NBA Restart: 2019-20
NBA Restart: 2019-20

2019-20 Season Reset: Orlando Magic

Sekou Smith

Sekou Smith NBA.com

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Jun 5, 2020 2:25 PM ET

 

Nikola Vucevic has kept Orlando in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff chase.

The 2019-20 NBA season went on hiatus on March 11 because of  the coronavirus pandemic . The season  will return on July 30 and NBA.com's writers are taking an updated look at each of the league's 30 teams.

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Record: 30-35, No. 8 in Eastern Conference

Season summary: Coach Steve Clifford’s club was on the cusp of a second straight playoff season as 2019-20 entered its hiatus. The Magic haven’t been flashy on Clifford’s watch, but they’ve been consistent. They grind away on defense and they piece it together offensively without an elite scorer to lean on. They have an All-Star big man in Nikola Vucevic and a solid roster with regulars Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Terrence Ross, D.J. Augustin, Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac (who was lost for the season in January with a knee injury), James Ennis III and Mo Bamba. What Orlando lacks in top-end talent it makes up for with its collective grind and work ethic. The Magic rebounded from a brutal 3-7 start and were in solid control of the East's No. 8 spot when the season went on hiatus -- all while seeming to be in line to move up thanks to having momentum and a favorable upcoming schedule. Before the hiatus, Fournier was on his way back from a right elbow issue and Ross was in the midst of a wicked 10-game stretch. Toss in the return of Al-Farouq Aminu from January meniscus surgery and the Magic had an opportunity to find a good groove just in time for the stretch run before the playoffs.

 
Nikola Vucevic had his way with the Wizards in a Nov. 17 victory.

Breakout player: Fultz spent his season reminding us all why he was the No. 1 pick of the 2017 draft by the Sixers. An exceptional athlete capable of playing on or off the ball, Fultz showed off a penchant for playmaking and finishing at a high level. His length and ability to play passing lanes made him an intriguing defensive prospect. Fultz would have to make multiple All-Star Games to wipe away the stain of his time with the Sixers, when he was yet another casualty of "The Process" and couldn’t get himself in order physically there. The Magic did their homework and rolled the dice on a Fultz revival under Clifford and the early returns look promising. While his shooting stroke remains a work in progress, there is no doubt about his potential. Fultz has played and started in twice as many games in 2019-20 (64 and 59) than he did in two seasons in Philadelphia (33 and 15), posting career highs in nearly every statistical category. 

Statement win: Fultz went off Jan. 15 at Staples Center, finishing with a triple-double (21 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists) as the Magic snapped the Lakers’ nine-game win streak behind a masterful performance from him. Fultz made two layups in the final minute to seal the 119-118 win, finishing with LeBron James trying to contain him in the game’s most pressure-packed moments. The Magic got huge contributions up and down the roster and took advantage of the absence of Anthony Davis. Fultz said it was the sort of game he dreamed of when he was struggling through the early stages of his career, going head-to-head with a superstar like James with the world watching. Getting the win is the dream ending a playoff hungry Magic team needed. 

 
The Magic won at Staples Center on Jan. 15 to stun the West-leading Lakers.

Most exciting game: The Magic’s final game before the season was suspended turned into perhaps their most gratifying win of the campaign. They rallied from an early 17-point deficit to defeat the Grizzlies 120-115 at FedEx Forum on March 10. Ross fueled the comeback with 24 points, scoring 18 in an electric fourth quarter that helped punctuate the team’s third straight win. In this battle of eighth-place teams in their respective conferences, Ross and Michael Carter-Williams helped Orlando's bench outscore Memphis' crew 65-36. This game highlighted the Magic’s depth and resolve

Memorable moments: Another empty trip to All-Star weekend for Gordon, who most believer should be a two-time Slam Dunk champion by now, fueled one of the better stretches of his season. Angry Gordon, aided by a shift to power forward, was at his focused best. In the nine games after his Chicago disappointment Gordon averaged 15.4 points, 6.8 assists and shot 47.7%. He was locked in night after night and showing off every facet of his game. As for Issac, his season-ending injury 32 games into the season robbed the Magic of their best defensive player who was showing signs of being a dynamic and potentially game-changing force. While his numbers were solid (12.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1.6 spg, 2.4 bpg), his impact was far greater than the raw math suggests. He figures prominently in the franchise’s future plans and has the potential to be an All-Defensive team staple for the foreseeable future. In adding Ennis III at the trade deadline, the Magic attempted to fortify their frontline rotation with Isaac and Aminu unavailable. Ennis, in a brief stint before the suspension of the season, showed off the athleticism, toughness and shooting the Magic thought they were getting when they made the move.

 
Aaron Gordon came up short in the AT&T Dunk Contest once again.

Team MVP: Vucevic has quietly carved out a space for himself in the conversation for most effective big man in the league. Nobody will confuse him with Nikola Jokic or Joel Embiid, but he’s not far off from those two when it comes to production, consistency and the importance he has on the roster. Clifford’s teams always operate better when there is a big man that everything orbits around. Vucevic certainly gives the Magic an All-Star to craft around. The team leader in points (19.5) and rebounds (11.5), and second to Gordon in minutes (32.6), Vucevic’s ability to produce is a luxury the Magic appreciate as they continue to plot their course.

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Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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