Pregame Post-Ups: Stevens Saw Orlando's Improvement Coming

Sunday, November 5 - Celtics at Magic

Pregame: Stevens Saw Orlando's Drastic Improvement Coming

ORLANDO – Remember prior to this season, when Boston’s matchup with the Magic on Nov. 5 was just another “should-win” game?

Yeah, not so much anymore. The Orlando Magic are legit.

Orlando has finally turned a corner and has opened this season with a 6-3 record, just one game behind Boston for the top spot in the conference. Nine games is a small sample size, but this Magic team is earning some well-deserved praise.

“It’s a really good team,” said Brad Stevens before tonight’s 6 p.m. tip-off at the Amway Center. “They are very well spaced. (They are) one of the better transition teams in the league, and obviously they’re shooting it great.”

“Great” really is an understatement. The Magic enter tonight’s game leading the NBA in 3-point percentage with a mark of 42.1 percent. They have six players on their roster averaging at least 1.0 made 3-pointers per game, and eight players are shooting at least 38.9 percent from long distance.

Those are stunning numbers that are coming from a team that ranked 29th in the league in 3-point shooting a season ago, with a mark of 32.8 percent, and did not make any substantial roster changes during the offseason.

The story behind the drastic shooting improvement is double-layered.

First and foremost, as Stevens said, the Magic have altered their offensive strategy to cater to their athletic, young roster.

“You saw it at the end of last season,” he said. “When they came in and played us, I think it was in late-March or early-April, they had us beat at the Garden and they were playing those four guys (Terrance Ross, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon and a point guard) and (Nikola) Vucevic as the starting five, and I thought that the way that they were spreading you out then was really tough.”

The second layer of improvement falls on the shoulder of a single player: Gordon.

Gordon is finally showcasing that he can be the consistent, high-level player many thought he had the potential to become prior to the 2014 NBA Draft, when the Magic chose him fourth overall. Gordon enters tonight’s game averaging 19.3 points, and 8.4 rebounds per game, and he ranks second in the NBA with a 3-point percentage of 58.1 percent.

As a reminder, Gordon shot 28.8 percent from long distance last season.

“His improvement has been huge,” Stevens said of Orlando’s budding star. “The way that he’s shooting the ball right now and scoring it for them in a variety of ways, specifically behind the 3-point line, it just gives [Orlando] a variety of options.”

Those options have turned the Magic into one of the best teams in the league after nearly three weeks of regular-season play.

This contest is anything but a should-win game for Boston. This contest will be a challenge, one that gives the teams on both sides of the ball the opportunity to own the best record in the East by night’s end.

- Marc D'Amico