Coming into the season as possible dark horses for playoff contention, the Orlando Magic have accomplished far from this feat.
Finishing the season with a 113-109 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night capped off an uninspiring season as the Magic ended the year with a dismal 29-53 record, slumped in 13th in the Eastern Conference.
But there have been some bright spots in a relatively dim year for Orlando as well as the undeniable lows, and with the off-season on the horizon comes a chance at a fresh start and endless possibilities. James Plumb and I reviewed some of the highs and lows of the Magic’s year, as well as an abundance of other questions, too.
Orlando Magic Roundtable: End of Season Review
Who has been the best Magic performer this year?
James P: I’m going to have to say Nikola Vucevic. He had a rough start to his career under Frank Vogel and was benched several times during the early part of the season. However, Vucevic responded well to his setbacks and has proven time and again that he is without a doubt the most consistent player on this Magic roster. Vucevic has dedicated a lot to this franchise over the years and has shown his maturity and leadership on a regular basis this season. He has also improved his game defensively, which was one of his major criticisms coming into the season. You don’t average a double-double for no reason.
James C: Personally speaking, I think it’s a toss-up between Vucevic and Elfrid Payton. Despite a rocky start to the year, which saw him relegated to the bench for a number of games, he’s bounced back phenomenally and excelled as the Magic’s most potent offensive threat, which has been the case for many a past season. Payton, on the other hand, has come on leaps and bounds towards the end of the year and his offensive displays have sparkled, but Vucevic just edges this one.
Which player has been the biggest disappointment?
James P: In all honesty I could pick a range of players who warrant being labelled a disappointment, but the player who has had the worst season this year has to be Mario Hezonja. I know that Magic fans are still divided on this subject and obviously Hezonja hasn’t had a great amount of playing time this year. Having said that he clearly isn’t doing enough to earn sufficient playing time in Vogel’s eyes and, when he is on the court, his production and overall game seems to be a step slower than everyone else. I really thought this would be a breakout year for young Hezonja but that just hasn’t been the case.
James C: It would be a tad harsh to name Hezonja as the biggest disappointment when the company he’s joined by are just as deserving. Bismack Biyombo hasn’t raised too many eyebrows. Given his dominant displays in a Toronto Raptors jersey last year, he’s not really got near the form we’ve grown to expect from him as a rim protector. Of course, it’s not all about the box score, and Biyombo has been a pretty decent addition on the defensive end, but he’s struggled to settle in Orlando. Considering the weight of responsibility lofted upon his shoulders, matched by the lucrative four-year, $72 million deal he signed with the Magic in the off-season, his production has been far from breathtaking.
Was the firing of GM Rob Hennigan justified or should he have been allowed to stay on?
James P: Rob Hennigan was a nice guy but it was time for him to go. His decision making as a general manager had slowly been getting worse over the past few seasons. Trading young talent in Tobias Harris and then Victor Oladipo, for players who contributed very little to the team, angered many fans. His moves in free agency last summer haven’t worked out at all and the team has regressed compared to last year. This coming offseason will be pivotal for them and may impact the Magic for years to come. The franchise needs someone in charge who can help improve the team and re-install a winning culture in Orlando.
James C: As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Firing Hennigan won’t immediately solve all the Magic’s mishaps, but I agree his time was up and the Magic were right to begin looking for pastures new. He had been relatively unfortunate with a few trades, but essentially turning Oladipo into Terrence Ross and a first-rounder over the years hdn’t displayed the greatest business acumen on his part. The franchise were stuck in a rut and had to move forward, and after the drawbacks the Magic had encountered this year compared to last, the writing was on the wall for Hennigan.
Has Elfrid Payton done enough to cement himself as the starting point guard?
James P: In my opinion 100% yes. I’m a huge fan of Payton and despite the struggles early in his career, he has really matured this season. His obvious weakness is still his shooting, but I’m fairly confident he will improve on that this summer. Payton does things that cannot be taught. His relentless energy, aggression when driving to the basket and athleticism are all areas that he thrives in. He’s shown in spells this season that the potential is there to become a top point guard in the league. Should his shooting become more consistent, next year could be huge for him.
James C: Towards the end of the season, Payton has excelled. Taking a look over the past 10 games, the point guard has averaged 15.5 points, 6.1 rebounds and 9.7 assists per game – numbers that paint the picture of an elite, well-rounded player. His shooting is still an alarming issue given the modern game’s expectations, but what he lacks in shooting he makes up for in tenacity and floor vision. If he can show the same progression in his scoring and efficiency he has since last year, he may become a very valuable asset to the Magic.
Who would you like to see the Magic draft?
James P: Assuming the consensus top three of Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball and Josh Jackson have already gone, I’d really like to see Orlando take Malik Monk. Although the expectation will be to select Jayson Tatum, I feel Monk would be a better fit for the Magic. The Kentucky guard is an impressive player, especially on offense, which is something the Magic desperately need. His explosive play and relentless finishing would compliment Payton perfectly in the backcourt. Monk also fits the bill defensively and his playing style is very similar to that of DeMar DeRozan. Orlando could then move Evan Fournier to the three, with Monk sliding in at the two. His 19.8 points per game aren’t bad either.
James C: After the Philadelphia 76ers loss to the New York Knicks on Wednesday, the Magic are now likely looking at the fifth pick in the draft, which may be come back to hurt us. Initially, I would have liked to see the Magic draft Tatum, but he may no longer be available once the Magic are on the clock. With Jeff Green becoming an unrestricted free agent in the off-season, the Magic will need to fill a whole and draft a player capable of playing the three, or a shooting guard so Fournier can slot in at the small forward spot. Hence why I would also choose to trade Monk, but only if Tatum is no longer available.
Which current Magic player has the most to prove next season?
James P: Aaron Gordon. Yes he has improved this season. Yes his defensive capabilities are solid. Yes he has perhaps the highest ceiling on this Magic roster. However, he still has major issues to fix offensively. His jumpshot is still a little inconsistent and his three-point shooting is way below the league average at just 28.5%. Obviously, playing a full season at power forward will be good for Gordon next year but I feel he really needs to put a marker down and make the Magic his team. The potential is definitely there, we just need to see it more often next season.
James C: Gordon, also. After the trade that sent Serge Ibaka to Toronto, this was a statement of intent to utilise Gordon at power forward for the foreseeable future, heaping a lot of responsibility and expectation on his shoulders. As well as being in Ibaka’s best interests to join a contender, this trade was also made with Gordon in mind. After being utilised at the three for the majority of the season with limited results, Gordon must excel both on offense and defense in order to prove this trade was the right one to make.
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NEW YORK, USA – APRIL 15: Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic during an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York City on April 15, 2015. (Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)