NBA Season Preview: Orlando Magic

2019-20 Regular Season Record
: 33-40 (.452%), 8th in Eastern Conference, Lost in 1st Rd.
Head Coach: Steve Clifford

Steve Clifford has gotten everything out of his Orlando Magic team in the last two seasons, going 42-40 in 2018-19 and 33-40 last year. Nikola Vucevic, who would qualify as the team’s biggest star, averaged 19.6 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 3.6 apg on 47.7% shooting while leading a group of seven Magic players to average over 10 ppg. The Magic certainly aren’t flashy, but they are consistent and grind away on defense. Unfortunately, they had won 8 of 12 games prior to the COVID shutdown, just as Terrence Ross was starting to heat up. Jonathan Isaac was having an excellent defensive year, averaging an elite 1.6 spg & 2.3 bpg, but went down in early January to a knee injury. Even more unfortunate was when he returned in the bubble only to go through an ACL tear - talk about terrible luck. With their momentum halted, Orlando went 3-5 in the bubble and were blown away by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1st round of the playoffs in 5 games.

Can Markelle Fultz Continue to Improve?

Markelle Fultz certainly didn't live up to his billing in Philadelphia as the number 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft. After two underwhelming years the 76ers traded him to Orlando, where he has finally found some footing in the NBA and been able to relieve the pressure of being a number 1 pick. He averaged multiple career highs last year – 12.1 ppg, 5.1 apg, 1.3 spg, 73.0% FT shooting and 46.5% FG shooting, and while those are very modest numbers, they represent a significant improvement for Fultz. He generally seemed far more comfortable on the court in Orlando and was able to produce a career highlight with his 2nd career triple double in statement win against LeBron James and the Lakers. At 6'3", with a 6'10" wingspan, his length, athleticism and quickness make him an intriguing defensive prospect, as he is active in passing lanes and does a good job keeping perimeter players in front of him. He definitely has a lot of runway in his career on that side of the ball. If he can make more gains this season, and continue to improve season over season, expect Fultz to eventually live up to his number 1 overall pick. 

Tom’s Take: Markelle Fultz will finish in top-5 for Most Improved Player voting this year.

Can Aaron Gordon be a Star in the NBA?

Aaron Gordon was taken 4th overall by the Magic in the 2014 NBA Draft, and although it was a pretty low year for prospects (only Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic have made All-Star teams), Gordon has yet to reward his selection by the Magic. There’s no doubt that he has a high Q Rating amongst NBA and non-NBA fans due the Dunk Contest, but there isn’t much to be optimistic about regarding his future in the league, outside of being an energy/change of pace big man off the bench. After solid and steady progression in his first 4 years, Aaron Gordon has shown his true colors. He’s a below average shooter in every category as his career averages suggest: 70.1% FT, 31.9% 3-pointers, 44.8% FG. Considering his prodigious physical attributes, he should be averaging more than 0.8 spg & 0.6 bpg. His last 3 seasons have actually seen a regression in scoring, when it should be the opposite. At this point in his career (given his first 4 years), Gordon should be in the 20 ppg/10 rpg conversation. Instead, we’re looking at a player who averaged 14.4 ppg and 7.7 rpg last year – which is respectable, but not what Orlando was looking for out of a top-5 pick. Magic fans should stop looking for Gordon to break out, and realize that he is who he is - a below average shooter, with above average athleticism that may never get the most out of himself in the NBA. 

Will the Magic Challenge for a 3rd Straight Playoff Appearance?

The Magic will not only have to withstand the loss of Isaac, the key to their defense, but the improvements of the teams around them in the standings. The Wizards, with their addition of Russell Westbrook, will be on nipping at their heels. Charlotte and Chicago are now better teams through the draft and the Hawks have overhauled their roster around Trae Young. While the Magic added 15th overall pick Cole Anthony, they didn’t do much outside of that to bolster their roster. It’s hard to see them avoiding the 7-10 play-in tournament. Without a superstar player to take over a winner-take-all game, the format doesn’t suit them - then again, neither does a 7 game series versus the top seeds in the East.

Tom’s Take: The Magic will be involved in the play-in tournament, but not the playoffs, and will head to the draft lottery.

Photo Credit: Ringo Chiu/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire