Photo by Fernando Medina/Orlando Magic
Few teams come to Summer League with more than one or two rotation players. Fewer still come with multiple players that are expected to be focal points for the team in the upcoming season. Few teams are the Orlando Magic.
What we’ve seen from the Magic so far this week is likely two-fifths of Orlando’s starting lineup for the 2013-14 season (it would have been three-fifths if Tobias Harris didn’t bang his knee during practice last week).
There are two ways to look at this situation.
First, Orlando is doomed. A roster of mostly rookies and sophomores can’t possibly compete for a playoff spot — not that they were supposed to in the first place — even in the weaker Eastern Conference. It’ll be another year of shameless tanking for the franchise in hopes of landing Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Dante Exum, or any of the other supposed stars in next year’s draft.
The second, however, is much more uplifting. It still carries the truths of the first point of view (though, without the “shameless” part), but it also adds the following caveat: the Magic, just a year removed from the Dwight Howard trade, have accelerated the rebuilding process to the point where they have as few as five and as many as seven foundational pieces.
Their frontcourt rotation alone, comprised of Harris, Nikola Vucevic, Andrew Nicholson, Kyle O’Quinn and now Romero Osby is enough to make other teams envious, if not downright jealous.
It gives Jacque Vaughn a myriad of flexibility when it comes to lineups: he can go small with Harris and Nicholson, big with Nicholson and Vucevic while moving Harris to the three and Maurice Harkless to the two, enormous with O’Quinn and Vucevic, a mixture of small and big with Harris and Vucevic, and so forth.
Meanwhile, in the backcourt and on the wing, Orlando features two players that, like Tony Allen and Andre Iguodala, make individual defense legitimately exciting to watch.
First is Maurice Harkless, who emerged last year as the team’s primary wing stopper. His mouthwatering blend of size and athleticism allows him to guard up to four positions, depending on how small the opposing team is up front.
Last year, Harkless averaged 1.1 blocks and 1.6 steals per 36 minutes, promising for a player that has only scratched the surface of his defensive potential. Though it’s been against mostly inferior competition, Harkless looks to have reached further into that well of potential at Summer League.
Perhaps even more promising is just how much better he looks on offense. His ballhandling is much tighter, the team seems to be comfortable and encouraging him to run pick-and-rolls from both the wing and the top of the key. He may not operate the offense as much in the regular season, but that polished dribbling will, at the very least, help him drive more ably to the basket.
Oladipo, the Magic’s first round pick this year, is the second player that brings an exciting brand of defense to Orlando. He’s already made quite a few thrilling plays here in Orlando: a soaring block from behind on a much taller defender, lulling his opponent into a false sense of security and then lunging for a steal, and a handful of leaping deflections that show how unwilling he is to give up on any play.
As I’ve written before, Oladipo’s offense is much further along than expected. His outstanding shooting percentages in college — 59.9 percent overall, 44.1 percent from deep — don’t appear to be the product of small sample sizes as some had feared. His jump shot looks smooth, and he’s comfortable taking it in any situation. And, of course, he’s still terrific at getting to the rim, taking 32 total free-throw attempts through three games here in Orlando.
They’ll be experimenting with Victor Oladipo at the point guard position for this season, but if they’re able to land someone like the aforementioned Exum in 2014, Oladipo will probably move back to his more natural position at the two. It’s unclear if the experiment will even work for a full season, but if nothing else, it’s a tremendous learning experience for Oladipo, and will allow him to comfortably slide back into that position if the team needs him to in the future.
This team still has a ways to go, obviously. Nicholson needs to develop his court vision and his defense, Harris needs to prove last year wasn’t a fluke, and that he can be more efficient. Oladipo must show that he can handle the pressure from NBA-caliber players and defenses, while Harkless has to keep working on his range, specifically the corner 3.
But a rebuilding project that was supposed to take multiple years is much further along to completion than it really has any right to be. What we’ve seen from the Magic so far is what we’ll get.
For the Orlando Magic, the future is now.