ORLANDO – Expectations are soaring for the Orlando Magic in the upcoming season after the squad ended last season as one of the hottest teams in the NBA and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
Now comes the hard part for a Magic team that is hopeful that it is just starting an extended run that will eventually make them contenders in the Eastern Conference once again.
Orlando did what it could to make sure it carries the momentum from last season over to this one by retaining free agents Nikola Vucevic, Terrence Ross, Michael Carter-Williams and Khem Birch, while also signing free-agent forward Al-Farouq Aminu and drafting rookie Chuma Okeke. Along with a core of Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, D.J. Augustin, Mo Bamba, Markelle Fultz and Wes Iwundu, the Magic figure to have a deep and talented team capable of dominant nights on both ends of the floor.
After going 22-9 down the stretch, 42-40 on the season and downing the eventual World Champion Toronto Raptors in the first game of the playoffs, various computer models are projecting the Magic to be in the hunt for a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference this season. ESPN.com’s projection simulation has the Magic winning 46 games and being a 93 percent lock to make the playoffs again, while other simulations predict Orlando nabbing the No. 3 seed in the East behind Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Those jumps, if they materialize, would be as impressive as the Magic leading the NBA in win-improvement (plus-17 victories) from 2017-18 to 2018-19.
Magic Media Day is scheduled for Sept. 30, while training camp will open on Oct. 1 at the Amway Center. After starting the exhibition season on the road (at San Antonio, at Detroit and at Atlanta), the Magic will play their first preseason game at home on Oct. 11 against the Boston Celtics. The Magic also open the regular season at the Amway Center, hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers on Oct. 23. Season tickets and single-game tickets are on sale and can be purchased at OrlandoMagic.com/tickets or by calling 407-89-MAGIC.
With the start of training camp less than a month away, we’re beginning our position-by-position analysis of the Magic’s roster. For the first installment of the analysis series, we’ll closely analyze the Magic’s talent at the center position – arguably the squad’s deepest and most potent position on the roster.
Without further ado, here is a breakdown of the Magic’s power forward position:
POSITION: Power forward
PLAYERS: Aaron Gordon (6-9, 220, 5 NBA seasons); Al-Farouq Aminu (6-9, 220, 9 NBA seasons); Jonathan Isaac (6-10, 230, 2 NBA seasons); Amile Jefferson (6-9, 222, 1 NBA season).
PROJECTED STARTER: Gordon (2018-19 stats: 78 games, 16 ppg., 7.4 rpg., 3.7 apg., 0.7 bpg., 0.7 spg., 44.9 FG percent, 34.9 3FG percent, 73.1 FT percent).
PROJECTED DEPTH: Aminu (2018-19 stats: 81 games, 9.4 ppg., 7.5 rpg., 1.3 apg., 43.3 FG percent, 34.3 3FG percent, 86.7 FT percent); Isaac (2018-19 stats: 75 games, 9.6 ppg., 5.5 rpg., 1.1 apg., 1.3 bpg., 42.9 FG percent, 32.2 3FG percent 81.5 FT percent); Jefferson (2018-19 stats: 12 games, 2.3 ppg., 1.8 rpg., 0.3 bpg., 62.5 FG percent, 87.5 FT percent).
STRENGTHS: The Magic have tremendous depth and versatility at this position what with Gordon, Isaac and Aminu all being able to play both the power forward and small forward positions. Also, all three have the strength, length and lateral quickness to play on the inside or the outside – whichever the Magic need at the time to fit the scheme that they are playing. Gordon made great strides last season as a playmaker, recording a career high in assists. Isaac is already an elite defender and he has worked this offseason to better his body and grow his game. Aminu is immensely valuable to teams because of his willingness to do the dirty work on the defensive end and he is a plus-rebounder on the glass.
WEAKNESSES: Despite the Magic’s talent and depth at the power forward position, there will always be questions about the ability of Gordon, Isaac and Aminu to shoot the ball consistently well from the 3-point line. Last season, Gordon shot 34.9 percent from beyond the arc, while Isaac and Aminu connected on just 32.2 and 34.3 percent, respectively, from 3-point range. Teams will always dare them to consistently make shots from the perimeter. The Magic were a significantly better team last season when Gordon made a high percentage of his 3-point shots than when he struggled, so his shooting is a big intangible. Isaac struggled with his shot for long stretches, but he gained confidence as the season wore on and he made the biggest shot of his career – a 3-pointer from the corner – in the final two minutes of a Game 1 defeat of Toronto in the playoffs. Aminu has been a hot-and-cold shooter in the past in the playoffs with Portland and he struggled mightily with his accuracy this past spring. Even if he struggles from afar, he usually justifies his time on the floor with his ability to chip in to the team in other ways.
ANALYSIS: The Magic were already well-positioned at the forward slots with Gordon and Isaac being able to play either spot, but they strengthened their depth and toughness there by adding Aminu in free agency. That should give head coach Steve Clifford plenty of length and defensive toughness options to throw at teams throughout games.
Clifford sought for Gordon, 24, to become a more well-rounded two-way player last season and the forward responded with arguably his best all-around season in the NBA. Gordon has said this summer that he wants to become a better, more efficient post-up player and the team feels that he has made strides in that area following countless hours of offseason work with assistant coach Pat Delany.
Isaac, 21, continues to grow – both physically and mentally – and he could be headed for a big breakout season. His weight is up to 240 pounds, his height has soared to nearly 7 foot and his confidence is soaring following a summer of work in Orlando and with USA Basketball in Las Vegas. His growth offensively will most likely be a big key in the Magic becoming more efficient and effective on that end of the floor.
Aminu, 28, has been to the playoffs five times in nine NBA seasons and he is highly thought of in NBA circles because of his selfless play and team-first mindset. He’ll potentially be able to guard three positions late in games – something that should make the Magic an even more dominant defensive team. Aminu will split his time between the two forward spots, but he’ll need to make shots from the outside to help the offense’s spacing.
Jefferson, 26, has worked hard to grow his game at a back-to-the-basket player, but he is still fighting to secure a spot at the NBA level. He’ll continue to try and grow his game while splitting time this season between Orlando and the Lakeland Magic.
Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.