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 Monday (Sept. 30), while training camp will open on Tuesday (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 small forward position:
POSITION: Small forward
PLAYERS: Jonathan Isaac (6-10, 230, 2 NBA seasons); Aaron Gordon (6-9, 220, 5 NBA seasons); Wes Iwundu (6-7, 195, 2 NBA seasons); DeQuan Jeffries (6-5, 216, NBA rookie).
PROJECTED STARTER: 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)
PROJECTED DEPTH: 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); Iwundu (2018-19 stats: 68 games, 5 ppg., 2.7 rpg., 1.1 apg., 0.4 spg., 41.2 FG percent, 36.7 3FG percent, 81.6 FT percent); Jeffries (2018-19 stats at Tulsa University: 31 games, 13 ppg., 5.6 rpg., 1.8 apg., 50.2 FG percent, 36.6 3FG percent, 75.5 FT percent).
STRENGTHS: Because of the incredible versatility of Isaac and Gordon – they can each play power forward and small forward – the Magic should have plenty of firepower and depth at the small forward slot. In many instances, Gordon will play like a power forward on offense and a small forward on defense, while Isaac will operate just the opposite because of his length in protecting the rim on defense. Both Isaac and Gordon are nightmares for opposing defenders because of their rare combination of length and quickness. Also, Iwundu made major strides as an offensive threat last season – both with his ability to drive the ball and make plays and to shoot it from distance. He has carved out a spot in the regular rotation with his sterling defensive instincts and his improved offensive game.
WEAKNESSES: The Magic still don’t have much reliable 3-point shooting at this position despite the steady improvement of Isaac, Gordon and Iwundu from beyond the arc. Teams will continue to make that trio beat them with their shooting from the perimeter. When the Magic drill shots from the perimeter, teams can’t sag inside and cut off driving lanes. When the Magic don’t make shots – as was the case in the playoff series loss to the Raptors – the offense tends to bog down. Isaac must shoot the ball when open and shoot it with confidence – something he did late in the regular season and in Game 1 of the playoffs. He struggled badly from afar in the final four games of the playoffs and the Magic greatly need him to make strides this season in terms of being a reliable outside shooter.
ANALYSIS: Much of the Magic’s ability to make more strides this season hinges on the continual improvement of players such as Isaac, Gordon and Iwundu. All three have made steady improvement, and now the Magic need Gordon to morph into being an all-star level player, Isaac to become a rising star and Iwundu being a player who could score 15 points on a given night.
Once again, Isaac spent most of the summer working to grow his game and better his body. His weight is higher than 240 pounds now, and he has the kind of muscle that should make him more of a force when driving to the rim. Orlando needs Isaac to confidently shoot the ball from the perimeter and be able to exploit mismatches when teams try to hide smaller and slower defenders on him. Magic head coach Steve Clifford said recently that Isaac has had an excellent summer and he expects the nearly 7-foot forward to make another jump this season.
Gordon has expressed an interest in becoming a better post-up player this season, and that’s something that could come in quite handy when he’s at the small forward slot while Al-Farouq Aminu is playing power forward. Gordon’s time at small forward made more sense last season when he became a significantly better playmaker, averaging a career-best in assists. His improved all-around play makes him a threat whether he’s playing small forward or power forward.
Iwundu was one of the Magic’s most improved players last season, going from being a 19.7 percent 3-point shooter as a rookie to a 36.7 percent shooter from beyond the arc last season. Already one of the Magic’s best one-on-one defenders, Iwundu was able to carve himself out a role in the regulation by growing tremendously on the offensive end of the floor. This season, the Magic hope to see even more improvement from Iwundu as a driver and a playmaker.
Jeffries impressed the Magic while he played at Tulsa and again this offseason at the NBA Summer League with his toughness and grit. Despite being undersized, he is incredibly strong and has a willingness to do the dirty work for teams. The fact that he’s improved as a shooter only makes him more intriguing to the Magic. He could be a player who factors into the rotation later in the season with more personal growth.
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.