Quote & Analysis: Fultz in Good Spirits, New Role for Gordon, Vucevic’s Hot Start

by Josh Cohen

QUOTE: “Honestly, I’ve never had a big that can do everything that he can do. Playing in Charlotte I never really could see how good he was. Being here and actually getting a chance to play with him, he’s far from a selfish guy. He’s a guy that just wants to win. He’s a guy that tries to make the right plays all the time. Everyone in this organization believes in him and me just getting here I believe in him. I feel like he can singlehandedly win us some games for sure. We just got to play through him. Getting here, it opened my eyes to how good he is.” – Dwayne Bacon on Nikola Vucevic

ANALYSIS: Every year he’s been in the NBA, Vucevic has gotten better, which is what the league’s best players do. At the moment, he’s averaging 22.5 points, 11.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists. Most striking, though, is his 42.4 percent 3-point shooting, about nine percent higher than last season. Before the season began, Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford said he approved Vucevic taking eight or nine threes per game. So far, he’s averaging six attempts from beyond the arc.

QUOTE: “I thought I did okay. Obviously, there is huge room for improvement. As a point guard, to help your team flow, you got to help with the cohesion and you kind of have to pace the game and get everybody on the same page. There were times in the game where Jrue (Holiday) was pushing me off of my mark and we were a little sporadic and I need to get better. I know I have better in me.” – Aaron Gordon on point forward role

ANALYSIS: The season-ending injury to Markelle Fultz has forced Clifford to make some schematic changes. One of them is making the versatile Gordon more of a point forward, where he orchestrates the offense and controls the Magic’s pace of play. Considering it’s a fairly new assignment for the 6-foot-9, 220-pounder, he did a pretty good job on Monday against the Bucks, finishing with 21 points, five rebounds and eight assists. Lately, his 3-point shooting has dramatically improved. Over his last four games, the 25-year-old is shooting 54.5 percent from downtown.

QUOTE: “I’m actually in a great place as far as mental, just mindset going into everything. I actually never felt better actually just in life in general. Of course, it’s disappointing not being able to be out there with my teammates, seeing them going out there and competing. That’s probably what hurts the most.” – Fultz

ANALYSIS: As any player who has ever had to overcome a major injury will tell you, optimism is key to recovery. Having a positive attitude and believing in the process, as daunting as it may seem at first, usually leads to a favorable outcome. Fultz embracing this latest challenge is a great sign. He’s proven before he can withstand adversity, and based on his current outlook, there’s no reason to believe he won’t do the same with this latest setback.

QUOTE: “I feel good. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve put in a lot of work to get my body there so I can physically be able to get out there and get up and down. I felt really good at getting up and down today.” – Mo Bamba

ANALYSIS: Bamba recently returned to action, and his minutes are slowly starting to increase. In nearly 14 minutes in Houston on Friday, the 7-foot, 231-pounder scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Then on Monday with Milwaukee in town, he had eight points, four rebounds, one assist and one block in about 11 minutes. It’s going to take some time for his conditioning to be at optimal level, but these last couple performances are encouraging for someone who played sparingly at Disney during the 2019-20 season restart because of complications from COVID-19 and didn’t play in any of Orlando’s first six games this season.

QUOTE: “We watched film from last night and then we really just did a teaching segment. We’ve gone now, whatever it is, ten (games) in eighteen nights or something like that and I think we have another eleven before we have two days off. This is tough stuff now. This is twenty-one years for me, and I know this, I’ve never been through anything like this. This is harder than even the lockout years. I remember coach (Brendan) Malone always used to say to Stan (Van Gundy), ‘if you’re tired, how do you think they feel?’ We’re just going to do it that way. We’re going to try to save their legs and as much energy as possible for the games. We did some good things last night. It’s a different season and the longer we go through it there’s just more challenges and I think the way you handle these off days are critical. That’s what we did today and hopefully it will help us play more consistently tomorrow night.” - Clifford

ANALYSIS: This is obviously a unique season with the condensed scheduled and all the health and safety protocols. Whichever team wins the title this year will have had to endure a lot, which is why some believe this will be the toughest road to a championship in NBA history. Preserving energy on off days will be key for teams, especially if they are shorthanded or need to reduce certain players’ minutes so they don’t burn out. When the season is complete, many will debate whether it was harder for the 2020-21 champs to be the last team standing or if it was at Disney for the Lakers, who captured the title despite having to remain on the campus for three months.

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