The Orlando Magic started the season off with some impactful wins against established teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs. Orlando seemed to have finally been on its way out of the basement of the NBA. However, the team quickly came back down to reality and is struggling once again. It’s important to understand why, and what the team can do going forward.
Evaluating the Orlando Magic Struggles
There are several reasons the Magic’s struggles resumed after their good start. The starters were shooting unreal numbers at the start of the season that no player in history could consistently keep up. Many of those wins would have been losses if the shooting ability in those games matched even the shooting of already elite teams. The offense was a major factor in Orlando’s initial success. However, it shortly became an issue for the team.
Unfortunately, the shooting averages of players like Evan Fournier, Nikola Vucevic, and Aaron Gordon during that stretch simply can’t be maintained. However, the silver lining to that is that the Magic do have players who’ve shown significant value. Gordon, in particular, is showing what a valuable asset he is in the modern NBA this season.
This heat map of Aaron Gordon’s shot selection (from NBAsavant.com) shows he heavily favors taking three-point shots and low-post shots. Many of those low-post shots come off of drives; a strength of Gordons. However, with the emergence of Gordon’s range shooting, defenders are having to guard him more closely this season. This has been opening him up to take shots from range or drive to the basket, depending on the situation. Gordon’s modern day style is great hope on an otherwise uninspiring team.
However, Orlando’s offensive prowess ends there. Despite having a better bench unit this year, the Magic offense has struggled. They currently rank 27th in the league. In particular, a weak back-court is to blame. Despite some injuries, Orlando’s guards haven’t provided enough help on offense. The major issue is that it relies too heavily on driving to the basket to score.
This tactic has actually proven advantageous in many games. Driving is a particular strength of point guard Elfrid Payton. However, an established jump-shot is an absolute necessity in today’s NBA. That’s something Payton hasn’t developed in his 4th season. If the Magic’s struggles are going to end, they’ll need a new point guard.
The Magic didn’t truly begin to cool off until they suffered a rash of injuries early on. Injuries marred both point guards in the first quarter of the season. This threw the rotation out of whack and forced shooting guards into an unnatural position. Naturally, this costs the Magic some games.
Unfortunately, the injury problems didn’t end there. The Magic have sustained several injuries throughout the lineup all season long. Terrence Ross and Nikola Vucevic are out long term. These injuries do present good opportunity in a season all about roster evaluation. However, with such important players out, the Magic won’t be a big name among playoff contenders.
A Rebuilding Year
The most important thing to remember this season is that it is the first of a new rebuild. Former general manager Robert Hennigan failed to make a Magic team that could compete in the NBA. New GM John Hammond (Not that John Hammond) and President Jeff Weltman have expressed that this season is one meant to evaluate the existing talent on the roster.
Taking this team to the playoffs would certainly have been a thrill for the new management. However, that goal was always a long shot to make. The intention of management for this season was to decide who will and won’t be staying in Orlando. Player usage and evaluation meant some inevitable losses on the season. Magic fans have endured a lot of hardship the last few years. But understanding the struggles of this season is key to a brighter future.