Preview: Orlando Magic

2017-18 Orlando Magic


Projected Record: 33-49 (10th in East)

Over/Under: 33.5

2016: 29-53 (13th in East)


Key Additions:

  • F Jonathan Isaac
  • G/F Jonathon Simmons
  • G Shelvin Mack
  • G Arron Afflalo
  • F/C Marreese Speights
  • F Welsey Iwundu

Key Subtractions:

  • F Jeff Green
  • G C.J. Watson
  • G Jodie Meeks

Summary

Strengths:

  • Defensive potential
  • Youth

Weaknesses:

  • Incredibly awkward roster construction
  • Questionable offensive upside
  • No great go-to scorers

Two franchises that have been inexorably linked in my mind for the past several years have been the Sacramento Kings and the Orlando Magic. No other teams seem to have quite the same penchant for accumulating interesting yet disparate talent that seems so unlikely to gel into a cohesive whole. This year’s Magic are no exception.

This roster has talent, but it feels like they need to do some roster shuffling, because there are just too many players who shouldn’t share the court with one another. An example: Jonathon Simmons was a nice value signing, but putting him next to Elfrid Payton would probably leaves too little shooting in the backcourt to be feasible. Playing them with Evan Fournier and Marreese Speights would help alleviate the spacing, but playing Speights next to Nikola Vucevic torpedoes your defense, while putting Bismack Biyombo out there almost entirely negates the point of adding another shooter. Trying to roll out a sensible roster with this team is like playing four-dimensional chess.

Biyombo is one of the biggest sticking points in drawing up a reasonable rotation for this team, because he just seems like too much of an offensive negative for his defense to really be valuable. Most of the Magic’s lineups featuring Biyombo last season just got killed per 100 possessions. If this team were a little stretchier, they might be able to get away with it, but next to Aaron Gordon? The paint’s going to look like molasses. It’s almost certainly worth parting with a future pick to dump Biyombo’s astronomical salary on someone like Brooklyn and feed those minutes to Speights and maybe even rookie Khem Birch instead.

Among other things, the Magic could conceivably field perhaps one of the worst-shooting lineups in NBA history: Elfrid Payton, Jonathon Simmons, Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon, and Bismack Biyombo. That’s a feasible lineup featuring guys who would be playing minutes at those positions anyways! It’s so cataclysmically awful that I absolutely must see it at least once. Obviously, Frank Vogel is going to mix in better shooters like Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross, Arron Afflalo, and D.J. Augustin to keep that from ever happening, but still. Think of the defense, Frank!


Most Valuable Player: Nikola Vucevic

Yes, Vucevic is in fact still around. I wouldn’t blame you for forgetting, considering how generally irrelevant the Magic have become in the NBA landscape.

Vucevic is a useful center and the Magic’s de facto best player, but he doesn’t really fit on this roster – or many others, for that matter. He’s much like Jonas Valanciunas in that regard. It’s hard to draw up a deal that would get him to a playoff contender (Spurs, maybe?) and at 27 years old, he doesn’t necessarily have a lot of value to a rebuilding team. A lack of flexibility to flip to a forward spot hurts quite a bit.

X Factor: Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac

Gordon and Isaac are perhaps the two most important young players on this roster, but there’s a real possibility they end up not fitting next to one another. Three years into Gordon’s career, we’re not much closer to being able to tell exactly what his fit is on a roster; there’s certainly talent to be had – he’s absurdly athletic and looks likely to be a plus defender – but he hasn’t contributed almost anything offensively to this point. The Magic tried to play him as a wing last year in a massive lineups before Serge Ibaka was shipped to Toronto, but he’ll mercifully be returning to the power forward slot this season.

It’s a similar refrain for Isaac; he’s a physically unique player – ridiculously long – that looks to have a high defensive ceiling, but he may not bring a whole lot on offense as a rookie and it’s still unclear whether he’s a four or a three in the long run. It’s hard to draw up a lineup that can use both of them together as the team is currently constructed if neither ends up able to fill a wing spot and Vucevic and Biyombo are still around.


Conclusion

The Magic won’t be good this year, but they can start to see the sun through the trees of their rebuild if they squint. This team isn’t built cohesively with itself right now, and there are going to be a lot of lineups that just can’t shoot enough to be potent on offense. They’re getting there, though, and with some smart moves before the trade deadline, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Frank Vogel lead this team on a late-season run in the East that gets Magic fans excited for 2018.

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