The Orlando Magic, who were projected to finish 13th in the conference by Sports Illustrated, are leading the Eastern Conference, the first time they have done that since their NBA Finals season when Dwight Howard was running through, over, and dunking his way to the best in the East. After a long, long torturous playoff drought, not having seen mid-April play since Howard was traded in 2012, the start by the Magic, particularly their scoring, has a a lot of people jumping the shark but cooler heads who have seen hot starts fizzle and die a lonely death say look at the numbers to guide you. That will tell us everything we need to know.
In 2008-09 the Magic were 7th in 3-point shooting. 10th in scoring. 11th in offensive rating. 12th in pace. 1st in Defensive Rating. 1st in Defensive Rebounding. 2nd in 3-Point Defense. 3rd in Field Goal Defense.
Their leading scorer was Dwight Howard, 20.6 points per game. Their leading rebounder was Dwight Howard, 13.8 rebounds.
Nine years later, this is what we know so far in 2017-18.
The Magic are scoring 118 points per game which is second in the league. They are nearly making 50% of their shots. Five players (Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, Nikola Vucevic, D.J. Augustin and Jonathon Simmons) are playing a minimum of 23 minutes and are shooting over 50%.
Three players are averaging more than 20 points a game. Aaron Gordon 23.7 points. Evan Fournier 22.2 points. Nikola Vucevic 22.0 points.
As a team, the Magic are shooting 45.9% from three, a league best. They are taking 27 threes a game. Last season they attempted 26.1 threes and shot 32.8% which was next to last in the league. They are moving the ball, 24.4 assists, seventh best. Their offensive rating of 113.8 is ranked third. Their point differential is +10.8, third in the league.
They lead the league in first quarter points, and are ranked 5th in 4th quarter points. They average 58.2 points in the first half, trailing only the Warriors. They are the best second half scoring team in the league (59.8 points). They are second in True Shooting % trailing the Warriors who are first. They have made more field goals per game than any other team in the NBA (43.4)
They are 1st in 3-point percentage. Teams are shooting a league low 27.3% against them. Overall shooting defense, the Magic rank 3rd. Teams are shooting 41.0% when guarded by Magic defenders. The Magic are 6th in blocks and 8th in defensive rebounding. Their defensive rating is 10th.
They are a pretty average team getting to the line which means they are taking a lot of jumpers. They are middle of the pack in steals and worse than middle of the pack in fast break points. Their offensive rebounding numbers are deceptive. Yes, they are ranked 24th but because they are a high efficiency offense, they are just not that many missed shots to grab.
They are an average or worse point guard scoring team which is an area of concern going forward with dominant point guard scorers in Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry, John Wall. The Magic point guards are averaging 19 points per game. (The Warriors point guards are averaging 32 points per game).
They haven’t had to face a top-10 point guard in the league and so their defense hasn’t really been tested on the perimeter. Nevertheless, the Magic have beaten the Spurs, a title contender with a tough defense and an All-Star in LaMarcus Aldridge. They have beaten a LeBron James team on his home floor; they cleaned the Cavs clock. They beat a good Heat team many expect to fight for a lower seed playoff berth in the East. And they split with a better than expected Nets team.
In their only loss they allowed 50% shooting (Nets). In their last three wins teams shot 38%, 41%, 33%. Three point shooting has been worse: 29%, 28% and 16%.
Frank Vogel is back to being Frank Vogel again and the Magic believe in their resurrection.