Orlando Magic preview: Young team finally has something to prove - Orlando Pinstriped Post
Even with Frye, one of the league's most lethal jump-shooting bigs, in the fold, Orlando will struggle to shoot from the outside. The departed Afflalo, Nelson, Moore, and Lamb accounted for 63.4 percent of the Magic's total three-point makes a season ago. Replacing those attempts with some from Frye, Fournier, and Ben Gordon could ease the load a bit, but generally speaking, opposing defenses should feel free to pack the paint against the Magic.
2013-14 IN REVIEW
5th in Southeast Division - 13th in Eastern Conference
With the youth movement fully intact, the Orlando Magic entered last season with low expectations. Second-year head coach Jacque Vaughn was coming off of a 20-win debut season, and they wouldn't be much better in 2013-14.
Arron Afflalo was given a big time opportunity to play as Orlando's number one scoring option last season, and he responded with the best basketball of his career. In a season where Afflalo is often mentioned as the most notable Eastern Conference All-Star snub, he put up a career high 18.2 points per game while shooting finishing with the sixth-best three-point percentage in the league at 42.7%. The former UCLA star has developed into a dynamite two-way impact player and he is currently one of the best all-around players at the shooting guard position.
Afflalo wasn't on his own in the backcourt, however, as the Magic lucked out in the 2013 draft lottery and ended up with the second pick in the draft. The prize would be Victor Oladipo, who brings a lot to the table on both ends of a floor as a versatile combo guard that can defend, make plays off the dribble and knock down an open jumper along with an unrecordable level of intangibles. He would see heavy minutes at both guard positions and was used as somewhat of an on-and-off starter, but he was a big part of what Jacque Vaughn wanted to do on the floor. Oladipo put up 13.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game while finishing second in the NBA's Rookie of the Year voting.
One thing that didn't work in their favor at the beginning of the season was Tobias Harris missing 21 of the first 22 games of the season with a nagging high-ankle sprain. Once he returned to action in December, he was able to put together a solid year and finished the season strong. Harris put up 14.6 point and seven rebounds per game, but came off the bench almost half the time. As a starter in 36 games, Harris averaged 15.7 points and 7.5 rebounds.
Orlando would also be without Nikola Vucevic for 25 games due to Achilles and ankle injuries. Vucevic, quickly establishing himself as one of the best centers in the Eastern Conference, still managed to rack up 36 double-doubles behind a career high 14.2 points and 11 rebounds per game.
The Magic weren't particularly active at the trade deadline, but they agreed to a buyout with our old friend Glen "Big Baby" Davis in February which, freed up minutes for the young guys and allowed Davis to head to the Clippers. One of the guys to benefit from Big Baby's departure was second-year big Kyle O'Quinn, as the active energizer played over 22 minutes per game after the All-Star break and put up nine points with seven rebounds per contest.
In terms of the wins and loss columns, last season was a tough year for Magic fans but at the very least, Orlando established direction and saw admirable growth from their young core throughout the course of the season.
SUMMER OF 2014
Key Additions - Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, Channing Frye, Evan Fournier, Ben Gordon
Key Losses - Arron Afflalo, Jameer Nelson, E'Twaun Moore, Jason Maxiell, Doron Lamb
The Magic decided to really shake things up before the draft, surprisingly trading Aaron Afflalo to Denver in return for Evan Fournier and Devyn Marble. The deal provided some cap relief for Orlando, as Afflalo is due over $15 million over the course of the next two years if he picks up his player option for 2015-16. Overall, the trade took many by surprise based on the fact that Afflalo had just come off a career year, but they save some money and Fournier is a talented 21-year-old prospect that scored over 10 points per game in the second half of last season.
Orlando also owned two top 10 picks in the draft. At fourth overall, the Magic took Aaron Gordon, an active-bodied freak athlete with big time defensive potential. Gordon needs to work on his jumper and he shot just 42% from the free throw line in his freshman year at Arizona, but he will be dynamite out in transition and as a slasher around the rim. The 19-year-old might need some time before he truly starts to come into his own, but his high motor and physical gifts make him a very intriguing prospect.
With the 10th overall pick, Orlando went with Elfrid Payton to bring in some long-term help at point guard. Payton had a monster junior year at Louisiana Lafayette last season, where he dropped 19.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.3 steals per game. While he shot 50% from the field, he also went just 26% from beyond the arc and 59% from the free throw line. As Payton learns how to play the point in the NBA and develops his jump shot, he has high upside as a potential two-way impact player. At 6'4" with a nose for the ball, Payton is especially impressive on the defensive end.
After 10 years in Orlando, the Jameer Nelson era came to an end this summer as Nelson signed up for a chance to compete in the playoffs with Dallas. When Orlando drafted Elfrid Payton in the first round, the writing was practically on the wall.
Orlando may bring Payton along slowly, as 33-year-old free agent acquisition Luke Ridnour is pegged to start at point guard for the Magic on opening night. Ridnour didn't get as much playing time as he would have liked off the benches of Milwaukee and Charlotte last season, but he has always been a steady pure point guard that should be a positive example for Payton to learn from.
The Magic also made a splash by signing Phoenix Suns free agent Channing Frye to a lucrative four-year, $32 million deal. Nobody expected Frye to land that kind of contract, but no matter what the price tag says, Frye will fit in beautifully on the court. The spacing that Orlando may lack from some of their perimeter players will be balanced out by Frye and Vucevic up front, giving their impressive cast of athletes room to attack. That contract took a decent chunk out of their cap space, but he will be a productive veteran piece.
To fill out the backcourt, the Magic signed Ben Gordon to a two-year, $9 million contract. Gordon is coming off of a tough year in Charlotte, which was by far the worst season of his career, but you never know what can happen with a change of scenery. Worst case scenario, he doesn't work out and the Magic can decline their team option on the second year of his deal. Gordon really hasn't been the same player since he left the Bulls in 2009 but at 31 years old, there's still a chance he still has some solid basketball ahead of him.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
C - Nikola Vucevic / Kyle O'Quinn
PF - Channing Frye / Aaron Gordon / Andrew Nicholson / Anthony Randolph
SF - Tobias Harris / Moe Harkless / Devyn Marble
SG - Victor Oladipo / Ben Gordon / Evan Fournier / Willie Green
PG - Luke Ridnour / Elfrid Payton
X-FACTOR - Development of Youth
The Magic are in the process of rebuilding, and the tough times that they experienced last season could be duplicated in 2014-15. With that said, they have a quality group of young players to build with and the main objective this season is for them to grow.
Luke Ridnour, Channing Frye, Ben Gordon and Willie Green are the only four players on Orlando's projected 15-man roster over the age of 24. Everyone else is working to improve and establish themselves as NBA players. If the majority of the young core improves by the end of the year, the season will be a success no matter what their record is.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2014-15
The Magic won 23 games last season and then traded away their best player on the roster. Orlando more than likely is not quite ready to make a push into the playoffs, but they've began to fill out a promising foundation going forward.
Orlando will be fun to watch, but don't expect much more than 30 wins this season. Enjoy the highs, don't overreact to the lows and embrace the youth movement. It's going to take some time, but things are starting to get interesting down in Orlando.
5th - Southeast Division
13th - Eastern Conference
Keep your eyes peeled for the New Orleans Pelicans preview, coming later today.