When last seen, the Magic were … the “home” team slipping out of the Orlando bubble after a second consecutive first-round playoff exit. Coach Steve Clifford’s crew is good enough to make the postseason, but injuries and roster limitation keep them from doing anything else there. Orlando has a legitimate All-Star (Nikola Vucevic), quality starters (Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon) a top-flight bench scorer (Terrence Ross) and young prospects (Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba). And it’s still not enough to move the Magic’s needle. Add up Draft mishaps, injuries (Gordon, Isaac and Bamba had their seasons sacked by injuries, illness or both) and uncertainty at point guard and you have to give Clifford credit for keeping things together long enough to get things on track. The Magic could have easily missed the playoffs last season.
What’s new? There’s little in the way of plug-and-play help that was acquired. Rookie guard Cole Anthony will be inserted into the backcourt mix after D.J. Augustin left for Milwaukee in free agency. Forward Chuma Okeke — the Magic’s first-round pick in the 2019 Draft who missed all of last season recovering from a torn ACL — is also set to fight for a spot in the rotation. Dwayne Bacon should figure prominently as well. But that’s the extent of the talent infusion Clifford has to work with. That puts the bullseye on Vucevic, who was spectacular during the restart. He averaged 20.4 points per game and shot 53% overall and 40% on 3-pointers in the seeding games. He took his game up a notch against the Bucks, averaging 28 ppg, 11 rpg and 4 apg in a first-round series loss. The elevation of the existing talent, starting with Vucevic, is the only real hope for something new for Clifford to work with in 2020-21.
What’s missing: Isaac is a promising young talent, but injuries have derailed him of late and he’ll miss this season recovering from the torn left ACL and meniscus he suffered in the Magic’s second seeding game. It was a brutal finish to a trying season for Isaac, who had become the two-way force the Magic believed he could be when they selected him sixth overall in the 2017 Draft. Isaac’s emergence cleared the way for Gordon’s shift to small forward … until that was abandoned in February when James Ennis was acquired and Gordon went back to power forward. Issac’s absence and Bamba’s quest for a breakthrough season leaves a gaping hole in the rotation. For what it’s worth, the training camp chatter is that Bamba (and his 7-foot-10 wingspan) appears to have made some strides in his recovery from the positive COVID-19 test that obliterated any conditioning gains he had made.
POTENTIAL STARTING FIVE
Markelle Fultz | 12.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 5.1 apg
Needs to take advantage of his opportunity in the final year of his rookie deal.
Evan Fournier | 18.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.2 apg
Struggled mightily in the playoffs and needs a serious bounce-back effort.
James Ennis | 8.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.1 apg
Versatile swingman made a seamless transition into the rotation after a February trade.
Nikola Vucevic | 19.6 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 3.6 apg
Played some of the best basketball of his career during the 2019-20 restart.
Aaron Gordon| 14.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 3.7 apg
Magic still waiting for the high-flying forward to polish the rougher edges of his game.
Michael Carter-Williams | 7.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.4 apg
Former Kia Rookie of the Year has found a home in Clifford’s point guard friendly system.
Terrence Ross | 14.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.1 apg
One of the most reliable bench scorers in the league.
Dwayne Bacon | 5.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.3 apg
A steal if he can relocate his 3-point shooting touch (43.7%) from two seasons ago.
Cole Anthony | 18.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.0 apg (UNC)
Supremely talented and plenty confident, a potential steal if he plays to his potential.
Orlando Magic, last 5 seasons
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
It’s hard to see the Magic outperforming their modest expectations without a legitimate breakout season from Fultz, Gordon, Bamba or even Anthony. Orlando didn’t shake up its core group and will play this season without its most promising young talent (Isaac). Their solid defensive rating last season (11th) and Clifford’s track record of stout defense should be what keeps the Magic in the hunt this season. This crew, though, seems ticketed for play-in tournament territory and a chance to earn a third straight playoff appearance.
Predicted finish: 29-43
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