NBA Disney Contenders or Pretenders: Orlando Magic

Orlando Magic Contenders or Pretenders
CHICAGO, USA - DECEMBER 20: D. J. Augustin (14) of Orlando Magic in action during an NBA basketball match between Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic at United Center in Chicago, Illinois, United States on December 20, 2017. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Despite the Orlando Magic and their record, they picked up some heat before the COVID-19 pandemic put the sports world to a halt. With the bubble set to begin today, it is time to analyze the host team as a contender or pretender.

Will home-court advantage at Disney World benefit the Magic despite no fans in attendance?

NBA Bubble Contenders or Pretenders: Orlando Magic

Strong, Well-Rounded Defense

Despite the Magic’s disappointing record at 30-35, one silver lining is their defensive abilities.

When a basketball team is under .500 by six games or less, it’s usually a couple of reasons:

      1. They are inconsistent offensively and cannot close a game
      2. They have a solid offense, but is too drained to hold onto the game defensively

For Orlando’s case, they show that they are a mature and consistent defensive team. They rank in the top five in all main defensive categories, with the exception of steals per game (6th in NBA with 8.4 steals). The Magic currently rank fourth in blocks (5.7) per game, points allowed (107.3) and first in opponent points off turnovers (14).

It certainly helps to have a big, athletic front court of Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vučević, backup center Mo Bamba, and Jonathan Isaac. Orlando is also third in opponent fast break points, only allowing 11.7 per game. This demonstrates the speed of the NBA Bubble host team; Evan Fournier is a solid, disciplined defender, along with Isaac. Even Markelle Fultz is starting to gain some confidence in his defense.

If Orlando continues to excel on the defensive end, they have a legitimate shot. One can ask if the Magic’s defense is so good, why does it not reflect their record?

This brings up the following point below with regards to lineup issues.

Inconsistent Lineups 

Prior to the season’s hiatus, the Orlando Magic has shown sparks of being a cohesive unit with solid chemistry. However, it is is a daunting task for a team to grow with constant lineup changes.

Orlando’s primarily consists of Fultz, Fournier, Isaac, Gordon and Vučević, which produced a +1.9 net rating, but only a 5-9 record. An interesting note is that Fultz took over the starting point guard job over veteran D.J. Augustin with just six games into the season.

Since then, the Magic have been plagued with injuries all season, starting with Vučević’s ankle injury in mid-November, causing him to miss some time. Veteran forward Al-Farouq Aminu saw some action in the starting lineup, until injuring his meniscus.

It is unclear if he will return to action this season. Isaac also suffered a similar fate in January and will not be returning for another 2-3 weeks. He is the Magic’s X-factor due to his size and athleticism on the court, so his return will be huge for Orlando. In 32 games, Isaac is averaging 12 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.6 steals per game.

The Magic fielded 14 starting lineups this season, compared to only nine last year, which shows an unstable and inconsistent unit/rotation. This is problematic for any team, let alone a young one.

Not-so Home Court Advantage

At first glance, it sounds like an oxymoron. The Magic is home to the host city of the NBA Bubble! While that is true, remember that there are no fans for the rest of the season. It is a neutral site, so it is everyone’s game. Since Orlando is a young team overall, they feed off of energy more often than the older, experienced ones due to the easier ability to “get in the zone” quicker without any distractions.

The Orlando Magic are 16-15 at home, but 14-20 on the road. The win-to-loss differential rate does not show any big difference between the two records. However, you do have to win the “little games” and on the road, especially against the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and of course, the Milwaukee Bucks.

Orlando will not have any fans, family or Mickey Mouse in attendance, so it is crucial to get off to a hot start. They have a tough schedule ahead with games against the 76ers, Raptors, Bucks and Celtics. However, they did go on a three-game winning streak prior to the season’s hiatus.

In other words, there is a chance.

Orlando Magic Verdict: Pretenders

The Orlando Magic is one of the most promising teams in the Bubble and entire league. They are young, raw and solid on defense with a decent roster. However, they suffered too many injuries throughout the season and even if Aminu and Isaac do return, it could be a little due to small amount of playing time together.

Orlando has too much uncertainty among their starting five and offensive game to contend against more experienced teams in the Eastern Conference. Until they find their identity and become more efficient scorers, the Magic are pretenders. However, they do have a bright future ahead of them.

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