Magic Offseason Report: Rebuilding The Magic Kingdom

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2016/17 Record: 29-53 (13th in the Eastern Conference)

2017/18 Salaries: $98,543,113 (Under The Cap Team) – full ORL salary cap situation – here.

Incoming Draft Picks: LAL ’18 2nd (swap rights), BKN ’19 2nd, POR/CLE/HOU ’10 2nd (more favourable between own and POR/CLE/HOU), OKC ’20 1st, BKN/NYK ’20 2nd (less favourable between BKN/NYK)

Outgoing Draft Picks: Nil.

Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 10.39.08 am.pngOrlando has been a vanishing act over the past five seasons, unable to get the mix right between going full rebuild or challenging for the postseason – a plight that occurs with many smaller market teams.

The Magic made a splash at the 2016 NBA Draft, dealing the promising Victor Oladipo and the rights to Domantas Sabonis for fringe star Power Forward Serge Ibaka. It seemed like a somewhat curious move at the time, given Ibaka’s impending free agency and the timing on giving up on Oladipo, a former #2 pick. Unfortunately for Orlando, Sam Presti just turned those two players into Paul George, while the former GM Rob Hennigan got the Magic Terrence Ross and a future first for Ibaka after a half-season failed experiment… that sums up where the Orlando Magic are at right now.

The Magic limped through another underwhelming season in 16/17, closing with a disappointing 29 wins in Frank Vogel’s first season at the helm. Orlando closed the regular season with one of the worst offenses in the league (101.2 OffRTG, 29th in the league) and a surprisingly poor defense (108.0 DefRTG, 24th in the League) for a Vogel-led unit whose Pacer’s teams hung their hard hat on that end of the floor.

Much of this is due to a mish-mash roster of talent accrued by former GM Hennigan, who, like Bullwinkle, just never seemed to be able to pull a rabbit out of his hat. It appears that the Magic have finally given in to their need to rebuild, and it starts with the addition of new GM, John Hammond.

Hammond comes to the Magic Kingdom via Milwaukee, where he successfully rebuilt the Bucks into a pseudo Eastern contender. It wasn’t too long ago that Milwaukee were effectively in Orlando’s current position – not bad enough to get the lottery pick they need to reset, but not good enough to make the playoffs. Hammond’s modus operandi is accruing players with extreme length that allows for a unique brand of basketball, and his rebuild in Milwaukee (even if he isn’t there anymore) appears to be a success. He obviously hit big-time with picking The Greek Freak from obscurity at pick #15 in the 2013 NBA Draft, and will be hoping to replicate that success with #7 pick in the 2017 Draft, Jonathan Isaac.

Isaac is unlikely to have the kind of overall floor game that Antetonkoumpo has, given he didn’t demonstrate point guard instincts in his lone season at Florida State. Offensively, Orlando fans may be reminded somewhat of former combo Forward (and current BIG3 MVP) Rashard Lewis. Isaac projects to be a more effective defender though in time, particularly as the NBA game has changed and Isaac could eventually see time as a stretch 5 given his length, athleticism and shot blocking prowess (1.5bpg in his lone College season). He clearly fits the Hammond mold.

In the interim though, Orlando must find out if their current crop of former lottery picks are worth persisting with. Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton both showed significant improvement in the second half of the season following Ibaka’s trade; Gordon finally being played in his correct position at Power Forward, and Payton controlling the floor and playing to his strengths. The numbers speak for themselves:


ELFRID PAYTON

Pre-All Star (58 games):
12.5ppg, 3.8rpg, 5.7apg, 1.1spg, 0.4bpg, 2.1tpg, 45.7%fg (11.3 fga), 26.8%3fg (2.2 3fga), 66.4%ft (2.4fta) in 29.1mpg

Post-All Star (24 games):
13.5ppg, 7.0rpg, 8.4apg, 1.0spg, 0.6bpg, 2.5tpg, 50.8%fg (10.8 fga), 31.6%3fg (0.8 3fga), 74.3%ft (3.1fta) in 30.1mpg


Payton’s post-All Star numbers reflect a player who has begun to mature and realise his strengths and weaknesses, and how to harness them to impact NBA games. He led Orlando in Win Shares at 4.4 last season, and managed five triple doubles in those last 24 games.

While spacing continues to be the buzz word in today’s NBA, and Payton offers very little (0.8 3pg), he has shown that he is adjusting to what NBA level defenses are giving him – and not settling. Payton improved his mid-range game significantly last season (40.2% >16 feet, compared to 25.2% in 15/16), and showed increased proficiency at finishing in the paint and his floater game. After the All-Star break, he dropped his number of three point attempts per game by 1.4, focusing on what he does best.

Payton’s usage rate of 21.8% in 16/17 sits third on the team behind Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier, and is last in the NBA for players who played over 28 minutes per game and averaged at least 5 assists. It would make sense for Orlando to give Payton the ball and let him find his shooters like Fournier for open looks, or hit the roll man like Vucevic for the easy dunk or lay in – rather than running the offense through these other player’s hands. Essentially, Orlando should be using him like Boston used to with Rondo in those old Celtics teams.


AARON GORDON

Pre-All Star (56 games):
11.2ppg, 4.6rpg, 1.9apg, 0.8spg, 0.4bpg, 1.1tpg, 42.8%fg (10.0 fga), 29.2%3fg (3.4 3fga), 65.0%ft (2.4fta) in 27.6mpg

Post-All Star (24 games):
16.4ppg, 6.2rpg, 1.7apg, 1.0spg, 0.7bpg, 1.1tpg, 50.3%fg (12.7fga), 28.0%3fg (3.1 3fga), 83.8%ft (3.3fta) in 31.3mpg


Frank Vogel’s experiment with Aaron Gordon at SF seemed doomed before it started. While Vogel had designs on playing Gordon like he was Paul George, one of these skillsets’ is not like the other. Gordon appeared lost offensively, with a third of his shot attempts coming from downtown at a sub-30% clip, and being a little too slow to effectively defend the perimeter talents while Ibaka and Vucevic roamed the paint.

Fast forward to the end of the NBA regular season, and it looks like Gordon may have turned the corner. Thrust back into his more natural PF slot following the Ibaka trade, where his ball-handling and athletic gifts provide him a greater advantage, Gordon balled out. While the numbers post-All Star are solid, he really flourished towards the end of the season. Three of his last seven games included these monsters:

32 points, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks on DET (with 3 triples)
32 points, 16 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 steal on BOS (with 3 triples)
22 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals on BKN (with 4 triples)

If Gordon can continue his improved 3pt proficiency, this will open up the paint for Elfrid Payton to attack, and give Vucevic more space to operate in the post. Gordon has the tools – few can match his athletic prowess – but can he harness this athleticism to impact the game more on the defensive end? He has shown he can play in the passing lanes and get out on the break, but with a Center like Vucevic who isn’t known for his rim protection, Gordon will need to provide greater rim deterrence than he has to date. For what it’s worth, Gordon has high expectations for himself on that end of the floor.

Both Payton and Gordon are eligible for extensions or will enter Restricted Free Agency in 2018. This is a huge season for both of them.

Orlando’s rebuild will take some time, and Hammond will need to examine this current group to be certain on who is worth persisting with, and who isn’t. A playoff birth seems unlikely, even in the diminished East, but the best thing for Orlando would be to reset with another lottery pick in the deep 2018 Draft – and hope that one (or both) of Payton and Gordon show they are worth building a Kingdom around.

Projected Starting Five:

Projected Depth Chart:Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 10.39.36 am

Overall Offseason Grade: C

2017/18 Prediction: 32-50

Orlando will likely tread water this season, managing a slightly improved win total purely through a weakened Eastern Conference. While the playoffs appear a long-shot, if the Magic can identify players to build around, the season will be considered a success, but it will likely be a lean year in Disney World.

terrence ross

Player To Watch: Terrence Ross

Terrence Ross crossed over to Orlando in the Ibaka trade and saw an uptick in minutes, but not much in the way of production. It’s unlikely Ross will see the 31.2mpg he saw with Orlando last season, but he may get a bigger opportunity if injuries strike at the SG or SF slots. Is Terrence Ross just an athletic, low percentage chucker? Or can he develop into one of the better 6th men in the league? He has the tools, but consistency has failed him so far in his five year career.

Four Key Questions:

1. Does Jonathon Simmons’ gamble pay off?
Jonathon Simmons was one of the breakout players of the postseason, proving himself on the biggest stage in both the Conference Semi Finals vs HOU and the Conference Finals vs GSW. Over the two series’, Simmons averaged 14.0pts, 2.3rbs, 2.4ast, 0.9spg in 24.7mpg. At 27 years old and with two NBA seasons under his belt, it was surprising that the Spurs couldn’t come to terms with a player they pulled from obscurity. The jury is out on whether Simmons is a starting calibre talent, or better served as an energy wing coming off the bench.

2. Which Center steps forward and claims the starting role?
Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo are just about polar opposites in play style. Vucevic is the big man with the soft touch out to 15 feet and a capable scorer inside, but he is hardly an intimidating rim protector. Biyombo’s offense is limited to lobs, but he excels on the boards and is a terrific shot blocker. Biyombo fits better with the starters, given their lack of rim protection, but this will be Vucevic’s job to lose. It’s going to be a fun Training Camp battle to watch.

3. Does Mario Hezonja have a shot?
As the fifth pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Mario Hezonja was billed as an ultra athletic swingman with no conscience and unlimited range on his shot, whose attitude bordered on arrogance. Fast forward two years and Hezonja looks broken. Mario averaged just 4.9ppg on 35.5% shooting in his second NBA season – and his position just got more crowded with the mid-season addition of Terrence Ross, and the offseason addition of Simmons. If Hezonja doesn’t develop into a reliable bench scorer this season, it’s possible he winds up back in Europe after his rookie contract is up.

4. What happens at Point Guard if Payton struggles?
While Payton finished the season strong, he did struggle mightily out of the gate last season – even coming off the bench for 24 games. The Magic have two capable backups in Shelvin Mack (who was solid in starts for Utah last season) and journeyman DJ Augustin, a proven veteran. If Payton struggles, it’s possible that Hammond decides to move him on early if he can acquire picks or assets that will assist in the rebuild.


Info courtesy of:
Basketball Reference
Basketball Insiders
Real GM
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