2017-18 Preview: Orlando Magic

By Josh Eberley #41

The hard truth: Orlando has been forgotten. No amount of Magic, Disney patches or front office shakeups can save this franchise tomorrow. A star needs to be born, the Magic need to attach their wagon to a player that inspires hope and makes headlines. You don’t think about the Magic as a storied franchise but whether it was Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill, Tracy McGrady Steve Francis or Dwight Howard this franchise has always been blessed with star talent. The team has added six lottery born players in the last five years and has yet to clearly hit on a prospect. Victor Oladipo failed miserably in Orlando, Mario Hezonja has yet to show anything, and Domantas Sabonis was moved in a now pointless draft day trade. The Magic’s best shot at having a player champion their franchise is Aaron Gordon. A memorable dunk contest in 2016 put Air Gordon on the map but the Magic have held their own prodigy back by burying him on the depth chart or starting him out of position. This season will be about finding at least one cornerstone for the future and the it starts with Gordon.

Magic 2017-18 Ballhandlers Wings Bigs
Returners Elfrid Payton, D.J. Augustin, Terrence Ross, Evan Fournier, Mario Hezonja, Damjan Rudez Nikola Vucevic, Bismack Biyombo, Aaron Gordon
Newcomers Shelvin Mack, Jonathon Simmons, Arron Afflalo, Khem Birch, Wesley Iwundu Jonathan Isaac, Marreese Speights,
Gone C.J. Watson Jodie Meeks, Jeff Green, Serge Ibaka
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Offense: The Orlando Magic had the 29th ranked offense last season. Nothing went right and that’s not hyperbole. Evan Fournier, a nice complementary wing on a playoff team, was their No. 1 option. That should say it all right there, but there was more. Bigs Nikola Vucevic, Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo never found any sort of balance and Gordon at small forward was a failed experiment without cause. They were 29th in three-point shooting and 27th in getting to the free throw line relative to their shot attempts. Their 18th placed rank in assists per game was their high mark as a team and that should paint a grotesque picture.

The good news; Gordon, Terrence Ross and Elfrid Payton had a positive net rating (+1.9) while sharing the court. The 111.9 ORTG they generated over 575 minutes was surprisingly potent. Attribute part of that success to late season disinterest for many teams and part of it to Gordon getting slotted in his rightful position but it’s still a positive sign. If Gordon is the primary focus this season, Payton will be No. 2. Payton is a poor shooter but he’s a self-aware ballhandler and a good playmaker. Year four is going to be big for Payton. He’s going to have to prove that he can lead this offense and be efficient despite the lack of outside shooting. The most recent lottery addition, Jonathan Isaac, is a bit of a project, but no NBA player drew a wider range of positive comparisons coming into the draft. Just don’t expect Isaac to be overly involved in the offense this season.

Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Defense: If there was consistent bit of feedback in regards to Isaac, it was his versatility and high upside defensively. He’s 6-10- with a 7-foot wingspan and moves quick enough to switch from big to small on defense. He’s probably a 4 at the NBA level, so unfortunately, history might repeat itself with Isaac playing in an awkward spot. However, as Isaac grows into his NBA body and begins to add weight, he could be a very interesting option for the Magic at center. Isaac and Gordon could be a lethal defensive frontcourt if things go to plan as both are incredibly gifted, versatile players on defense.

The Magic had the 22nd ranked defense which is nothing to write home about but they do have some talent on that side of the ball. Gordon is exceptional, tackling assignments from Chris Paul all the way up to Kevin Love. Biyombo isn’t a full-time starter but he’s an above average rim protector. Where the Magic lack help defensively is on the perimeter. Neither Ross or Fournier is known for their tenacity on defense and while newly acquired Arron Afflalo used to be a major plus in that department, his best days are behind him. Khem Birch is relatively unknown but he plays with an incredibly high motor at both ends and might earn a role due to team necessity this season.

Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Upside: It’s not that the Magic got substantially better but rather that the East is substantially worse. The Magic’s 29 wins last year weren’t impressive but neither was the 41 win mark needed to make the playoffs. With the Hawks and Bulls sure to fall, four All-Stars going from East to West, and the dreaded injury bug already in play (think Nicolas Batum), the playoff mark should be even lower this season. If the Magic click early and somebody outside of Gordon takes a step forward, they could be in the playoff race. Again, more indicative of the conference than the Magic’s improvement.

Durability: Gordon missed major time his rookie season but outside of him, there’s no one you really worry about. This isn’t a team with extended injury history and it’s not a unit with proven cornerstones the team must lean on.

Synergy: Much of the Magic core got some run together at the end of last year. Vucevic is a talented offensive big but he’s a bad fit in today’s NBA and is probably better coming off the bench going forward. Payton, Fournier, Ross, Gordon, and Biyombo are all familiar and time shouldn’t be wasted feeling each other out.

Experience: In a best-case scenario, the Magic sneak into the playoffs and get slapped around in round one. Ross and Biyombo have seen the playoffs but the Magic’s talent not experience is the issue at hand.

Win frame: 32-37 wins

2017-18 HOOP Season Preview

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