. They attempted to fix that in this year by drafting the Croatian JR Smith, Mario Hezojna (who definitely helped bump this team up a spot in the rankings) but he’s not going to see the court much if he can’t commit to playing hard team defense in new head coach Scott Skiles’ system.
Most of it, though is the youth of this team. And I can see Skiles helping this team improve a great deal on the defensive side of the court; they have the athletic pieces in place already and all of these players will benefit from another year of playing together and a more established scheme. I would not be at all surprised to see someone like Oladipo, or maybe Gordon if he gets in the playing time, get an All-Defensive team selection. Also, if Skiles can maximize his usage of this team’s minutes, the Magic go at least 9 deep of young athletes who can come in and exert some serious defensive effort in short bursts. If everyone buys in (which is not unthinkable considering how bad Jacque Vaughn’s reputation was as a head coach) Orlando could actually end up being a pretty respectable unit on that end of the floor.
Except I want to actually wait to see it. Look I don’t doubt that the Magic will have their nights when Oladipo looks like an All-Star and is backed up by a whole team making frisky, hustle plays and Orlando just runs people out of the gym. But I also think there are going to be more nights when the utter lack of spacing from their backcourt and/or playing Gordon at the 3 makes even scoring 85 points an excruciating affair. And while I’m very jealous of the Magic for some of the young prospects they have, there are going to be a lot of games where they look absolutely lost and are hustled by some of the league’s more established vets. So, it’s absolutely possible that the Magic may end up being a lot more exciting than I’m giving them credit for here, but let’s all relax a little bit. There’s some more fun coming up on this list.