This exercise will look at the young, building and very entertaining NBA teams that are looking to gain contender status. Some of these teams appear to be on the fast track while others are grasping to build around a cornerstone player. We’ll look at the savvy and the haphazard, while enjoying an optimist’s view into the looking glass. It’s summer, real NBA games won’t start for another 4 months and so what better time to paint a rosy picture of what could be for the NBA’s mid-tier teams? Our next team – the Orlando Magic.
Who are they? This seems like a loaded question. The Magic are difficult to define. The Post-Dwight rebuild has been productive, through the draft mostly, and on paper the Magic look ready to be true Eastern Conference playoff hopefuls. However, they are counting on a lot of guards and wings that can’t shoot, and will need a Rookie of the Year worthy campaign from Mario Hezonja if they are going to scare any defenders on the perimeter. That said, the athleticism is there, and defensively there’s no reason they can’t be in the top half of the league. For sure new coach Scott Skiles will demand excellence on that end of the court.
How have they been built? The Draft has been good to the Magic in recent years, which is the best blueprint to success for most teams, but especially those like the Magic that have trouble attracting marquee free agents. They drafted Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Mario Hezonja in the last few years, all players that will log heavy minutes this season. Nikola Vucevic came over in a trade with Philly and Evan Fournier in the Aaron Afflalo trade with Denver. Free agency has yielded role players Channing Frye and CJ Watson.
Core group – Elfrid Payton, Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo. The gritty Skiles has a dream backcourt for his style of coaching, with guards Payton and Oladipo both bringing athleticism and active hands. Payton will continue to improve as a passer but his shot may be broken. Oladipo also struggles from outside but can get to the rim and is a model defender at the 2 spot. Vucevic and Harris have gotten big contracts in the last year, and will be counted on to make an impact. Vucevic led the team in points and rebounds last season and will need to step up his rim protection. Harris has some bad habits such as forcing bad shots and playing lazy defense. Those need to be corrected if he is to live up to his new deal.
Role guys – Channing Frye, Dewayne Dedmon, Evan Fournier, CJ Watson. Frye and Fournier will be counted on for outside shooting, while Dedmon could make a play for increased minutes thanks to his work on defense. Watson is a serviceable backup PG.
Boom or bust potential – Aaron Gordon, Mario Hezonja, Shabazz Napier. Gordon has all the talent to succeed and can thrive in the right niche as an efficient two way player if he figures out the league a bit more. Hezonja lit it up in Summer League and showed a flair for the dramatic with a buzzer beater in his first game. How that translates to the Regular Season remains to be seen, but a dead eye shooter is desperately needed here.
Optimist view – The Magic are still a year away from serious playoff aspirations, however a 10 to 15 game leap in wins is achievable. The Skiles bump is real, the young talent will mature together and wild cards Hezonja and Gordon can bump them up a level with strong seasons. I fully expect the 2016-17 Magic to give a team all it can handle in the first round of the playoffs. This year will serve as some much needed seasoning.