Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
What’s caught our eyes through the Magic’s first month of the season? Our panel weighs in with their most pleasant surprises and disappointments thus far.
1. Which player has been the biggest surprise?
Jacob Frankel: Andrew Nicholson. He himself hasn’t been a surprise, but his scant playing time has been one. He has an incredibly soft touch around the rim, and he’s extending his range to the 3-point line now. It seems like Vaughn is worried about his defense, but Nicholson won’t pick up the nuances of NBA defenses sitting on the bench.
Spencer Lund: Arron Afflalo. E’Twaun Moore is sporting a solid .538 True Shooting percentage — making me feel like a pessimistic jerk — but Afflalo is showing an offensive game that’s been astounding through the season’s first month. He’s still shooting over 45 percent beyond the arc for the year despite attempting almost five and a half 3s a game.
Jack Winter: Arron Afflalo. Many assumed that Afflalo — long considered Orlando’s best two-way player — would be trade-bait at February’s deadline. Just over a month into the season, though, Afflalo almost seems untouchable. He’s not only playing the best basketball of his career right now, but making the type of offensive impact reserved only for the game’s top players.
2. Which player has been the biggest disappointment?
Frankel: Maurice Harkless. Harkless has all the tools, but what he is struggling with right now is figuring out how to use them. There are awesome flashes, but he rarely seems to be able to do the right things at the right times in the team scheme. Maybe Harkless will gain a better understanding over time.
Lund: Maurice Harkless. I thought he would make more of a leap this season offensively, and while he’s still a threat to cut backdoor along the baseline, his shooting hasn’t improved as much as fans would like — maybe he should ask Moore for advice? His defense has also fallen off slightly, but maybe I was expecting too much. He’s still very young.
Winter: Tobias Harris. The 21-year-old Harris might be the Magic’s best offensive player, but we have no way of knowing — he’s played in just one game this season due to a high ankle sprain. With no set timetable for his return, Orlando will continue lacking the opportunity to see how he fits in the team’s long-term plans.
3. What storyline stands out to you the most?
Frankel: Oladipo’s struggles. He’s turning the ball over a ton and the shooting has been spotty. He’s shown the reasons the Magic drafted him No. 2 though, with athletic drives and finishes and hounding defense. I’m interested to see how he improves. Top picks from last year like Bradley Beal put together big second halves after struggling to begin with.
Lund: Waiting for Tobias Harris and his Unbreakable ankles has been difficult since a lot of us were drinking the Tobias kool-aid last year. But he continues to sit out with a high ankle sprain, and this is starting to look malignant. Whatever supernatural chants are available to get him healthy should be uttered now by Magic brass.
Winter: Whether or not Afflalo or Nelson will be traded by the February deadline. Both Magic veterans seemed like prime candidates for trades to contenders at the deadline coming into this season, but things are markedly different now. Afflalo is playing like a star, and Nelson’s been a valuable off-court presence to a team littered with impressionable youngsters.