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2019-20 NBA Season Preview Series: Orlando Magic

2019-20 Orlando Magic Media Day

There’s no denying that it was a rough 6 years for the Magic before last season. They missed the playoffs every year, their best season was a 35 win 2015-16 campaign and other than that they were pretty much a 23-25 win team. They went through 3 different coaches, and since the 2012 season there have been multiple high lottery picks (Oladipo, Hezonja) that are no longer on this team. Oladipo ended up being a pretty legit player so that stings, but because the Magic have been so bad for so long, they do have a ton of young intriguing players that are starting to turn this thing around. The Magic just completed their best season since 2010 with a 42-40 record, and there is a lot to be excited about when it comes to their roster moving forward in a conference that is begging for a team to make a legit leap. Why can’t it be the Magic? We’ll get to why in a minute, but as always first we must relive the best moments from last season.

2018-19 Season Highlights

The Magic aren’t what you may consider a top free agent destination, so they’ve had to go about their rebuild mostly through the draft and through trades. When that’s the path you have to take you obviously have to be patient, but now with some stability at the head coaching spot and a collection of young talent that all have huge ceilings, we’re finally starting to see the benefits of all that losing start to show. Look at their roster

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Loaded with stars? Not really, but what it is loaded with is really solid players mixed with good young talent. It’s actually pretty surprising to see the Magic actually be willing to spend, their 137,390,882 cap number makes them the 6th most expensive roster in the NBA. You look up and down this list you see a team that has the potential to be nails defensively, is long and athletic as fuck, and has legit shooting on both units. Not only that, the oldest player on this roster isn’t even 30 years old. Those are all things that help you become competitive for a long time in the weaker conference. The vets on this team all are players who know their role and are consistent, they have the young franchise player in Gordon, and then even their second unit depth with guys like Khem Birch and Wesley Iwundu are serviceable. What could make them REALLY good is there three question marks

1. Markelle Fultz
2. Jonathan Isaac
3. Mo Bamba

These are three guys who have all sort of struggled early in their careers at times, but are all so young and so raw they are far from a finished product. You see flashes from all three and as a Magic fan I don’t blame you for getting excited. You know what Aaron Gordon is, you know what Fournier, Vucevic and Ross are going to give you. But if the Magic take a legit leap and actually compete for that 5-6 seed this year, the development and production of those three are going to be a major factor why.

We’ll start with Fultz. Nobody knows what he’ll look like once real games start, but the fact that he’s even playing basketball is certainly a step in the right direction. The Magic got him for basically nothing and have been very patient with him, but as we’ve seen this preseason Fultz is starting to get unleashed. Considering DJ Augustine is in the last year of his deal, there is every opportunity for Fultz to be the point guard of the future for this team.

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Obviously it’s smart to temper your expectations mostly because we’ve been fooled before by Fultz, but I’m willing to believe he can be a serviceable NBA point guard this season. His jumper may not be picture perfect, but so much of his struggles I feel like were mental, and if those aren’t going to be a problem then why can’t he be a legit contributor? If he’s able to live up to his #1 pick billing, that makes a gigantic difference in how this team looks.

Which brings me to Jonathan Isaac. He didn’t play much his rookie year, but last year in 75 games you got a glimpse of what makes him such an interesting prospect

the efficiency offensively isn’t there yet, that’s the next step for him but what we saw was this super long athletic big that actually could hold his own defensively. His 106 Drtg as a 21 year old is encouraging, as is his 3.1 defensive win share number. Remember, he’s like 21 years old still and isn’t anywhere close to a finished product. We’re already seeing this preseason how much of a beast he is defensively, and this is why when he was drafted there were people who believed he may have the highest ceiling of that entire class. If he can figure out his offense, he’s a unicorn type player. Plus he rules in 2K so that should always be factored in.

I just love how creative the Magic can be with him in different lineups. You want to go small? Throw him at center. You want to go big, I feel like he’s athletic enough to do a decent job at the wing. If he can improve his three point shooting to be like a 35-37% shooter he’ll become such a different player. He’s starting to take more, seeing his 3PAr jump from 31% to 43% last year and so far this preseason he’s shooting 38.5% on 4.3 attempts a night. It’s coming.

Then there’s Mo Bamba. Blocked by Vucevic, he played only 47 games as a rookie and just as advertised he can rebound and protect the rim at an elite level. How does 3.0 blocks Per 36 sound? Guess who is also shooting 40% from three with 3.3 attempts this preseason? Bamba definitely has the potential to be that modern type of NBA big who can protect the rim AND stretch the floor, and oh yeah he’s only 20.

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If these three continue on the same path, the Magic instantly become a bitch to play. So why believe in them at all this year? It’s pretty simple, to compete in the NBA you have to be able to defend. Period. Doesn’t matter how legit your offense is, if you can’t stop anybody and end up having a negative point differential you aren’t going to make the playoffs. Well from February through the end of the season, guess who had the 8th best offense in the league paired with the #1 defense? That’s a span of 30 games and you guessed it, it was the Magic. They had the 4th best overall net rating in the league over that span and it’s a huge reason why they had the 3rd most wins down the stretch (21-9) which carried them into the playoffs. Everyone is back, everyone is more comfortable in Steve Clifford’s system, and the young guys are getting better. What’s not to like?

This is not a team that relies on isolation, in fact they never run it. They were 27th in isolation frequency last year, that’s now what their talent does well. They’d much rather post up and play through Vucevic or come off screens. Only the Warriors use off screen sets more than the Magic, and they were 12th in 3PM. They can make you pay with their shooters in a wide variety of ways and off screens is one of them. They were 10th in the league in screen assists post ASB. One area where I’d like to see them improve though and it’s why Fultz is so important is P&R ball handler scoring. The Magic STUNK at this last year, ranking in the 13th percentile. They were a bottom 5 team in points per possession from their ball handler, so if Fultz gives them ANY improvement in that area it’s going to be huge.

Not for nothing, you also can’t ignore Aaron Gordon’s development as a scorer outside of just being an awesome dunker. His efficiency is getting better, he’s now a legit option and threat from three, and he’s starting to venture out to other areas outside of just scoring at the rim. That’s important. The next step for him though is his ability to draw fouls. It’s the one final step a lot of young players need to get to, because his 24% FT rate last year is far too low. He’s only getting to the line around 3 times a night and seeing as how he just had the best FT% year of his career (73%), he needs to double that number of attempts. If he can add 4-6 points from the line which isn’t too crazy, boom he’s a 20 point scorer and it’ll help take the scoring load off the vets.

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The formula for the Magic is pretty simple. Defend at a high level, leverage your insane length to contest everything, and then slow it down and beat teams in the half court either through the post or with shooters running off screens. With that legit defense you create more transition opportunities where the Magic flourish. In the East, that’s all possible and they’ve looked awesome so far this preseason which has me buying all the Magic stock at the moment.

Official Greenie Prediction: 43 wins