Kia Season Preview 2016-17
2016-17 Season Preview: Orlando Magic
Frank Vogel’s arrival signals yet another reboot for the franchise that’s been doing it seemingly every year since Dwight Howard departed for Los Angleles. Fast forward four years and Howard is back in the division (in Atlanta) and the Magic are still digging their way out of the rubble the one-time face of the franchise left in his wake. This current Magic team has an embarrassment of big man riches (Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo join incumbents Aaron Gordon and Nik Vucevic). It’s Vogel’s job to sort out the minutes and responsibilities and also create a defensive-minded culture for a team that is fully equipped to use that as a launching pad out of the Draft lottery.
The Magic’s decision to trade Victor Oladipo to Oklahoma City for Serge Ibaka is still a bit shocking, given how high the front office was on Oladipo’s potential. … Evan Fournier’s development into a primary scorer no doubt impacted that trade for Ibaka. Because there wouldn’t be enough minutes for he and Oladipo at shooting guard. … The Magic signed Fournier to a five-year, $85 million deal, making it clear that they believe he is a franchise cornerstone. … Adding free-agent center Bismack Biyombo on a four-year, $70 million deal fortified the Magic’s frontcourt depth and gives them potentially the best rim-protecting unit in basketball. … The Magic will be the latest team to see if they can squeeze more out of Jeff Green, who signed a one-year, $15 million deal. He has tantalizing talent but hasn’t been able to find the right fit. … Lost early last season to a hip injury, Tiago Splitter is back in the mix Any doubts the previous coaching staff had about Elfrid Payton being the right fit at point guard were dismissed by Vogel, who has a plan to help Payton take his game to another level by pushing the tempo.
Vogel’s imprint on this team should be most glaring in the way they play defense. They have the long and athletic personnel at every position to change the DNA of this team from a weak defensive bunch into one of the most improved in the entire league.
The competition for minutes at every position is designed to bring out the best in all involved. So the distribution of those minutes will have a huge impact on the continuing development of youngsters like Aaron Gordon and Mario Hezonja, in particular.
This team needs a leader, a bona fide locker room and on-court leader who sets the tone for the entire group. Ibaka never really had a chance to serve in that capacity in Oklahoma City with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in place. The job is open with the Magic, if he’s ready to step into that void.
MAN ON THE SPOT
Nik Vucevic. No one on the roster has to adjust to the changes the way Vucevic does. Not only will he have to compete for minutes at his position, he could find himself on the bench when Vogel goes with a small lineup that has Ibaka or Biyombo at center. The added help means that he doesn’t have to do all of the dirty work down low by his lonesome. But he will have to find ways to be just as productive and even more efficient while playing fewer minutes. Vucevic isn’t the only one who will have to make significant adjustments to how he’s done things in the past. But the quicker he finds a groove this season the better for everyone else.
Elfrid Payton | 10.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 6.4 apg
He should flourish with the aggressiveness Vogel likes his point guards to play with on both ends.
Evan Fournier | 15.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.7 apg
Vogel needs Fournier to improve as a rebounder and playmaker as well as score at a high level.
Nikola Vucevic | 18.2 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.1 bpg
Vucevic has All-Star potential and could finally put it all together under Vogel’s tutelage.
Serge Ibaka | 12.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.9 bpg
Ibaka should be a double-double candidate in this system playing alongside Vucevic.
Jeff Green | 11.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.7 apg
Versatile veteran fits the profile of the small forward Vogel needs in his system.
Aaron Gordon | 9.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.6 apg
Was arguably the team’s best player after the All-Star break and hasn’t touched his ceiling yet.
Bismack Biyombo | 5.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.6 bpg
Opened eyes with his playoff performance in Toronto, can he do the same for the Magic?
Mario Hezonja | 6.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.4 apg
With a year in the league under his belt, Hezonja is primed for an increased role.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This is the most unpredictable team in the entire conference, based on the personnel changes and the new coaching staff that will have to . Vogel worked with the roster handed to him in his final seasons in Indiana and he inherits much of the roster he’ll work with this season. So it’s difficult to project the Magic as a legitimate threat to join the teams contending for a playoff spot. How quickly this group comes together and how quickly Vogel can get them to perform at a consistently high level will determine how close (or how far) they are to joining the teams in the playoff mix.
Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.
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