The Season: Orlando Magic

New Faces: C.J. Wilcox, Stephen Zimmerman (R), Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green, D.J. Augustin, Jodie Meeks, Serge Ibaka

2015-16 Regular Season Record: 35-47

2015-16 Regular Season Achievements:  4th: Field Goal Attempts. 7th: Assists

Leading Scorer: Victor Oladipo, 16.0

Leading Rebounder: Nikola Vucevic, 8.9

Keep your champagne on ice and your pom-poms in the closet. There wasn’t much to celebrate about the Magic last year as they were middle of the pack or worse in  offensive rebounds (21st), total rebounds (17th), blocks (15th), field goal percentage defense (20th), three-point defense (19th) and two-point defense (22nd). Their coach resigned. Or quit. It doesn’t really matter what the language is, Skiles bailed on the young Magic.

The Magic front office decided what they needed was a defensive identity which is what they thought they had in Scott Skiles. They hired Frank Vogel who is the anti-Mike  D’Antoni. Great on defense, asleep on offense. He guided teams to the Eastern Conference Finals but then again he had a top-10 player in Paul George, something the Magic secretly crave. But with Vogel at the helm the defense will continue it’s steady climb.

The Magic added Bismack Biyombo who has a particular gift for playing hard and cleaning up the glass. You don’t have to run plays for him. They traded leading scorer (Victor Oladipo) who was never going to be better than he was and never was going to be an All-Star. In return they acquired Serge Ibaka. Ibaka has lost a little in the rebounding department. In 2015-16 he had the lowest offensive rebounding numbers in his career and the second lowest defensive rebounding numbers. But Ibaka can make a consistent shot. Last year he was 50% from 3-9 feet, 48.6% from 10-15 feet and 45.3% on long twos. He’s a tough player who has played in meaningful games and he brings a veteran presence and maturity.

Evan Fournier has been placed into the face of the franchise box by virtue of his free agent contract. Perception is reality and Fournier is the Magic’s highest paid player (along with Biyombo). He is going to be who the perimeter offense is funneled through and the question will be consistency and can he raise his game to another level. He has never posted a 20 ppg season. Last year he had career highs in 3-point shooting, 40%, and field goal percentage, 46.2%. That has to stay constant but he has to take more than 12 shots a game, more in the 15-16 range if he is to lead the Magic offensively.  There are too many players on the Magic who don’t have offensive skills and are reluctant scorers or just not very good putting the ball in the hole.

Elfrid Payton has every point guard skill you could ask for. He has length and court vision and the ability to make the play no one else can see. But in an offensive point guard era, Payton is a throw back to when point guards didn’t shoot because they couldn’t. Payton was a 32% three point shooter last year. Teams sagged off of Payton to double and didn’t have to recover-let him shoot. So does he really fit? Yes and no. He’s a good point guard but his downside is he can only do three quarters of the things you need him to do.

This summer the Magic acquired Jeff Green, a hit or miss scorer. He will put up 30 one night and the next night put up 6. He is the poster child for inconsistency. His talent is on defense. He can stop shooters. D.J. Augustin is a nice backup point who is undersized but he gets every ounce of grit out of six feet. His defense is below average for obvious height reasons. You can shoot over him. Jodie Meeks had one good year playing for Mike D’Antoni. He doesn’t have lateral quickness and frequently gets beat off the dribble. He’s a catch and shoot scorer who plays well with a star who is double teamed. In other words, he makes open shots and struggles to make contested shots because he can’t put the ball on the floor and create space.

The Magic averaged 102.1 points last season, an increase of 7.1 from the year before.  Their offensive efficiency rating was 21st, an improvement over 27th. They had 12 games in which they didn’t score 90 points. In 2014-15, they scored less than 90 points 19 times, 24% of their games. There has been improvement. You no longer ask yourself which is worse, Magic games or a root canal.

The Magic used to be the 76ers south, a young team trying to develop their core. Since they traded Dwight Howard without a plan other than to go young, their only recourse was to invest in talent. Sounds good in year one and year two but Howard has been gone for five seasons and the Magic have not made the playoffs. A lot has changed about the Magic. Their three best players are Serge Ibaka, Evan Fournier and Nic Vucevic.

The Magic are no longer in a killer conference. The Miami Heat are in rebuild mode. The Washington Wizards are in a perpetual John Wall/Bradely Beal confusion. The Atlanta Hawks lost Al Horford, and Dwight Howard will bring his pouting game to the ATL. Charlotte has added veteran talent to go along with a defensive coach and a lottery pick who is sneaking into the top-5 point guard conversation. It got the Hornets into the playoffs. That is how the Magic can break the non-playoff drought. Follow Charlotte’s example.

The Magic open up with a feast and famine schedule: Heat (H), Pistons (R), Cavaliers (R), 76ers (R), Kings (H), Wizards (H), Bulls (R). A nice start is 3-4.

Prediction: 40-42


photo via llananba