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The Trajectory Is Going Up With The Orlando Magic
Twenty-nine different opposing NBA teams will walk through the doors of Target Center to play the Wolves this season, and we want you to know as much as you can about all of them. What’s the order of the teams we’re previewing? It’s actually completely random! Now, a team that definitely has an identity, and it comes on the defensive side of the ball.
Notable Players Acquired: Al-Farouq Aminu (free agent), Chuma Okeke (draft)
Notable Players Lost: Jarell Martin (trade)
What Went Down In 2018-19?
The Magic finished with a winning record for the first time since 2011-12! That’s significant. And they did so with Steve Clifford at the helm in his first season. This team had Clifford’s fingerprints all over it, finishing eighth in defensive rating, fifth in opponents points per game and 25th in pace of play. Clifford is a throwback coach. Now, that gets some bad press, but it’s not a bad thing. Clifford is a really good coach. Getting one of 30 head coaching jobs isn't an easy thing to do.
We saw center Nikola Vucevic somehow become one of the best centers in the NBA, averaging a career-high 20.8 points per game to go with 12.0 rebounds, both career highs. He drilled 36.4 percent from the 3-point line on 2.9 3-point attempts per game — I’d expect that number to go up in 2019-20. The Magic doubled down on Vucevic this offseason.
Vucevic’s performance was clearly a surprise considering the Magic took Mo Bamba with the fifth-overall pick, but it was a welcomed surprise, much like getting socks for Christmas at age 30 compared to age 15.
We saw solid seasons from Aaron Gordon (16 PPG, 34.9 3P%), Evan Fournier (15.1 PPG) and Terrence Ross (15.1 PPG) as far as scoring goes, although you can’t really call any of them go-to guys. You worry about that in a deep playoff series, but this team is still trying to grow together, we don’t need to get ahead of ourselves.
If I’m a Magic fan, I’m really intrigued by the upside of third-year forward Jonathan Isaac. Isaac is a player who can guard multiple positions and is a perfect fit for Clifford’s schemes. This is exactly who we thought Isaac, only 21, could be coming out of Florida State.
The Offseason Was . . .
Uneventful. No big free-agent signings. Aminu is a good veteran presence and is another plus defender for Clifford, but he won’t make the Magic all that much better. The team drafted Okeke with their 16th-overall pick which could prove to be a steal, but chances are we won’t find out for another year or so as the 6’8 forward recovers from a torn ACL.
The Big Question:
Did you forget Markelle Fultz played for the Magic? I actually kind of did too, and this is my job! To know these things! The 2018 first-overall pick was traded to the Magic via Philadelphia for Jonathon Simmons, a 2019 2nd round draft pick (Carsen Edwards was later selected) and a 2020 first-round draft pick.
Fultz didn’t appear in a game for the Magic and still has only appeared in 33 career games. We really don’t have any idea of what type of player Fultz, 21, can be. It’s definitely not what we thought it might be when he was drafted first overall, but that doesn’t mean he can't be a contributor for a playoff team — we saw it in spurts (we’re being generous) with the 76ers.
If the Magic can get positive minutes from Fultz in 2019-20, that would help them fill a huge void at point guard, and if Fultz turns out to be a starting-caliber point guard in the NBA, that trade last season could look like a steal.
Certainly, the NBA community is rooting for him.
This Writer’s Prediction
The Magic finished as the seventh seed in the East last season. Call me crazy here, but with the familiarity of Clifford’s system, and natural progression, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Magic host a first-round series in the 2020 playoffs.
Describe This Team In 15 Words Or Less
There’s plenty of defense, but this team really needs a point guard.