Grading Orlando’s season, plus Orlando Magic Daily’s Philip Rossman-Reich gives us his input
The Orlando Magic began rebuilding after trading away Dwight Howard two seasons ago. The future seemed bleak back then, but through trades and draft picks the Magic have assembled a strong young core that suggests better seasons are ahead. To help tackle Orlando’s season, Philip Rossman-Reich of Orlando Magic Daily provided his own grades for the team, and answered some questions as well.
1) Final Record: 23-59
23 wins seems about right on first glance, but it was only three more wins than last season (in which they had the worst record in the league). Injuries to Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris played a significant part, and Western Conference teams were not kind to the Magic, as their longest losing streaks of nine and ten games in a row occurred while the team was on a west coast road trip or hosting a handful of Western Conference teams. Sure, it’s not surprising they struggled against those teams, but taking at least one or two games could have prevented both major losing streaks.
The Magic are still looking for a franchise caliber player, and a top five draft pick this year could provide that. While 23 may have been short of what was expected, it guaranteed the high pick they sought.
2) Expectations vs. Reality
It seemed likely the Magic would struggle, they entered the season with a lot of young players and a rookie in Oladipo who would be experimented at both guard positions. Wins didn’t seem to factor in, rather it was about developing the young core. Things played out largely in those ways, with the only real surprise being Afflalo’s near All-Star season.
3) Coaching Staff
This was all about player development and the staff game planned for that. The young core got a lot of minutes, and most benefited from it. Oladipo’s experiment at the point guard position felt a little forced, but this was the season to try that out. They also seemed to rely on Afflalo a little too much, and his post All-Star break numbers suggest he had worn down from having to be the team’s primary scorer.
As far as player development goes, the group was largely successful. Every player made strides this year and showed improvement. The failure though sticks out. Andrew Nicholson never got over the hump and took major steps back. A key part of the problem with him was the Magic continued to use him as a stretch-4 rather than a post up or pick-and-pop option. That does not fit Nicholson’s game and his struggles from the perimeter led to a loss of confidence in side. On top of that, the team made the same mistakes late in games — namely, five-second violations trying to inbound the ball — that has to be corrected through better coaching.
Oladipo proved to be a strong pick, and will end up on the All-Rookie team. Vucevic continued to improve and has the makings of a near All-Star caliber center. Afflalo had the best season of his career, and could be a great veteran presence once the team is competing for a playoff spot. Tobias Harris seems stuck in position limbo, but nonetheless is a versatile player off the bench.
It still feels like most of the players on this team are playing in a role they are not best suited for. Arron Afflalo put up All-Star quality numbers at the beginning of the season but it was clear he is not best as the top scoring option on any team. The young players were the focus and they generally made improvements. The Magic did not get everything they needed out of this group, but they got enough.
5) Front Office
The front office did good by not being tempted into signing a big name free agent. Jason Maxiell was their only signing of note, and well, he did a great job from the bench. Again, this was the year for the Magic to develop young talent, so signing any veteran free agents to multi-year deals didn’t make sense. Could they have cashed in on Afflalo? Of course, but it seems unlikely a deal worth trading for came their way. Dumping Turkoglu and Glen Davis were good calls, and freed up cap space for them this offseason.
6) Final Grade:
The goal was development more so than it was wins, and the Magic accomplished that for the most part. Most of the young players showed improvements, and Afflalo had the best season of his career. With another top draft pick coming their way, Orlando is in a solid position to start competing again next season. Still, 23 wins seems a little short of what they could have won, particularly in the East. The true final verdict will come once we know who Orlando takes in the first round of the draft.
I expected more tangible success this year. Nominally, the team’s record improved so that suggests a better season. There were moments when it felt that way. There were also moments when it felt like the team had not made those improvements and only the East got worse. It was a hard thing to figure out. Individuals improved and there remains that bright future, but it never quite came all together.
In addition to providing his own grades, Philip answered questions about the Magic’s season along with looking ahead.
How many wins did you predict for the Magic at the beginning of the year?
I had the Magic winning 25-28 wins at the beginning of the year. I suspected the young players would continue to make progress and things would begin to settle down as Jacque Vaughn got more comfortable as a coach. Some of that happened.
The Magic had to be discouraged by Andrew Nicholson’s season. His promising offensive game fell apart as they tried to turn him into a stretch-four. The failed experiment affected his play and his confidence and he took major steps back. Unfortunately his other skills — rebounding and defense — were not quite NBA level and his refined post game is what got him into the first round. Without that, it was difficult for the Magic to play him very much.
Is Jacque Vaughn the right man moving forward? When this team is ready to compete again (which figures to be next season) are you confident enough his coaching style will get the most out of the roster? And are there any assistant coaches worth noting?
That is really tough to tell. I think he is the right coach to nurture young players and expect a lot out of them as they grow into professionals. He sets a high standard for their effort and work ethic as they grow. Are there still Xs and Os issues and preparation for end of game situations? Yes. He is still growing as a coach and he will have to continue to learn from more experienced assistant coaches like James Borrego (a former Spurs and Hornets assistant) and adviser Gordan Chisea behind the scenes. Next year is the big test for him as wins will be how his season is judged rather than the intangible improvement angle.
How confident are you in the Magic’s young core? Could they materialize into an elite NBA unit?
This is a nice young core. There are some good young players that should be able to fill roles on a title contending team. Nikola Vucevic is still improving his defense but is already one of the best young centers in the league. Maurice Harkless improved his jumper steadily and is getting better at attacking the basket. What this team lacks is a true star player or franchise player. Victor Oladipo is very nice and he will continue to work hard, but he is not that otherworldly talent a team needs to compete for a title in this league. The Magic are still searching for that. Until they find it, the whole roster seems to be in flux and expendable to get that. It is hard to figure out who will still be with the Magic two or three years down the road.
What are the futures for Afflalo and Nelson? Rumors are already circulating about Charlotte’s interest in both (seems early for this to have serious traction though). Are they traded or brought back? Who is more likely to be moved?
Jameer Nelson’s future with the Magic is very tenuous. He would love to stay, but it is also clear the Magic need to move forward with a new point guard or have Nelson come off the bench and give way to Victor Oladipo or whoever is playing point guard. Nelson’s play dipped a lot as he had to take on more of a playmaking role these past two years. His contract is only partially guaranteed and if the Magic take a point guard in the draft, I think Nelson is cut before the July 15 guarantee date.
Arron Afflalo is a pet favorite of the Magic staff. They love his professionalism and determination. He is a good example in the locker room and he takes losses as hard as anyone. He keeps much of the team hungry to win. There is not much urgency to trade him, but if the right deal comes along, the Magic would certainly pounce. They are not about to make a move just to make a move. They will do so only if it fits their long-term plans.
How would you rate the Magic’s front office in terms of how they’ve managed the rebuild?
Talk to me after this year’s draft. The Magic have been slow and methodical, collecting assets and awaiting to strike gold on a lottery pick. They know as well as anyone that you need a star to compete for championships. So they have been patient and have opted to avoid quick fixes for a more “organic” growth. We are still in the germinating and watering stage. They have not rushed into anything and have been patient so I am fairly happy. But that patience runs out if they don’t strike gold in the Lottery this year and take a tangible step ahead next season.
And finally, how “successful” overall was this season?
It is hard to judge success of the individual season because it is all dependent on how the ping pong balls bounce for the Magic. That was the frustrating part of watching this Magic team. You had to grasp on to whatever positive morsel you could find. There were certainly a few and certainly a few good memories, but this season was never going to be anything more than that. It was successful because the Magic showed some improvement and still got good lottery position, but I do not know how much of a success you can call that.