Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
The aftermath of the Dwightmare means that whatever happens on the court for the Magic this season is pretty much inconsequential. Wins and losses have been tossed aside in favor of gunning for draft picks and developing talent. While this is an understandable process that is directly derived from the league’s collective bargaining agreement, it also means that the next six months will be full of mostly meaningless basketball, which is quite a depressing realization.
That being said, even though new general manager Rob Hennigan and his “Presti Plan” dictate that the Magic will be built mostly on their next few drafts going forward, there are still things to glean from the upcoming season. Here are five questions heading into the 2012-13 season that bear watching for the Magic’s future.
What happens at shooting guard?
One can very easily make the claim that Orlando’s two best players fit into the same roster slot. Both Arron Afflalo and J.J. Redick had high-profile college careers, entered the league as afterthoughts, and put in extensive work to improve their games. The result is two efficient shooters, solid if unspectacular defenders (Afflalo more than Redick until last season, when he showed diminished interest on that end), and improved playmakers who are entering their respective primes.
The problem, of course, is that it’s unclear how they fit together. It seems unlikely they can share both wing spots defensively, especially if Afflalo, the bigger of the two, continues to exert more and more of his energy on the offensive end. The better bet is Redick sliding into the back-up point guard role, as he’s improved his ballhandling a great deal over the course of his career, but that’s still quite a dramatic leap of faith in his skills.
Furthermore, it’s unclear if the two are in Orlando for the long haul. Redick will be a free agent this summer, when he will presumably get more money and more competitive basketball from a non-rebuilding team. And while Afflalo is locked up for four more years, he might prove more valuable as a trade asset for a team that isn’t looking to do a lot of winning in the near future.
How does the frontcourt jam pan out?
The Magic currently have seven players vying for 96 minutes every night in the frontcourt. Even if you assume Kyle O’Quinn is developed away from actual NBA courts, you still have, in order:
- Al Harrington, the veteran of the group, which never bodes well when a guy is asked to sacrifice playing time.
- Big Baby, who thrived without Dwight in last year’s playoffs and has never been one to underestimate his own abilities.
- Gustavo Ayon, who is unlikely to complain about his role but is probably the best defender on the team to go and a guy who can fill in holes on the court without demanding shots.
- Andrew Nicholson, Orlando’s first round draft pick and someone the franchise should want to take a good hard look at to see what he can give going forward.
- Nikola Vucevic (more on him in a second).
- Josh McRoberts, who is horrible and hopefully stays out of the way and has some nice dunks if he somehow finds his way onto the parquet floor.
With O’Quinn, that’s three youngsters who need playing time, two veterans who — under no circumstance — have any future with the franchise (Al and McBob, which, to be fair, sounds like a solid buddy cop show), and two guys who are entering their prime and expect/deserve minutes. Quite a pickle. As for Vucevic?
Will the real Nikola Vucevic please stand up?
I’m splitting Vucevic off into his own category because he’s somewhat in the middle of the big man spectrum. He’s still only 22, but we’ve already seen him play in the NBA, which gives us a better grasp on him than we have on Nicholson and O’Quinn.
As for what that grasp tells us? Who knows? The season splits are jarring. As the Sixers racked up an impressive 20-9 record to take the league by storm, Vucevic posted impressive rebounding numbers to go with a decent shooting touch. But as the Sixers slowly regressed, he slammed head first into the rookie wall and his jumper didn’t recover until the season ended. The Sixers fared a little better defensively without the Montenegrin rookie on the floor, but his offense was so horrendous -– he posted True Shooting percentages of 36.1 and 39.6 percent in March and April, respectively –- that he was rendered unplayable, seeing only three minutes during 13 playoff games.
Vucevic has potential -– he’s big, moves well, didn’t get killed defensively (an accomplishment for a rookie big), and has decent passing abilities for a center to go with a fantastically low turnover rate. An optimistic eye towards the future can definitely see him operating out of the high post at or near the levels of a legit starting center in this league. But for that to happen, the shot has to fall.
How could you be Moe Harkless?
Harkless is an intriguing character. His stock rose before the draft to the point where Philly took him No. 15 in the 2012 Draft, which can be a double-edged sword -– the optimist says he’s so athletic that he blew away people in workouts, while the pessimist asks why he couldn’t produce at a high level in actual game scenarios.
Of course, after being shipped to the Magic, Harkless doesn’t really need to prove he deserved to be picked 15th. Just that he can play basketball. He certainly has the physical tools for it, with a 6-foot-9 frame, 7-foot wingspan, and a 37-inch vertical. Those predictably translated to very strong rebounding numbers for a combo forward, which tend to translate into the NBA game, as well as 1.6 steals and 1.4 blocks per game over at St. John’s.
The concern is that he can’t shoot. At all. Like, 21.5 percent from three-point range and 67.6 percent from the free-throw line can’t shoot. He’s extremely young and extremely raw, and with those kind of guys, you can never know if they’ll turn out like Gerald Wallace or like Hakim Warrick. With Quentin Richardson gone, the only thing standing between Harkless and small forward minutes is Hedo, so we should at least begin to find out what’s in store for the rook.
What kind of coach is Jacque Vaughn?
And speaking of veterans fighting youngsters for minutes, Vaughn’s role will be twofold.
The first, as mentioned here before, is to dole out minutes. Coaches often cling to veterans because they stay away from dumb mistakes and help win games. Whether this is true or just a widely accepted mirage is irrelevant –- because most coaches feel this way and because winning games saves jobs, youngsters are often pushed aside.
Of course, the Magic don’t actually need to win games. Even though I assume Vaughn wants to, I also assume he has discussed the long-term plan with Hennigan. Both the new general manager and head coach appear to be here for the long haul. If that is the case, one can cautiously hope that a major emphasis on player development will be displayed on all levels.
Which brings us to our second point. No, the Magic don’t need a coach to guide them to wins this season. But building a winning culture can be a very important. Last season, Dwane Casey in Toronto and Monty Williams in New Orleans had young, mostly horrendous teams competing hard every minute of every game while playing well above the sum of their parts defensively. Sooner rather than later, these things pay dividends. Not that a bad coach is a death knell for a rebuilding project -– Kevin Durant survived P.J. Carlesimo’s attempts to play him at shooting guard just fine –- but a good one can be a huge push in the back for a franchise that could really need it. Not everything rides on Jacque Vaughn this year, but it sure would be nice to find out he’s the sort of guy who can build nice things from that kind of pressure.