Thursday, October 2, 2014

2014-15 Season Preview: Orlando Magic

Southeast Division
Coach: Jacque Vaughn
Power Ranking: 29

The Magic enter their third season without Dwight Howard with considerably less established talent on the roster than in the previous two years.  Snubbed All-Star Arron Afflalo was dealt away for pennies on the dollar and long-running veteran PG Jameer Nelson was waived and has since landed with the Mavericks.  The loss of Afflalo figures to be the greatest change for the Magic this season, as he did it all for them in 2013-14.  The dynamic wing led the team in scoring, was a key cog in running the offense and was a great defensive mentor for Victor Oladipo on the perimeter.  He's back in Denver now, to be replaced by a combo of Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, Mo Harkless and Evan Fournier, who was acquired as part of the return for Afflalo.

The youth movement did take a bit of a detour this off-season, as the Magic added veterans Channing Frye, Ben Gordon and Luke Ridnour to what is otherwise an inexperienced roster.  While the Magic overpaid for all three,  they figure to increase the learning pace for the young core.  Third-year coach Jacque Vaughn will also be tasked with increasing that pace as the front office will likely start to demand some return on their investment in years of rebuilding.  Vaughn's first season only yielded 20 wins, and he followed that with 23 wins in 2013-14.  Does he have enough in the cupboard to add a few more?  That all will likely hinge on how fast he can integrate some odd pieces into an offense that was one of the worst in the league last year.  Can he figure out where Aaron Gordon works best or will he just be the next Derrick Williams?  Between Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo, who's the PG and where does the shooting come from?  The pressure could mount in year three for Vaughn if things don't improve and he fails to answer those and other questions.  The good news is that Nikola Vucevic is developing into one of the best young big men in the game, and they have a deep stock of other young, talented players to build upon.  If the Magic are going to build on last year's minor improvement, they'll need those young players to take the next step, as they can no longer rely on Arron Afflalo to shoulder the load.

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Off. Eff.
Def. Eff.
FTr 3PAr TS% OReb.% DReb.% TOV%
99.3(29th) 104.8(17th) .253 .235 52.5% 22.4% 75.5% 13.9%

The Magic were the second-worst offense in the NBA last season, playing just below the league average pace at 93.6 possessions per game.  They posted a Free Throw Rate that only ranked 23rd in the league, despite their similarly ranked 3PA rate.  This tends to mean that a team lives in the mid-range, and for Orlando this was certainly true.  The Magic only took 30% of their shots at the rim last season, and ranked 22nd in the league in FGA within the restricted area.  This, tied in with their pedestrian 3-point shooting and lack of offensive rebounding, produced an offense that left an awful lot to be desired.  In terms of turnover rate, the Magic ranked 17th in the league, a number that figures to go up this year with more youth in the backcourt now that Nelson and Afflalo are gone.

Defensively, the Magic were fairly solid last year compared to overall results.  They finished 12th in opponent 2P% (48.5%) and ranked 10th in the league in defensive rebounding.  They allowed a league average Opponent 3PAr, a number much more indicative of defensive success on the perimeter than opponent 3P%.  It should be interesting this season to see how that number is affected by the loss of Afflalo; my guess: they allow a higher rate this season, which could possibly lead to worse defensive efficiency.  Their other solid numbers (Opp. 2P% and DReb%) figure to not be influenced by roster changes, unless Channing Frye has a greater downside impact on the interior defense than expected.


Back in the summer of 2012 when Jacque Vaughn was hired in Orlando, he laid out the plans for an up-tempo, free-flowing offense.  As he told John Denton of
"We will run to score to put it in simple context," Vaughn stressed. "Guys will have freedom to make decisions and they will enjoy the style of play. I won’t call a play every single time down the floor because that’s just not my style."
After two seasons, the last half of that quote seems a bit damning.  Maybe he should start calling more plays, because the Magic have finished 27th and 29th in Offensive Efficiency in his two seasons as head coach.  According to TeamRankings, the Magic managed the 22nd most efficient fast break offense in the league.  That they finished 29th in overall Offensive Efficiency should speak to the quality of their halfcourt offense.  While the team's talent level has certainly contributed to their struggles, a head coach should be expected to maximize the value of every possession.  The ability to run coordinated possessions will likely be more important this year without Afflalo around to bail out a broken set.

As far as Vaughn's promise to get out and run, he has delivered upon it.  In the season before he took over, the team built a sluggish halfcourt offense around Dwight Howard, finishing 29th in the league in terms of possessions per game (91.2).  In the ensuing years, Vaughn's squads finished 14th (94.5) and 15th (95.9).  Although this has produced few positive results in terms of scoring and wins, it may just take time to mold the team to his image.  With Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon in the fold, if the Magic can rebound and create turnovers, they may be able to improve upon their dreary scoring efficiency numbers.  Jacque Vaughn needs more wins to placate the front office this year, and the key to getting what he needs will be found in finding a way to improve the offense.

Acquisitions: F Aaron Gordon (4th pick), G Elfrid Payton (10th pick), SG Devyn Marble (56th pick), C Channing Frye, SG Ben Gordon, G Willie Green, PG Luke Ridnour, SG Evan Fournier
Departures: PG Jameer Nelson, G/F Arron Afflalo, SG Doron Lamb, SG E'Twaun Moore, PF Jason Maxiell

PG: Victor Oladipo
May not be well-suited for playing PG, but the Magic seem determined to try and make it work.  Assist and turnover numbers were ugly last season.  Rebounded well for his position (7.5 TRB%) and did a good job getting to the FT line with regularity.   Shot the three ball about as well as expected (32.7 3P%).  Improving that number this year could really open up his scoring game and make him hard to stop.  Shot 44% in his junior year at Indiana, so a bump may not be out of the question.

SG: Evan Fournier
Fournier needs to be good this season after the Magic made him the main return for Arron Afflalo in a draft day deal.  He played a considerable amount of minutes for the Nuggets last season, offering solid return for a 21 year old wing.  He's a reliable outside shooter, but struggles to get to the FT line (.226 FTr) and didn't shoot well inside the arc last year (45.3 2P%).  He's not the playmaker or defender that Afflalo is.

SF: Mo Harkless
Harkless took a nice step forward in his second year, showing marked improvement as an outside shooter (27.4 3P% his rookie year).  He also modestly improved his FTr and maintained a solid conversion rate inside the arc (50.2 2P%).  His PER would look more attractive if he could support his production at a higher Usage Rate.  At only 21 years old, he just might be able to if his shooting doesn't regress in year three.

PF: Channing Frye
Channing Frye is a nice role player, no doubt about that.  However, the 4y, $32M deal he got from Orlando only adds to the evidence that the Magic had a horrible off-season.  Unless he starts rebounding and passing the ball, he's nothing more than an old Josh McRoberts.  McBob signed a four year deal for $9M less this summer.  The Magic aren't quite in the place yet where it's worth it to overpay for vets.  Solid player, questionable move.

C: Nikola Vucevic
Vucevic is the real deal, and at only 24 years old, should be the piece that the Magic are building around.  He's improved in just about every statistical category with every year he's been in the league.  He's one of the best rebounders in the league (7th in TRB%) and should see his offensive production increase with Afflalo out of the fold.  He won't get All-Star consideration because his team isn't very good, but he should generate more buzz than he has.  The one surprising thing about Vucevic: his FTr (.197) could stand to improve quite a bit.

PG: Luke Ridnour
Ridnour had by far the worst season of his 11-year career in 2013-14, and there's reason to believe he might not bounce back this year.  His shooting efficiency took a massive hit and at age 32 that may just be a symptom of waning athleticism.  He should provide veteran leadership, whether that's worth $5.5M over the next two year, I don't know.
G: Elfrid Payton (college stats)
The high-flying, dynamic rookie will need to fix some holes in his game, but there's no reason to believe he can't succeed in the NBA.  He rebounds well, was a solid distributor and can finish in traffic.  His outside shooting will need to improve if he's going to be a true threat to score like he did in college.  Defensive potential is through the roof.

F: Tobias Harris
Harris has played less and less SF every year (according to Basketball-Reference's data), but he could possibly start there this year if the Magic choose to reverse course there.  He'll never be a knockdown shooter, but he makes up for that with a solid FTr and the ability to score inside the arc (50.8 2P%).  Rebounds enough to play PF, but lacks the size to truly play there.  The definition of a tweener.

F: Aaron Gordon (college stats)
Speaking of tweeners, Gordon figures to split his time between SF and PF this season, as one of the misfit pieces in this offense.  He's an okay outside shooter, but lacks the ball-handling ability to play SF.  However, at only 220 pounds, he may struggle to play PF off the bat.  This year should be a major learning experience, with major ups and downs.

PF: Andrew Nicholson
Nicholson regressed in his second year after a fairly successful rookie season. The dip in efficiency is almost 100% attributable to his sudden addition of a 3-point shot.  He went from attempting 0 threes as a rookie to 89 as a sophomore.  He wasn't a complete failure there, but he wasn't good enough to keep his TS% above 50.  If he can shoot well enough, he's a serviceable rotation big, if not, he'll continue to have seasons like last year.

C: Kyle O'Quinn
If O'Quinn can show more improvement in 2014-15 he may prove to be quite the trade chip for Orlando going forward.  In his somewhat limited action (1188 MP) he produced well enough to earn more opportunity this season.  He's a very solid rebounder, a good shot blocker and does enough on offense to make himself valuable. He'll be a Restricted Free Agent next summer.


The Magic had a horrendous off-season if you factor in what they paid for a few veteran free agents and their awful draft-day deal.  Replacing Arron Afflalo with Evan Fournier figures to take a few wins off of last season's total all on its own.  However, despite what they paid for the guys they added, it looks like they'll be a much deeper team than last year.  The addition of Channing Frye should provide some consistency at the PF spot and allow them to eat some of Andrew Nicholson's minutes if need be.  The youth and talent are there on this roster, but I don't really believe in the fit of all of their pieces.  Jacque Vaughn doesn't seem to have much of a philosophy on offense and they have too many combo guards and tweener forwards.  They're inching closer towards becoming more of a fast-break team, but how does their best player, Nikola Vucevic fit in to that?  With too many question marks, I'll peg the Magic to stay around the 23 wins they accumulated last year, with a chance to fall below that mark.  If that's the case, Jacque Vaughn may want to update his resumé.


The Magic are at a point where it feels like they should be further removed from the Dwight Howard era than they currently are.  There are too many misfit pieces and not enough solid young stars for a team that has made three lottery picks in the last two drafts.  Beyond Nikola Vucevic, there are zero young players on the roster that seem like a sure thing.  The Magic may be fun to watch this year if Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton can help up the tempo and get out in transition with Victor Oladipo.  However, being fun doesn't keep coaches around and it doesn't make the front office happy.  I think it takes 25+ wins to get Jacque Vaughn another year in Orlando and I don't think he gets the job done. 

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