As far as League-wide perception goes, it seems like people think that this year's version of the Orlando Magic are supposed to roll over and be bad; very, VERY bad. Disrespected nationally on every preseason power poll as cellar dwellers and talked about like red headed step children by sports personalities and general basketball community alike, it feels like the general consensus is that without a bona fide All-Star on your team, the team can not experience any type of success playing, you know, a team game.
I guess since so much of the team's past success has been based around strategies to maximize the use of Dwight, it is a justifiable question posed to the Magic as to how they now expect to continue winning without him. With D12 in the fold, on offense you always expected to see the ball go inside-out, with a mad hatter's green light on the 3-ball or lob back inside to the big man; on defense it meant staying in front of the ball and funneling penetrators inside to Howard, which was all for the most part pretty effective, but which has now since rendered itself useless based on his exit out of Orlando on the fastest thing cooking.
So here we stand today in the aftermath of the Destruction that was Dwight:
New coaching and management, 10 out of Orlando's 15 man roster this year were not playing for the Magic last year, and 8 out of Orlando's 15 players have 2 (TWO) years of NBA experience or less, so to say that this year won't be a GROWING experience would be a severe understatement, this team is gonna need some patience. The best thing the team does have in their favor this year is that there has been NO Expectation placed on them to do anything short of dwelling in the cellar and fighting for the Lottery. Let's face it, there's no obvious All-stars on this team so it's kinda hard to argue otherwise, seeing that's how most championship-caliber teams are built nowadays, with one or more max contracts on each side of the court playing out for the Chip every June.
At first offensive and defensive cohesion will suffer, as we have seen throughout the pre-season, but team chemistry should eventually come around to this squad, but that will come at the cost of time, repetitions in practice, as well as probably taking a few losing streaks in a row. If Orlando does plan on winning some games this year (and if the goal isn't winning the Draft Lottery), and who knows, even competing for a Playoffs berth, they will have to:
1) Share the Ball
This seems to be Jacque's focus in training camp, and in a few of the preseason games it was evident that Orlando could be very successful with it. Most promising about this aspect is the makeup of the squad actually has a pretty competent core of distributors, from Jameer or Ish to JJ or Hedo, and even Vucevic and Ayon have shown some craftiness at the big position. Everyone will get a chance to score in this system, starter or sub, and this year's version seems to be a particularly deep squad at that. They will thrive when they get to swing the ball, pick and roll, or take advantage of smart off the ball movement (i.e. Ayon back door cuts).
2) Defensive Pressure/ Proper Rotations
I hope to the basketball gods that the Magic won't be playing defense like they did for the better part of the pre-season, because it sucked badly. One can only hope that better defensive days will come for Orlando with more familiarity to the new system/defensive schemes, developed teammate trust, understanding assignments and switches, etc. The Magic actually are a lot more athletic this year then in recent memory, with young bucks like DeQuan Jones and Maurice Harkless who could establish themselves as shutdown defenders in this League with their length and natural gifts. Ish is fast and pesky, Afflalo is described as an above average defender (counter to Synergy data), Kyle O'Quinn could even be a decent shotblocker, but let's face it, defense largely comes down to effort and getting to the right place at the right time to cut your opponent's options off, so all Orlando's players will need to get on board with the type of help defense system needed to cover the overall lack of a legit shot blocker patrolling the paint.
3) Running, Speeding Up the Pace of the Game
The pace of this year's team has quickened considerably, not following closely to what we've expected to see out of the Magic in recent years. Slow paced, drop it in to Dwight, kick it out, drop it in to Dwight, teams got the drift pretty fast. This year's offense is based on, well the word that comes to mind is Spontaneity. If the Magic can consistently get out on the break, get easy buckets, play scrappy, and win the hustle plays, then not only will Orlando be an exciting team to watch this year, they will have positioned themselves to win quite a few more games this year then is being expected of them.
Regardless of a worst of worst case scenario, this will be a MUCH better season then the last one Magic fans had to endure, rest assured. At least of all the players on THIS team want to be here and look willing to work hard, ala the old Heart & Hustle squad, which is enough reason for me to tune in to see what happens. With that in mind, what do you see as qualifying as a successful season for Orlando this year?