Top 8 Orlando Magic Storylines So Far This Season

by Josh Cohen

1. The Magic have been decimated by injuries to start the season. The only four players who have appeared in all of Orlando’s games so far are Nikola Vucevic, Dwayne Bacon, Cole Anthony and Khem Birch. Out for the remainder of the year are Jonathan Isaac, who tore his ACL in his left knee during a seeding game at Disney last season, and Markelle Fultz, who tore his left ACL nearly a week ago against the Cavs. Al-Farouq Aminu has yet to play this season after reaggravating his right knee prior to the start of training camp. Also currently out with less severe injuries are Evan Fournier (back spasms), Michael Carter-Williams (foot) and Chuma Okeke (knee).

2. An argument could be made that Vucevic has been the league’s best center so far in 2020-21, although certainly the majority of observers will say that distinction belongs to either Joel Embiid or Nikola Jokic. Nevertheless, the Magic’s 7-footer has been spectacular, averaging 22.5 points and 11.3 rebounds. Earlier this season, he became the franchise’s all-time leader in field goals made, passing Nick Anderson. He also recently posted at least 28 points in back-to-back games, something he’s now done four times in his career. The last time he did it was in November of 2018. His 3-point shooting has improved significantly, making him a more potent scorer. At the moment, the 30-year-old has knocked down 42.4 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.

3. The Magic got off to a red-hot start. They opened up the 2020-21 campaign 4-0, something no prior Magic team had ever done. One of those wins came in Washington D.C., where Orlando overcame a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Wizards, tied for the Magic’s third largest fourth-quarter comeback victory since the 1996-97 season, per Sportradar. In that contest, Fultz had a few clutch buckets, as did Vucevic, who made a go-ahead shot with 25.1 seconds remaining.

4. Terrence Ross is currently second in the NBA in bench points, as he has cooled off after a scorching start. Through his first seven games, the 6-foot-6 veteran averaged 20.7 points on 49.7 percent shooting overall and 46.7 percent from 3-point distance. In his last three games, however, he has averaged just 6.7 points on 25.9 percent from the field and 10 percent from downtown. With the Magic so depleted because of injuries, opponents are able to concentrate on him even more, making it extra difficult for him to stay balanced when he flies around a screen.

5. Expect Aaron Gordon’s overall offensive production to rise now that he’s in a point forward role. It’s something he’s capable of doing effectively, although it remains to be seen if he can limit turnovers and make the right reads consistently. Don’t be surprised if he racks up at least a couple triple-doubles throughout the remainder of this season. He notched his first one last year against the Timberwolves. Lately, his 3-point shooting, which has been his primary weakness throughout his career, has been on point. In his last four games, the 6-foot-9, 220-pounder has made 54.5 percent of his 3-point tries.

6. Anthony being thrusted into a starting role this early in his career without a summer league or full training camp prior to the season is a lot to ask of a 20-year-old. He has remained confident, despite struggling with his shooting. Right now he’s at 31.5 percent overall and 18.2 percent from 3-point range, although he has scored in double figures four times already this year, twice as a starter. The key for him is to stay poised through these inevitable growing pains. The hope is that this experience will elevate his play once he gets more comfortable in Steve Clifford’s system.

7. A statistical analysis of the Magic seems a bit unfair considering they haven’t been at full strength all season, and won’t be with Isaac and Fultz unavailable. But just to get an idea of where they stand at the moment, Orlando ranks 17th in defense and 26th in offense. Just like the last two years under Clifford, the Magic are doing a good job limiting opponents in transition, although that wasn’t the case against the Bucks, who rank No. 1 in the league in transition points. Earlier this season, they excelled defending the 3-point line. In fact, through the team’s first seven games, the Magic’s opponents averaged a league-low 10.1 made threes per game. That number over the last three games, however, ballooned to 18.3 per game.

8. The big question moving forward is whether the Magic can be relatively healthy down the stretch of the season when a third straight playoff berth could be on the line. Either way, do the Magic make an in-season trade or pick a free agent or two up to bolster their postseason chances or simply continue building for the future? Around the trade deadline the last few years, the Magic acquired Ross (2017), Fultz (2019) and James Ennis III (2020). In 2018, Orlando traded Elfrid Payton to Phoenix.

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