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Enemy: Orlando Magic
3SOB Forecast*: 23-59

Photo: Kim Klement / USA Today

What’s the story in Orlando?

The Orlando Magic are an obvious member of the Wiggins lotto drawing for the 2014 NBA Draft, but unlike the newbies to the mix, they have been tanking since before tanking was cool — kinda. After losing out in the battle to keep franchise center Dwight Howard in the mix, a combination of helplessness and the fact that the entire roster was constructed around the 6’11 powerhouse rendered Orlando into an immediate state of rebuild.

Given the conditions that they have had to work with and the lack of assets to rapidly morph into promising young prospects, the Magic may be a ways away from turning things around, but they have certainly made the most of the opportunities that they did have. Unlike Cleveland and New Orleans immediately before them, the Magic were not afforded the fortune of a number one overall draft selection, but with the craps shoot that was the 2013 draft class, they may as well have been.

There is probably as good a chance as any that their selection with the number two overall pick, Victor Oladipo, turns out to be the best player in the draft class. According to the TrueHoop Summer Forecast, he has the “inside track” as the favorite to take Rookie of the Year honors. Now of course, Rookie of the Year and best prospect in the class are far from the same thing, but there is plenty of upside to be tapped in the Indiana product.

Oladipo possesses an upside as a Tony Allen-esque defender, complemented by a more polished offensive game. When I spoke to the charismatic guard prior to the draft, he said of the comparison, “Actually, his agent is my agent [Raymond Brothers], so I do watch a lot of Tony Allen film. He’s a great defender, you know, and he works so hard on defense. I definitely try to model that. No question.”

While Oladipo projects as a major component of the Orlando model going forward, he is not going to fight the battle alone. I mentioned earlier that the Magic have not had a great number of assets to net them a ton of valuable youth, but they have put together a strong effort for a team that is only entering its second season on the grind.

First, dealing from a position entirely lacking in leverage last summer, they managed to swing 22-year-old Nikola Vucevic in the Howard trade, who I don’t think even they predicted would become as much of a weapon as he did. But hey, sometimes things just work out like that… just ask Chris Wallace about Marc Gasol. Add in the fact that they got promising 20-year-old wing Moe Harkless in the deal, and it is gravy. Then there was the deadline deal of J.J. Redick, which for some forsaken reason compelled the Milwaukee Bucks to give up on the then 20-year-old multi-faceted Tobias Harris, who put together some unbelievable performances as a stretch four in coach Jacque Vaughn’s offense.

Who are they cooking with?

PG: Jameer Nelson
SG: Arron Afflalo
SF: Tobias Harris
PF: Glen Davis
C : Nikola Vucevic
6 : Victor Oladipo

In terms of team efficiency numbers, the Magic were just plain awful last season, ranking as the fourth worst offense (98.9 points per 100 possessions) and the sixth worst defense (106.7 points per 100 possessions). As a result, the only way to really assess what is there is to look at individual player performances.

The core group of veterans in Orlando (Nelson, Arron Afflalo, ‘Big Baby’ Davis, Jason Maxiell) as a whole is shaky at best with a checkerboard of ailments last season, so we know for sure that the young guns will be out there and playing.

Going back to the talented Vucevic, he posted a ridiculous 18.5 points, 15.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks per game on 50.8% shooting to end the season in the month of April, showing promise that as long as he somewhat gets his defensive act together (he allowed a 19.8 opposing PER to opposing centers on the season), there is a gold mine to be had in his production. He was not the only member of the Magic to enjoy a stellar April showing, as Harris went off in his own right, recording 19.8 points, 9.8 boards, 3.4 assists, and 1.4 blocks on a per-game basis. Again, the question is how much he improves on the defensive end, where he too struggled, washing out his Orlando PER of 18.1 at the power forward position by giving up 18.1 to his opponent.

It is not at all surprising though that such a young team is experiencing hiccups on the defensive end. Last season, there was not one player on the roster whose on-court presence helped hold the opposition to less than one point per possession. As the guys acclimate to the league, these issues should subside to at least a marginal degree.

Oladipo poses the greatest hope towards developing some semblance of a defensive backbone, and will probably swap his way into the starting lineup, if not by the end of training camp, at some point throughout the season. He is auditioning as a part-time point guard in Summer League play, which can only help his chances to get on the court early and often.

On the list of other things for Magic fans to look forward to, there is stretch four Andrew Nicholson, shooter Doron Lamb, the wiry Harkles, and speaking of part-time point guards, E’Twaun Moore –all of whom are under the age of 24.

How do the good guys stack up?

Photo: The Memphis Flyer

Josh Coleman: 

I remember growing up as a basketball fan in the late 80s/early 90s. The Magic once had two of the top ten players in the league on their roster in Shaq and Penny. Naturally, I was a Hardaway fan. They rode that high for a few years until Shaq left for L.A. Then, they rose from the muck once again after drafting Dwight Howard. Now, they are hoping to rise a third time from the doldrums of basketball’s swampland. I won’t lie — I didn’t watch a whole lot of Magic games last season. However, there were still a few bright spots to be found.

The frontcourt: After a midseason trade that sent J.J. Redick north brought in young big man, Tobias Harris, Orlando’s frontcourt truly started to look like a force where Glen Davis was already having a career year in the paint. Joining Harris and Davis are Nikola Vucevic and Andrew Nicholson — the latter of which showed flashes of solid play, while the young center just went out and averaged a double-double, thankyouverymuch. Arron Afflalo continues to be under-appreciated and the subject of trade rumors, while quietly being very productive. The addition of Victor Oladipo signals good things for the future, as well.

The aforementioned frontcourt gives Orlando hope of at least winning their home game against Memphis. However, anyone who has watched Jameer Nelson over the last few seasons knows that his best days are now in the rear-view mirror — and Mike Conley is waiting to capitalize on that. Vucevic can do reasonably well against Marc Gasol, but he still saw the big Spaniard get the better of him in both regular season contests last year. Much like last year, one of these games will probably be a decent contest, while the other one is over by halftime.

Lee Eric Smith:

Looking at the Magic this season is like looking at the Grizzlies after Pau Gasol was traded. Back then, we looked for big nights from guys like Darko Milicic, Quinton Ross & Hakim Warrick. For the Magic, it’ll be guys like Aaron Afflalo, Big Baby Davis and Jason Maxiell. There’s talent on this roster, but no evidence of a cohesive unit. They will play hard because Jacque Vaughn will demand it. But the Grizzlies will pretty much have to be trying to lose to drop games to this team. Grizz sweep series 2-0.

Brad Graham (of BUCKETS Magazine):

No one talks much about pro-ball in Orlando these days, aside from the standard references involving their collection of discarded overachievers (who unceremoniously have keep the franchise afloat). Having woken from the Dwightmare, General Manager Rob Hennigan has built a MoneyBall roster of misfit toys where aggregate is the name of the game. While it’s difficult to contend with Arron Afflalo, Moe Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris — a steal since arriving via Milwaukee in the JJ Redick deadline trade — and Glen Davis as your core, the Magic are still capable of upsetting their more heavily favored foes, especially when a visiting coach elects to protect his big names by overplaying the reserves. Yet Orlando remains a cornered
dog and that spells trouble for everyone — just ask the Lakers who were embarrassed by Jameer Nelson and co. on their own court last season, or the defending champs who needed overtime to claim the “easy” W.

Despite finishing with a league-worst record in 2013 (just 20 wins), Orlando missed out on the No. 1 overall pick but were able to snap up proven Collegiate scorer Victor Oladipo once Cleveland opted for Anthony Bennett. At Indiana, the athletic wing netted 13 points per on limited field goal attempts but it was his play against ranked opponents that got prospectors talking. If his 26 points (8-10 FG) at No. 10 Ohio State; 21 (8-12 FG) versus No. 13 Michigan State or 20 (8-10 FG) against No. 8 Minnesota is any indicator, the Magic may have themselves a poor-man’s Dwyane Wade for years to come. In the NCAA, Oladipo was also viewed as a Tony Allen-like headache so when the two clash, the rookie will certainly be looking to teach the current master of lockdown D a few new tricks.

Olapido’s potential aside, one can’t examine the Magic without discussing their (surprising) centrepiece, Nikola Vucevic. His duel with Marc Gasol will headline their pair of regular season contests and rightly so. Last season, the Swiss giant finished second in RPG (to Dwight Howard but held a higher per 48 minute average). He also ranked third in double-doubles (following David Lee and Howard). What’s more, he costs only $1.8 million, compared to $20 million for Howard and $14 million for Lee. Additionally, once Hedo Turkoglu is bought-out, the Magic will soon have plenty of cap space (and that plush arena) to attract another big name, that is, if the blood from Dwight’s final days haven’t left permanent stains.

Couple Vucevic’s pay with the salaries for Harkless, Harris and promising youngster Andrew Nicholson and the Magic have a formidable four-pillar foundation for under $7 million. The Grizz might kick their ass this season but that trend won’t continue if Orlando’s front office keeps signing this same song. No one would dare project Orlando to collect more than 30 wins (their ceiling) but on their night, this young and hungry outfit are capable of doing damage to team’s higher in the standings.

In 2012-13, Small Forward Tobias Harris was Orlando’s leading scorer at 17 points per with two-way guard Arron Afflalo — the team’s unofficial leader — close by at 16.5. This’ll mean Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince will be asked to work a double shift when the Magic arrives in town. While they don’t score with ease, Orlando are an unselfish unit and rock solid on the glass, which means they always put themselves in a position to win. The onus will then be on Zach Randolph and Gasol to keep the rebound tally in favor of the Blue Bears — easier said than done given Vucevic, the team’s leader in P.E.R, has been known to snack on 20 / 20 games.

For some, it’s hard to get excited about Jacque Vaughn’s team but don’t mistake their colorlessness as a lack of competitiveness. The key match-ups favor the Grizz, especially because their overwhelming southern flavors have been baking in Tennessee for years while the Magic have undercooked delights at best.

Much like the Bobcats, who were previewed earlier in the week, any contest with the Magic is trap game disguised as easy pickings for those in the contender conversation — for which the Grizz are included. Helping Orlando’s chances, Memphis will visit DisneyWorld on February 12, a touch before the All-Star break. With vacation on the mind, the Magic may seize the moment. They have before. Yes, they have a theme-park’s worth of deficiencies but the franchise is moving in the right direction (even if it’s a long term strategy). That bodes well for Grizzly fans who’ll be looking for their team to pick up an easy W… but it’s under those exact circumstance that the trap game is allow to fester, especially when Memphis hosts the Magic between match-ups with Golden State and Oklahoma City.

When and Where do they square off?

December 9th: 7:00PM at the FedEx Forum
February 12th: 6:00PM at the Amway Center

For more Magic content, check out our TrueHoop comrades at Magic Basketball.

*3SOB forecast projections are derived from an average of the contributing staff’s predicted win totals.

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