2018-19 Orlando Magic
Projected Record: 27-55 (13th in East)
2016: 25-57 (14th in East)
- Mohamed Bamba (Pick #6)
- Melvin Frazier (Pick #35)
- Justin Jackson (Pick #43)
- Jerian Grant (Trade)
- Jarell Martin (Trade)
- Timofey Mozgov (Trade)
- Isaiah Briscoe (Free Agency)
- Bismack Biyombo
- Mario Hezonja
- Dakari Johnson
- Shelvin Mack
- Rodney Purvis
- Frontcourt depth and upside
- Do Bamba/Gordon/Isaac fit together?
- Front office needs to commit to the plan
More often than seemingly any other franchise, it feels like the more things change with the Magic, the more they stay the same.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the changes we’ve seen in Orlando this time around. Steve Clifford isn’t a particularly outstanding coach, but he’s a solid one. Players respect him, and play hard for him — a sharp contrast from Frank Vogel, who seemingly never gained the trust of the locker room during his time at the helm. The front office is clearly committing to a long-term process, for once… for now. That’s a positive.
It also feels a little too safe, in a very Orlando kind of way, though. Clifford is quantifiable; you know what you’re getting from him. His ceiling isn’t all that high, but his floor is pretty good. Would the Boston Celtics or Golden State Warriors have become what they are with a “pretty good floor” kind of head coach, rather than arguably riskier hires in Brad Stevens or Steve Kerr? Unlikely. In the Magic’s defense, also: the Warriors had to fire one of those guys, Mark Jackson, to move on with Kerr. Perhaps Clifford is Orlando’s Jackson — and a much more likable Jackson, at that.
At any rate, “safe” is largely pretty reasonable for a franchise that has been mired in on of the more brutal runs of failure for the better part of the decade. Six straight losing seasons, five of them featuring 50 or more losses, are about to become seven, but at least this time, there might be an end in sight.
In Orlando, hope for the future starts with the frontcourt, where the Magic have arguably the highest long-term upside in the NBA — emphasis on long, now that Mohamed Bamba and his 7’10” wingspan are in town. Bamba, Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon are all unique talents — trust me, we’ll get to them.
Moving out from the paint, however, you start to see that the rebuild is far from complete. Their starting point guard is 31-year-old journeyman D.J. Augustin, who played well last season but did little to excite after Orlando’s hot start to the year. Behind him, the underwhelming Jerian Grant will battle with undrafted second-year man Isaiah Briscoe for minutes. Nikola Vucevic is still a very good all-around center, but at 28 years old and entering the final year of his contract, his time with the Magic seems to be nearing its end. Ditto 29-year-old Jonathon Simmons and 27-year-old Terrence Ross, both of whom will likely serve as rotation players this season as much out of attrition as anything else. If Timofey Mozgov even sees the court in a Magic uniform, it will be the upset of the century.
It’s just hard to find many players who seem likely to contribute to Orlando’s future beyond the frontcourt trio, second-rounder Melvin Frazier, and maybe 26-year-old Evan “Never Google” Fournier. So while the Magic are off to a generally good start after hitting the reset button, I don’t see much opportunity for immediate success.
It’s the start of a new era for Orlando basketball, much like it was when Frank Vogel took over, and much like it was when Dwight Howard left town. The Magic remain one of the most difficult franchise in the league to really trust. That said, there’s a little optimism in the air around this team for once — hopefully, when I’m writing this thing once again next year, there will be even more.
Most Valuable Players / X Factors: Mo Bamba, Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon
This is perhaps my ultimate cop-out pick in this entire preview, and you know what? I don’t care. I’m not ready to sort out this puzzle just yet, so I’m not going to.
There’s no doubt that the success of the Magic’s rebuilding process will hinge on the success of their three most promising draft picks since Dwight Howard.
Of the trio, Bamba is the most striking. He’s a complete aberration of a basketball player, and not in a bad way; he stands seven feet tall with an inconceivable 7’10” wingspan — the longest in NBA history. His defensive upside is the obvious calling card here, as he blocked 3.7 shots per game at Texas and should immediately be one of the more prolific shot-blockers in the NBA. Once he fills out and matures, he will strike fear into opposing players with illusions of driving to the rim. Offensively, he’ll always be a rim-runner first, but a smooth three-point stroke offers interesting possibilities.
Jonathan Isaac is basically a rookie in his own right, as injuries more or less completely derailed his debut season. In our brief glimpses, though, we saw a combo forward practically designed in a lab to play NBA defense. Isaac stands 6’10” with incredible length, and he should be able to guard at least three positions at the NBA level. He averaged 2.2 steals and 2.0 blocks per 36 minutes, including a dominant five-steal, two-block effort against the Toronto Raptor’s deep frontcourt in March. Of course, as good as he looked defensively, he looked equally lost on offense — Isaac often seemed lost when the ball came his way, and struggled to execute anything more than simple catch-and-shoot looks.
Aaron Gordon is the most “known” quantity of the trio, at least as much as any of them could be. Gordon is entering his fifth NBA season, freshly inked to a four-year, $76 million contract that will keep him in Orlando in 2022, and he’s improved incrementally in every season. The latest advancement has been his scoring, where he jumped to 17.6 points per game and started bombing three-pointers with regularity. Gordon struggled with his efficiency, however, and looked slightly miscast as a number one option. A smart and willing passer, and a superlative athlete, can Gordon be the offensive anchor of the three?
There’s no question of talent with any of these players. Rather, the question is fit. Can Isaac and Gordon share the forward positions if they both turn out to fit best at the four? Can any of the trio create their own shot, or will they be reliant on a hypothetical star table-setter to get them the ball? Can you even have long-term success with a team built around the front court in the modern NBA? I can’t answer any of those questions yet, and I suspect the Magic can’t either.
Don’t Forget About: Melvin Frazier
As a long-time fan of aggressive, physical perimeter defenders, Melvin Frazier has been on my radar in a big way since I first looked into his performance at Tulane. I think he has the potential to be one of the best defenders in this entire draft class, and alongside Bamba, Isaac and Gordon, could be a key piece in some seriously brutal defensive lineups in Orlando in the coming seasons.
It starts with Frazier’s build; namely, his ridiculous 7’1″ wingspan despite standing only 6’5″. A common refrain throughout this preview — and through recent NBA coverage in general — has been “versatility.” It’s the modern wave in the NBA — teams want players who can switch between assignments and check multiple positions, and that’s Frazier’s wheelhouse. He’s a bulldog on the perimeter, a smart help defender, and effective as a weakside rim protector — he can do just about anything you ask of a wing defender.
“Three-and-D” style players will never go out of style, and Frazier is no exception. He doesn’t necessarily have star-level upside — few players I’ve featured here really do — but it’s hard to imagine a way he doesn’t become at least a quality regular rotation player. For a second-rounder, that’s outstanding value.
Chris Barnewall (@ChrisBarnewall)
The Magic entered last season with really no expectations. Their goal should have been to build expectations for themselves and create a base to build on. Unfortunately for them, they found a way to disappoint with a hot start to the year that was immediately derailed by injuries and regression to the mean. There was individual progress made, and a change to a modern offense was for the better, but it felt like the same old Magic with the same old problems once April rolled around.
Things have changed, but also haven’t. Frank Vogel has been replaced with Steve Clifford, Aaron Gordon has a shiny new contract, and Bismack Biyombo’s contract was traded for Timofey Mozgov’s contract. Most of the major pieces like Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier are still in Orlando though and most other changes were minor additions to fill out the roster.
There’s little reason to expect the Magic to be good next season, but there actually are players to be excited about. Jonathan Isaac showed a lot of potential as a rookie but had his year cut short constantly by nagging injuries. There’s serious length across the roster with rookies like Mohamed Bamba and Jarred Vanderbilt, but without a starting caliber point guard to get these long wings and bigs the ball it’s hard to see how Orlando will get much offense going.
That doesn’t mean the Magic can’t find success though. With Clifford running the show expect a disciplined team that sticks to a system. Clifford teams traditionally play solid defense without fouling. A lengthy team like this could steal a lot of wins playing that kind of style.
The problem is that the talent just isn’t there across the roster to expect much more than that. A ceiling of 38 wins and a floor of 26 feels about right for this group. They can hit their ceiling if they do the typical Steve Clifford thing and steal wins while playing above their heads, but in order to do that, they’ll need a big season out of Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac. As it stands right now, those two are the best future the Magic have.