Magic Basketball: An Orlando Magic blog - Part 12

Oct 15

Preview: Flamengo at Orlando Magic

Essentials

  • Teams: Flamengo at Orlando Magic
  • Date: October 15, 2014
  • Time: 7:00 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Florida
  • Arena: Amway Center

Records

  • Flamengo: N/A
  • Magic: 23-59

Probable starters

Flamengo:

  • Nicolas Laprovittola
  • Marcelinho Machado
  • Marcus Vinicius
  • Walter Herrmann
  • Jerome Meyinsse

Magic:

  • Elfrid Payton
  • Willie Green
  • Tobias Harris
  • Andrew Nicholson
  • Nikola Vucevic

Advanced stats

Flamengo:

  • Pace: N/A
  • Offensive Rating: N/A
  • Defensive Rating: N/A

Magic:

  • Pace: 93.6 (15th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 101.7 (29th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 107.4 (17th of 30)

Oct 15

Player Profile: Andrew Nicholson

Capture

Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

Frankel’s 2014-15 per 36 projections

PPG RPG APG TS% PER ASPM
13.7 7.9 0.9 .499 11.0 -2.6

Andrew Nicholson’s sophomore campaign with the Orlando Magic got off to a roaring start. In the team’s season opener against the Indiana Pacers, the 24-year-old forward scored 18 points on 8-for-10 shooting in 19 minutes off the bench. Then, following that performance, Nicholson did much of the same against the Minnesota Timberwolves, pouring in 13 points in 19 minutes. Five days later, he put up his first double-double of the season, to the tune of 17 points and 11 rebounds.

Just like that, Nicholson appeared to be on the brink of a breakout season. However, after that short string of success, it all came crashing down for him.

Over the proceeding 78 games, Nicholson averaged 5.3 points in 15.0 minutes per contest. He recorded only one more double-double by the season’s end, and he went 42 straight games without scoring in double-figures (including 12 games in which he failed to score a single point).

In comparison to his rookie year, nearly all of Nicholson’s advanced stats fell of a cliff. His Player Efficiency Rating went from 15.1 to 9.9, his True Shooting percentage from .527 percent to .489, his Offensive Rating from 103 to 95, and his Win Shares from 1.7 to 0.6. He saw both his minutes and shot opportunities drop on a game-to-game basis, too. All in all, Nicholson averaged 13.3 points per 36 minutes (down from 16.9 per 36 as a rookie) and converted on only 42.9 percent of his shots — nearly 10 percentage points lower from the season before.

Now, heading into his third year with the Magic, Nicholson has a lot to prove. His contract for the 2015-16 season — worth $2.3 million — is a team option, so the team could part ways with him next offseason if he fails to improve. And with the Magic having to make some decisions in the next 12 months that may shape their team for years to come, it remains to be seen if Nicholson truly fits in with their vision.

Nikola Vucevic is up for an extension this season, as is Tobias Harris, who shares time both at the three and Nicholson’s primary position at the four. The team also signed Channing Frye to a long-term contract during the offseason, and rookie Aaron Gordon, although still raw, is expected to be an integral part of the team moving forward. There’s also small forward Maurice Harkless and power forward/center Kyle O’Quinn in the mix. All of which is leading to a packed frontcourt for the Magic.

For Nicholson to secure a spot in the team’s rebuild moving forward, he’ll have to be a more consistent player on both ends of the court — especially on defense, where he has struggled.

The good news for Nicholson is that there is room for his skill-set to fit in with the team. After attempting zero 3s as a rookie, Nicholson connected on 31.5 percent of them last season (28-for-89). He’s also a good rebounder, averaging 7.6 per 36 minutes over his young career. Both of those are assets the Magic value tremendously, and based on the moves they made this offseason, Nicholson can bring something to the table that few players on the roster can.

If he’s able to piece those skills together to become a more refined and consistent role player, there leaves room to believe that Nicholson could be a complementary piece for the team moving forward. He has, after all, shown the ability during his rookie year to be a difference maker. If he doesn’t recapture that form, however, this may be his final season donning the Magic’s pinstripes.

Oct 14

Player Profile: Tobias Harris

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 10.56.37 PM

Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

Frankel’s 2014-15 per 36 projections

PPG RPG APG TS% PER ASPM
18.1 8.1 1.8 .551 17.5 -1.4

After breaking out in the Magic’s last 27 games following the now-infamous J.J. Redick deal, which sent Tobias Harris from Milwaukee to Orlando at the trade deadline in 2012-13, expectations were high for him entering the 2013-14 season.

Unfortunately for Harris, he suffered a high ankle sprain during preseason and missed 21 of the Magic’s first 22 regular season games. During that timeframe, Orlando started Maurice Harkless, Arron Afflalo, and Glen Davis at the forward spots, and Magic fans wondered where Harris would fit in the lineup when he got healthy.

Coach Jacque Vaughn responded by bringing Harris off the bench for three games, easing him back into the rotation before reinserting him into the starting lineup at the small forward position. Not at power forward, where he thrived the season prior.

At small forward, Harris played well at times. He notched a 20-20 game against the Los Angeles Lakers on January 24. And a few weeks later, Harris was a part of one of the most exciting game-winners in Magic franchise history when he made a game-winning dunk to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on February 7.

But Harris wasn’t completely effective at the small forward position. He looked out of sorts at times, especially on defense where he had trouble keeping up with speedier small forwards, and his dreadful 3-point shooting was a glaring problem.

It wasn’t until the Magic waived Big Baby in a buyout agreement on February 21, shortly after the deadline had passed, thus clearing the way for Harris to return full-time to his optimal role — a small-ball power forward. But not as a starter.

With the emergence of Kyle O’Quinn, who became the Magic’s starting power forward in the final quarter of the season, Harris moved to the bench and was the team’s sixth man, where he excelled. Orlando’s second-unit offense centered around Harris, in which he was allowed to be the focal point. And his 3-point shooting improved, which aided in his ability to be an effective floor-spacing power forward.

Which leads into the upcoming season. With the signing of Channing Frye, who is projected to be the Magic’s starting power forward on opening night (assuming he fully recovers from his sprained MCL), the assumption is that Harris will remain a sixth man. You also have to assume that the Magic know that Harris’ best position is at power forward and they want to keep him there, especially with rookie Aaron Gordon manning the small forward position alongside Harkless.

The question is: how much is Harris worth? The major storyline for him entering this season is his contract situation. Along with fellow fourth-year player Nikola Vucevic, Harris is eligible for an extension — Oct. 31 is the deadline for the Magic to extend both players and prevent them from becoming restricted free agents.

Trying to guess a number for Harris is difficult, given those two factors, but Markieff Morris’ contract extension (four-year, $32 million) is a decent barometer for what Harris may command. Both are similar players in similar roles. It’ll be interesting to see how the Magic view Harris in their long-term plans (as a starter or sixth man), and how the NBA’s new TV deal impacts contract discussions.

Oct 13

Player Profile: Channing Frye

NBA: Orlando Magic-Media Day

Photo by Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Frankel’s 2014-15 per 36 projections

PPG RPG APG TS% PER ASPM
13.6 6.5 1.5 .552 12.9 +1.2

Two years ago, Channing Frye received news that put his basketball career — and possibly his life — at jeopardy when it was discovered he had an enlarged heart. But after sitting out the 2012-13 season after undergoing surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm, Frye bounced back in a big way in 2013-14, putting up some of the best numbers of his career on the NBA’s Cinderella team in Phoenix.

In 82 games, Frye averaged 11.1 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Suns, making 2.0 3-pointers per contest at a 37.0 percent clip. And the Suns outscored their opponents by 6.9 points per 100 possessions when Frye was on the floor, per NBA.com.

In fact, the Suns scored at a rate that would’ve ranked them as the best offense in the league with Frye on the court, and they would’ve been cellar dwellers offensively without him. The reason why: His ability to stretch the floor as a power forward/center opened up room for Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe to operate in the paint, and he was a big reason why the two guards were able to put up the type of numbers that made them All-Star caliber players.

As Upside & Motor’s Sam Vecenie pointed out, Dragic’s shooting numbers improved greatly when sharing the court with Frye, from 47.0 percent to 52.1 percent from the field, and from 29.1 percent to 46.7 percent from 3-point range — a stark difference, to say the least.

What makes Frye unique as a floor spacer is that he doesn’t just spot-up in the corners like many traditional bigs — he’s capable of hitting transition threes, and the bulk of his offense with the Suns came in pick-and-pops. Seeing as Orlando’s makeup is similar to that of last season’s Suns — they will rely heavily on Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo’s ability to get into the lane, much like the Suns did with Dragic and Bledsoe — they are hoping that he can replicate some of the same magic this season.

The Magic were, after all, one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the NBA last season, and parting ways with their primary marksmen, Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson, left some big shoes to fill. Ones that Payton, Oladipo, and Aaron Gordon aren’t yet ready to fill. Even though Frye is 31 years old and one of the older players on the roster, his skill-set is expected to age well because he’s a big who doesn’t rely on his athleticism or height to be productive. It’s his ability to stretch the floor that makes him valuable.

The start of the summer looked bleak for the Magic with the additions of Payton and Gordon to their core, both of whom struggle greatly with their jump shots at this stage of their respective careers. With Frye now on board, teams won’t be able to simply pack the paint once one of them attacks the rim, thereby opening up the space they need to do what made them lottery picks in one of the deepest drafts of recent memory.

For that reason, there’s no reason to expect Frye’s numbers to drop after a career-year in the valley of the Suns. He’ll get a lot of the same looks and should be just as valuable in Orlando as he was in Phoenix, assuming he fully recovers from a sprained MCL he suffered during training camp.

Oct 10

Player Profile: Maurice Harkless

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 6.53.42 PM

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Frankel’s 2014-15 per 36 projections

PPG RPG APG TS% PER ASPM
11.3 4.8 1.5 .536 12.1 -0.4

One of the major story lines heading into the 2013-14 season centered on Harkless spending the offseason reconstructing his jump shot. The thinking was that if Harkless could develop a consistent shot, specifically from 3-point range, with his defensive potential, he could become a 3-and-D player for the Magic.

Harkless entered his second year in the league as the incumbent starter at small forward, partly due to Tobias Harris (the projected starting small forward) suffering a high ankle sprain during preseason. However, Harkless didn’t capitalize on the opportunity, as his timidness on offense eventually forced coach Jacque Vaughn to bench him after the Magic’s first 13 games.

Even though Harkless remained in Vaughn’s rotation and was a spot starter after being demoted, his play rarely stood out apart from his momentary bouts of defensive brilliance. When Arron Afflalo sprained his ankle against the New York Knicks on February 21, Vaughn was forced to reinsert Harkless into the starting lineup. It was then that Harkless finally took advantage of his playing time.

Having learned his lesson from earlier in the regular season, Harkless was much more assertive offensively in his second stint as a starter. Having always been a good slasher since entering the league, he became more decisive with the ball in his hands. He looked to score, rather than hope to score.

But most importantly for Orlando, Harkless began to show signs of a 3-point shooting stroke. In the Magic’s last 25 games, Harkless shot .391 percent from 3-point range on 2.8 attempts per game — looking very much the 3-and-D player the franchise envisions him of becoming.

The question entering Harkless’ third season with the Magic is whether or not those last 25 games were a sign of things to come or a hot streak. Was it real or a fluke?

Although Harkless finished 2013-14 with a .385 3-point field goal percentage, which was above the league-average (.360 percent), the jury is out on whether or not his improved 3-point shooting is legitimate. One of the most important breakthroughs in the basketball analytics community came in late August when Daryl Blackport of Nylon Calculus discovered that it takes roughly 750 attempts before a player’s 3-point shooting stabilizes.

This is important to note because for his career, Harkless is a .336 percent shooter on 271 attempts. Which means that Harkless, at his current pace of 136 3-point field goal attempts per season, still has to play a few more seasons before a verdict can be made on his 3-point shooting ability.

You have to figure that the Magic are going to keep a watchful eye on Harkless’ 3-point shooting because that will ultimately determine his future with the franchise. For as talented of a defender Harkless can be at times, a player that can’t shoot is a player that won’t find time on the court in today’s NBA.

Sidenote: Harkless needs to become a better free-throw shooter, which is another weakness of his. For his career, Harkless is shooting a Dwight-like .583 percent from the line.

This is an important season for Harkless. As a third-year rookie, he needs to prove to the Magic that he’s worthy of having the fourth-year option on his rookie contract picked up and of being a long-term piece.

Oct 09

Player Profile: Aaron Gordon

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Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Frankel’s 2014-15 per 36 projections

PPG RPG APG TS% PER ASPM
N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A

Aaron Gordon was the first big surprise of the 2014 NBA Draft. The Magic took Gordon instead of Dante Exum, who practically everyone expected to be picked, and in doing so helped set a template for the future of the Magic.

Gordon’s skill-set matches up with up many of Orlando’s recent acquisitions, including fellow 2014 draftee Elfrid Payton — athletic, defensively sound, versatile, and offensively suspect. The Magic have zigged while all other teams have zagged, as the two-way player is the archetype du jour in today’s NBA and studies seem to come out every other week proving the importance of spacing. It sort of feels like an experiment, and Gordon is one of many specimens in Orlando’s basketball laboratory.

The biggest question about Gordon is what position will he play? As shooting is becoming more important in this era, smaller and spacier players are playing power forward more and more often. On the surface, because he can play both small and power forward, he should be a power forward in today’s NBA. But when digging a bit deeper, it doesn’t seem like Gordon’s best fit would be a power forward because of his tricky skill-set.

The biggest advantage of playing small forward-sized players at the four is usually, spacing, but that won’t be relevant in the case of Gordon. Especially when you take a look at his shot chart of his freshman season with the Arizona Wildcats.

Though he shot a decent 35.6 percent from behind the college line, he shot very infrequently from 3-point range, and that percentage was accrued with only 16 makes. He shot even fewer long twos, which is a good thing in the long-term, but for now shows his lack of comfort shooting from the outside. Even more frightening is his free-throw percentage, which was 42.2 percent. Stretch four Gordon is not.

Playing Gordon at the four also takes away his primary strength, perimeter defense. Gordon’s strength and lateral quickness go to far better use on the wing than they do defending post-ups or trying to protect the rim.

He’d also be a competent ballhandler on the wing, and sported a fairly low turnover rate at Arizona. Gordon’s versatility is what makes him exciting. It’s easy to see his elite perimeter defense or defensive rebounding quickly transitioning to him leading the break and throwing down a monstrous dunk. It’s applicable in the halfcourt, too. The Magic used him as both a ballhandler and as a screener in pick-and-rolls in Summer League.

Gordon’s play will probably prove a microcosm for that of the whole team. Growing pains on offense, athletic flashes, raw skill on defense, and an enticing versatility that might not yet translate into success.

Oct 08

Player Profile: Willie Green

arron-afflalo-willie-green-nba-orlando-magic-los-angeles-clippers1-850x560

Photo by Andrew Fielding-USA TODAY Sports

Frankel’s 2014-15 per 36 projections

PPG RPG APG TS% PER ASPM
12.2 3.7 2.7 .468 7.2 -3.5

The 33-year-old shooting guard was picked up by the Magic after getting waived by the Clippers, and will be paid the veteran’s minimum ($1.4 million) this season. Green is entering his 12th season in the NBA, and it’s hard for a 6-foot-4 shooting guard with tired legs to really compete on a night-to-night basis.

Still, he had the ear of Chris Paul in Los Angeles, and it’s not like he doesn’t bring some much-needed experience to the table for a young Orlando squad. He’ll immediately connect with Oladipo because both share an on-ball tenacity on defense. Green held opposing guards to field goal percentages of just 25.0 percent on spot-ups and 32.9 percent overall, per Synergy Sports.

With rookie Elfrid Payton and Luke Ridnour battling it out in training camp for the point guard slot Jameer Nelson left behind, Green will be working alongside Evan Fournier, a young European transplant who showed flashes with Denver last season, and the corpse-bloodied body of Ben Gordon.

Green showed off a surprisingly adept shooting touch in limited attempts during his last season in Atlanta and in his first season as a backup guard with the Clippers. Except, his 3-point shooting percentage dipped almost 10 percentage points last season with the Clippers — from 42.8 percent in 2012-13 to 33.8 percent in 2013-14. The lower latter percentage is more in line with his career 34.6 percentage from deep.

Shooting just isn’t his strong suit, which is difficult in today’s spread-the-floor NBA. Witness the Magic overpaying for stretch four Channing Frye. That being said, it’s important to note that Green has been in the NBA for more than a decade playing 679 regular-season games and 36 playoff games for three teams (Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Los Angeles).

That’s because he grades as a good defender. When Green sat with the Clippers last season, they gave up 103.0 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. When he was on the court, which was for only 869 minutes (3082 minutes he was off), the Clippers only gave up only 98.7 points per 100 possessions, which would have been a top-3 ranked defense in the NBA, rather than LA’s seventh-ranked overall defense (allowing 102.1 points per possession) last season.

Listen, playing less than a 1,000 minutes during the regular season is an incredibly small sample size, but it’s clear he was a defensive stalwart on the court. At the same time, the team scored nearly six points less per 100 possessions when Green was in the backcourt, so he was taking more off the table that he was bringing to it.

Even though ‘Dipo suffered an MCL strain, Green will still be at the bottom of the depth chart for the young Magic at the shooting guard slot. He’ll be a valuable tutor for Fournier and Oladipo while pushing Gordon in practice.

He will not be a valuable member on the court for the Magic this season, but his locker room presence shouldn’t be overlooked just because he’s a guard on the downside of a rather impressive career when you consider his shooting follies. For a young Magic team that’s still trying to find an identity and avoid another sinkhole into the draft lottery, sometimes that’s all you want — some veteran leadership. Green provides that, so the numbers become less tangible when you talk about his overall effectiveness for this year’s team.

Oct 08

Grades: Orlando Magic 108, Miami Heat 101 (OT)

Capture

Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

 

Orlando Magic 108 Final
Recap | Box Score
101 Miami Heat

Nikola Vucevic
7-12 FG | 2-2 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 16 PTS | -1

Some things change. Some things stay the same. Despite facing a new-look Heat with no LeBron James, Vucevic had his way against a frontcourt (Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen) that he’s become familiar with and has dominated in recent years. Vucevic scored primarily on baby hooks and offensive rebound putbacks, and even sprinkled in a midrange jump shot for good measure.

Tobias Harris
6-9 FG | 2-2 3P | 7 REB | 3 AST | 15 PTS | -3

Every Magic player that was healthy and made the trip to Miami (excluding the team’s training camp invites) got playing time. Out of all of them, Harris stood out the most. His jumper was borderline automatic and, with reports that he changed his diet during the offseason in an effort to raise his energy level on both ends of the floor, he looked quicker.

Devyn Marble
4-5 FG | 3-4 3P | 1 REB | 2 AST | 13 PTS | +2

With all the hype surrounding Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton’s first preseason game, it was an unheralded rookie that stole the spotlight. Marble was the last rookie (and player) to come off the bench for the Magic, yet he was the one that made the biggest impact. He scored 13 points in 13 minutes and displayed the kind of sharpshooting Orlando desperately needs.

Evan Fournier
4-10 FG | 2-5 3P | 3 REB | 2 AST | 13 PTS | -4

With Victor Oladipo nursing a sprained MCL, which he injured in practice on Friday, Fournier started at shooting guard and did some good things. He made two corner 3s and was aggressive in attacking the rim, drawing fouls in the process and getting to the free throw line. He also got some minutes at point guard, which is something Magic fans should expect to see this season.

Miami Heat

One thing is for sure. With LBJ in Cleveland, the Heat will be a dramatically different team. The expectation is for the team to center around Bosh, something he hasn’t done since his Toronto days, and for Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, and Josh McRoberts to lead the supporting cast. Look for coach Erik Spoelstra to relish the challenge in building Miami’s new identity.

Oct 07

Preview: Orlando Magic at Miami Heat

Essentials

  • Teams: Orlando Magic at Miami Heat
  • Date: October 7, 2014
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: Sun Sports
  • Arena: AmericanAirlines Arena

Records

  • Magic: 23-59
  • Heat: 54-28

Probable starters

Magic:

  • Luke Ridnour
  • Evan Fournier
  • Aaron Gordon
  • Tobias Harris
  • Nikola Vucevic

Heat:

  • Norris Cole
  • Dwyane Wade
  • Luol Deng
  • Shawne Williams
  • Chris Bosh

Advanced stats

Magic:

  • Pace: 93.6 (15th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 101.7 (29th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 107.4 (17th of 30)

Heat:

  • Pace: 91.2 (27th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 110.9 (5th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 105.8 (11th of 30)

Read about the Heat

Heat Index

Oct 07

Player Profile: Ben Gordon

os-orlando-magic-willie-green-0712

Photo by Joshua C. Cruey/Orlando Sentinel

Frankel’s 2014-15 per 36 projections

PPG RPG APG TS% PER ASPM
12.1 3.7 2.7 .421 6.2 -4.8

It wasn’t long ago that Ben Gordon was one of the NBA’s elite sixth men. But now, at age 31, he’s looking for one more chance to keep his professional basketball career going. And that’s an opportunity the Orlando Magic have given him.

Since signing a five-year deal with the Detroit Pistons worth $55 million back in 2009, Gordon’s career has been on a downwards spiral. In three seasons in the Motor City, Gordon averaged what were then career-lows across the board. He failed to shoot over 40 percent from beyond the arc for the first time in his career in 2009-10, and never lived up to the scoring reputation that earned him such a lucrative deal.

In the third year of his contract, Gordon was traded to the Charlotte Bobcats as, essentially, a shoo-in. Instead of being viewed as a key addition to the Bobcats’ bench (for a team that won just 21 games that year), matters only got worse for Gordon there, culminating in a dismal outing in his contract year, where he dealt with a number of injuries and averaged only 5.2 points on 27.6 percent shooting from 3-point range in 19 games. With the playoffs just around the corner, the team waived Gordon at the buyout deadline, thereby casting a heavy cloud over his future in the NBA.

Now, though, 11 years after being drafted into the NBA, Gordon has one final chance to keep his career going.

With the additions the Magic made this offseason, they were in desperate need of players who could space the floor, which is where Gordon fits into the picture. In his first five seasons in the league, Gordon made, on average, 1.9 3-pointers per game at a 41.5 percent clip with the Chicago Bulls. Although he failed to showcase his shooting ability last season with the Bobcats, the Magic are hoping it’s simply an anomaly. They’re also hoping that putting him alongside the two cornerstones of the team’s backcourt, Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo, who thrive off of breaking a defense down and getting into the paint, should give Gordon the looks he grew accustomed to at the early stages of his career. (That’s where the rejuvenation part comes into play.)

All in all, the pressure is on Gordon. His career has fallen off the deep end recently, and he’s been given one more shot at finding his feet in Orlando.

For the Magic, it’s a low-risk, high-reward signing, seeing as the second year on his contract is a team option. If he fails to deliver, they’ll show him the door before the extra $4.5 million kicks in. But if he regains his old form in any sort of way, he could be a nice spark plug off the bench for the Magic. More importantly, he could make life easier for Oladipo, Payton, and Aaron Gordon, all of whom are slowly developing an outside jumpshot. With Gordon’s floor spacing by their side, life could be much easier for all of them.

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