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The Magic’s season is now 44 games old and and while some characteristics of this team are starting to take focus, others are still a bit hazier. The Magic are somehow simultaneously exactly what we thought they’d be and not really anything like we thought they’d be. Results are inconclusive.
Instead of looking at expectations for this season and grading the Magic accordingly, this is an exercise in bringing everyone up to speed on who exactly the Magic are, what exactly they’re made up of, and how they arrived at a 14-30 record.
You’re only as good as your record
A 14-30 record is bad, but evaluating the Magic at this point is not as simple as citing wins and losses. Looking at a team’s record is what you do when you have a fully stocked and competitive roster that is competing for home-court advantage in the playoffs, and has even an outside chance of winning a championship. Orlando is not in that position. So we should really throw their record out the window.
After all, more than a handful of the Magic’s losses this year have been in close games and against good teams. The problem is that the Magic still lack a serious scorer and in no way have proven that they can close a game out. Competitiveness can only get you so far in a game. At some point, you need someone to take over (preferably multiple options on that front).
You honestly could make an argument that this team could be gunning for a playoff spot if they only had a closer. Think back to a couple weeks ago when the Magic played neck-and-neck with the Knicks for three and a half quarters, only to be bested by Carmelo Anthony down the stretch. The only thing that can really combat that is a Carmelo of your own or something similar.
The point is that we know Orlando is a bad team, but that does not mean that all is bad. Throwing wins and losses around doesn’t really capture what is really going on this season. There is plenty of good, in fact, within this organization at the moment. So if you want to talk about records, consider the fact that Orlando isn’t too far off from being a playoff team when taking into account all the close losses they’ve had.
At the end of last season, only three players had a 15.0 Player Efficiency Rating or higher. Two of those players were Dwight Howard and Ryan Anderson, who are both gone. The other was J.J. Redick. As it stands right now, Orlando has six players with PER’s over 15: Redick, Vucevic, Nelson, Davis, Nicholson, and O’Quinn (who doesn’t really count).
What we’ve seen so far is an influx of usage for guys who are not used to seeing this many minutes, and many more touches and scoring opportunities. The result has been, for all intents and purposes, a more competitive team (despite the record).
Redick is having a career season, Vucevic is forming into a double-double machine, Nicholson is proving that he belongs in the league, and Davis and Nelson are doing what they’ve always done. Maybe not to max capacity, but it’s not as if they’ve had an enormous drop off from where they’ve been prior in their careers (with the exception of Nelson in 2009).
Again, in the NBA, even when role players step up and play above their pay grade, it does not necessarily translate into wins. But the fact that Orlando is getting this much production from their meager roster is a good sign when thinking about the future, especially considering how young Nicholson and Vucevic are. Put differently, how good will Orlando be if these guys play this well and you add a star or two to the mix?
Turkoglu has been a disappointment. In 7 games while averaging 19 minutes per game, he has a PER of 3.8. It’s probably unfair to wave his stats around since we only have a very small sample size, but Turkoglu in no way appears to be in basketball form. He’s all but sealed the deal on the truth that he is not the Turk that he used to be.
Another disappointment has been Josh McRoberts. Despite averaging 17 minutes a game this season, McRoberts’ efficiency has been poorish at best and, frankly, it’s always been a bit of an adventure when he’s in the game.
The only player that really fits this category, aside from Big Baby, is Arron Afflalo and it’s not because he is not good. It’s that there is something truly disgusting about his consistency.
Yes, Afflalo is the team’s leading scorer, but that is primarily because he also plays the most minutes and has the third-highest usage rate on the team. Afflalo has been put into an uncomfortable position and it’s not his fault. The Magic have made him the primary scorer, which has hurt not only his True Shooting percentage (53.4 percent), but also his PER (13.1)
Currently, Afflalo is averaging 3 more shots per game than he ever has before, and as his usage and shot volume have gone up while his efficiency and percentages have gone down. These numbers don’t reflect how good Afflalo is, either. He has never been a guy that’s had a high PER and that’s fine.
The problem is that this guy, who has essentially been a secondary option offensively before being traded to the Magic, is now a go-to option for Orlando. That’s probably not the position he wants to be and it certainly can’t be the situation Jacque Vaughn wants him to be in. Nonetheless, that’s the reality and there’s no way around it.
Jacque Vaughn and the future
All in all, things look pretty promising with Vaughn at the helm as the Magic move forward past this season. A mix of a budding young coach who knows how to handle a roster and a strong, albeit small crop of young ballers is a great start for an organization looking to hit the restart button.
Judging this particular Magic team after 44 games in a season that, let’s be honest, doesn’t matter aside from development, is silly.
But for what it’s worth, there are some good things to chew on for Magic fans. The more Orlando strives towards developing guys like Vucevic, Nicholson, and Harkless, the better they will be. And that’s really all you can hope for given the circumstances.
Here’s to 2014.