NBA Season Preview: Orlando Magic

Last Season: 23-59 last in division; Leading scorer—Arron Afflalo (18.2), Leading rebounds—Nikola Vicevic (11), Leading Assists — Jameer Nelson (7)

Changes: Added—Devyn Marble (draft trade), Elfrid Payton (draft trade), Evan Fournier (trade), Luke Ridnour (signed), Lost—Arron Afflalo (trade), Dewayne Dedmon (free agent), E’Twuan Moore (free agent), Jameer Nelson (waived), Solomon Jones (free agent)

Positions

Point Guard: Victor Oladipo, Ronnie Price, Elfrid Payton, Luke Ridnour, Adonis Thomas

Oladipo is a good player, and still developing. He’s not really a natural point guard, but being the shorter of the two starting guards on this roster he is listed as such. That’s not great long term for the Magic, but I don’t think they care about winning games this year. Look for Oladipo to up his scoring, and hopefully his assist total as he works on developing his game this year.

Elfrid Payton is a rookie, but the Magic will want him to start as the backup for Oladipo and depending how he develops look to use him longer term as the starting point guard, possibly moving Oladipo back to shooting guard. Ridnour is a veteran is below average backup.

Price and Thomas will both be fighting for roster spots in training camp, and I don’t see the Magic keeping more than 3 point guards so don’t expect either to stick.

Shooting Guard: Evan Fournier, Ben Gordan, Willie Green, Devyn Marble, Doran Lamb

Fournier is young, and unpolished, but I am not convinced he will ever be a quality starter at the shooting guard in this league. I think that the Magic would be better off moving Oladipo back here if Payton proves worthy of the 10th draft choice that he was originally taken with.

Gordan has not been good as a backup in any of his stops since Chicago in the middle of last decade. He won’t bring a lot of value, except eating up minutes if the Magic don’t feel there are young players worth playing here.

Lamb, Marble, and Green will all three be competing to get a chance to stick on a roster, and I would lean towards expecting Marble to be kept as a 2nd round pick this year. I don’t expect any to play or make any impact.

Small Forward: Maurice Harkless, Tobias Harris

For some reason this is the only position on the Magic’s current roster not bloated with camp invites and players from last year who haven’t signed anywhere else. Can’t say for sure why, but there are only these two players on the depth chart at small forward, and none of the power forwards or shooting guards are real candidates to play any time shifted up or down.

There are reports from the local paper about how hard Harkless worked to improve just about everything about his game in the off season. That’s what young players should do, but a starting small forward averaging not even 8 points in 25 minutes simply is not an answer either short or long term in the NBA. Harkless’s best case scenario is ending up eventually in a limited role on a much deeper team, probably as a 3 point specialist—he did see a huge improvement in 3 point % between his first season and last year, so either another increase there or simply maintaining in the 35-38% range with an increased volume and he could find a niche somewhere. Probably not in Orlando, and certainly not this year.

Harris may earn the starting job, but either way he will be playing a lot of minutes in this roster. He’s more of a scorer and less of a spot up shooter than Harkless, and while he’s not about to be making an All-Star push he is a useful young player and could easily be a good third option on a good team. Since the Magic don’t project to be a good team, he might end up a bad first or second option.

Power Forward: Channing Frye, Jason Maxiell, Aaron Gordon, Kyle O’Quinn

I don’t entirely understand the Frye signing—it’s a good price for him, and four years on the deal could take him into the time frame that the Magic would be able to compete for the playoffs in 2-3 years, but I don’t understand either why the Magic want this kind of role player on a squad otherwise filled with young talent and roster flotsam.

Frye is one of the best shooting power forwards in the league. He bends defenses and forces them to make very uncomfortable decisions about how to guard him—give him a shot and he will make it, even from 3; stick to him and you lose the rebounding battle to the opponents and concede driving lanes. I just don’t understand why Frye is here instead of on a contender where that kind of skill set might mean the difference between winning and losing a playoff series instead of the difference between winning 20 games and winning 30 games.

Maxiell is the definition of roster flotsam. I don’t expect him to play regardless of what happens in Orlando this year, and I would expect his career is on the way out.

Aaron Gordon is basically pure athleticism at this point. He doesn’t have the skill set to play in the NBA as a forward, and he doesn’t have the size to play as a center. His college and high school career he spent going up against less athletic and smaller players where he succeeded on raw power, but on the NBA level that simply won’t equate to a lot. He will start off the season on the bench, but the Magic will be looking to feed him minutes and develop him into a player in the Kenneth Faried/ Kawhi Leonard mold if possible. Only time will tell which of his skills develop and at 6’ 9” he could end up developing into a small forward (Kevin Durant is 6’ 9”) or a power forward (Zach Randolph also 6’ 9”).

O’Quinn actually had pretty good numbers in 17 minutes last year for the Magic, so I can see that they will want to keep him around as a stop gap. Not the kind of upside of Gordon, or the proven qualities of Frye, but a useful player with good efficiency numbers and ok scoring/rebounding for sub-20 minutes play.

Center: Nikola Vucevic, Andrew Nicholson, Dewayne Dedmon

Vucevic is both young enough and talented enough to be the clear future for the Magic at this position. He is efficient in the post and a quality defender, plus that magic “true seven footer” label that the league values in centers. He is good for 10 and 10 a night, so even though he’s not exactly Shaq he could still develop into a top 5 player at his position.

Dedmon didn’t show a lot in his three stop rookie season, but he has the size to play center which no other player on the Magic’s current roster does. Nicholson is playing out of position if he plays the five, but may stick on the roster for emergency minutes/to provide additional fouls—but if the Magic had any real faith in him he would be slotted initially as a forward not a center.

Outlook: I expect the Magic to be a lottery team again this year, which is basically what they intend to be. Given a few years of development a core of Elfrid Payton/ Victor Olidipo/Tobias Harris/Aaron Gordon/ Nikola Vucivic would be a playoff worthy starting five, but Payton and Gordon both need time to develop and find their roles in this league so don’t expect them to get there till 2015/16 at the earliest (more likely 16/17).

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