Orlando Magic - Polarization

The days leading up to the start of pre-season are always filled with excitement and impatience by fans league wide. Questions and unrealistic expectations are always posed, only to be let down a short while later. Most expectations come in the form of individual statistics. After all, that is how we measure whether a player had a “good” season or not. 

Heading into the 2019-20 season, the Orlando Magic are one of the more polarizing teams due to the fact they have 13 returning players from last seasons roster, which went 42-40, including 22-9 over the final 31 games, to clinch the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. Of the 13 returning players, 12 logged minutes for the team at some point last season, the one exception being of course guard Markelle Fultz. 

Despite bringing back most of their roster, certain changes are sure to take place in the box score for the Magic this season. After all, the reason so many players were brought back is because the Magic are banking on internal improvement from its’ core players, as well as the addition of Fultz and veteran forward Al-Farouq Aminu, to propel them into the upper echelon of the NBA’s eastern conference.

In a perfect world, all of Orlando’s returning players would improve on their statistics from last year, and the two new additions to the rotation would just add more scoring, rebounding, etc. However, we don’t live in a perfect world, and some players will certainly decline, while others will take that next step forward. The goal is to have more players take a step forward than ones who take a step or two back. This is my unprofessional opinion as to who those players will be. 

Declining

Nikola Vucevic

Before you get up in arms about giving a “declining” player a brand new $100M deal last summer, realize that “declining” could also mean reduced playing time. Vucevic played 31.4 minutes per game last season. With the Magic bringing back Khem Birch, as well as the expected development of second year player Mo Bamba, and the expectation that coach Clifford will experiment with small ball lineups featuring Isaac, Gordon, and Aminu, it is not out of the realm of possibility to expect Vucevic’s minutes to drop down to about 28. With a ~3 minute per game decrease, his other statistics should follow suit.

D.J. Augustin

The veteran point guard brought stability and consistency to Orlando’s lineup last season, and was pound for pound one of the toughest players in the league. However, he is the oldest player on the team, and the team did trade for a 20 year old former first overall pick a mere 7 months ago. It is only natural to believe that Augustin’s playing time will slightly decrease, and it would be borderline foolish to believe that a career 41.3% shooter from the field, can replicate his career year shooting the ball last year (47%) at his stature and age. Nevertheless, Augustin is a consummate professional and will for sure be a steadying presence and a great tutor for the young Fultz.

Neutral

Terrence Ross

‘The Human Torch’ is also coming off of a career year scoring the ball, and that is expected to continue if the Magic are going to be a good offensive team. I do not expect much to change in Ross’ box score this year. His percentages last season were nearly identical to his career efficiency numbers. The major difference came in usage rate. His usage was 5.3% higher than his career up to last year. Expect that to stay the same this year as Ross leads an improved second unit for the Magic.

Al-Farouq Aminu

Aminu is a seasoned veteran in the league, and expectations aren’t high. Come in, play defense, and hit open shots. He’s done it his whole career, and this year will be no different. His value will be especially evident if anyone from SF to C has an injury at some point, as he can guard multiple positions.

Improving

Aaron Gordon

Statistically, Gordon took a slight step back last year in comparison to the year before. However, he was more efficient, and his assist numbers were up. This can be attributed to a coaching change as well as player development. Gordon has stated that he wants to improve his post game, and this was encouraged by coach Clifford. Heading into his 6th season, Gordon is poised to take another step forward in his development and be in the all-star conversation, as well as have his best statistical season.

Jonathan Isaac

This may be one of the easiest ones to predict, as you could see the improvement over the course of the season for Isaac last year, particularly during Orlando’s 22-9 run to close the season. Isaac could potentially be in line for a Pascal Siakam-esque improvement and role expansion. Defensively, Isaac is one of the best young guys in the league, however, his offense has come a long way since his injury riddled rookie year. He has been seen working with Magic legend and NBA hall of famer Tracy McGrady on pivot moves and separation creation. It is his combination of size, mobility, and ability to put the ball on the floor that suggests a major uptick in Isaac’s numbers this year.

Evan Fournier

Fournier had a BAD start to last season, especially shooting the ball. By the time he got out of his funk (he did eventually snap out of it), it was so late in the season, that his numbers were already skewed downward. With his showing at the FIBA world cup, and a year under his belt in Clifford’s system, expect a better, more efficient Fournier this season.

Wes Iwundu

Iwundu was one of Clifford’s favorite players last year, and once Jonathon Simmons was traded, it opened up playing time for the second year swing man. He took full advantage and brought energy, defense, and surprisingly 3 point shooting off the bench. Expect more of the same in a contract year for the third year wing.

TBD

Mo Bamba

Bamba missed most of his rookie year with a left leg stress fracture, and once he went down, Khem Birch looked to be the superior player. This all coincided with the 22-9 finish to the season. Mo’s summer league showing was cut short as the team “rested” him. Birch’s emergence last season, as well as the Magic bringing him back, and pledging $100M to Vucevic in free agency, suggests that Bamba might still be a year or two away. The back up center battle will be an interesting storyline to keep an eye on throughout the season.

Khem Birch

Birch was instrumental in anchoring the second unit’s defense during the second half of last season. He did what many expected Bamba to do. With Bamba being healthy, and the Magic having invested a high lottery pick in him 16 months ago, Birch may be relegated back to fighting for scraps, depending on Bamba’s development. 

Michael Carter-Williams

MCW has allegedly added 15-20 pounds of muscle this offseason, preparing for the possibility of playing SG and SF. Playing a key role down the stretch last year, he was brought back on a one year deal, but unless there is an injury, he may not see a whole lot of playing time. However, he is a great guy to have on your bench and can definitely provide a spark on those nights when the rotation guys just can’t get it going.

Amile Jefferson

Unless there are MULTIPLE injuries, or the Magic are up or down by A LOT, Jefferson won’t see much PT.

Melvin Frazier Jr.

See Amile Jefferson

Markelle Fultz

We’ve seen the videos and we’ve heard the players and coaches marvel at how good Fultz looks. With that said, we have to remember he has played in 33 games out of a possible 164 during his short career, and during that time, his numbers are solid, not great. The thing to remember though is that he has never been completely healthy during his NBA career, at least according to Fultz himself. His contribution this year won’t be what he did at Washington in his lone year in college, but it won’t be what he did for the 76ers in his year and a half there. His stats will obviously depend on his role, and for the time being that is TBD.

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Nemanja KovacevicComment