After a tumultuous off-season in which Orlando said goodbye to it's ex-franchise player Dwight Howard, fired it's head coach with a career 64.1% win rate Stan Van Gundy and completely overhauled it's front-office headlined by much maligned General Manager Otis Smith, Orlando begins this season with a completely new faces leading the organization. Orlando begins the season with only 5 players returning from last years squad. (Nelson, Davis, JJ, Hedo and Ish). With an overhauled roster, a new front office headlined by General Manager Rob Henningan and a new head coach in former Magic Point Guard Jacque Vaughn, the Magic have hit the hard reset button. This season should be the first of a few interesting restructuring seasons coming for Orlando. What are the realistic expectations for Orlando this upcoming season?
Jameer Nelson: This season should be a bag full of mixed results for Nelson. Nelson is one of the worst if not the worst post entry passing Point Guard in the NBA. Without Dwight Howard the Magic will play out of the post a lot less and should will rely on Pick and Rolls more. Jameer is much stronger player in the PnR than he is trying to enter the ball to the post. However without Dwight or any other commanding offensive threat Nelson's offensive looks should go up at the same time the quality of the looks he'll get will decline. This should lead to an increase in points per game and a decrease in shooting percentages. On the defensive side of the ball, without Dwight Howard or Stan Van Gundy's defensive scheme Jameer will continue to have long nights defending point guards. The difference now being Orlando has nothing to stop the bleeding.
Aaron Afflalo: Afflalo is th key to Orlando being competitive this season. Afflalo has a reputation as an efficient scorer and solid defender. However last year Afflalo ranked last in man to man D with at least 250 possessions defended (according to Synergy). Afflalo will need to pick up his man defense to help the Magic with their painful perimeter D to potentially make this D respectable. On offense expect Afflalo to be slightly less efficient without the presence of Andre Miller or Ty Lawson around to get him open looks, although his number of shot attempts should rise being one of the best offensive options on Orlando.
Hedo: Ball..... Expect Hedo to continue to regress in all areas of his game. He came into camp in great shape but Hedo's old and on the decline. Magic fans should hope that Mo Harkless or DeQuan Jones shows enough in games/practice to have Hedo replaced at some point in the season.
Glen Davis: Glen Davis is my pick for biggest surprise on the Magic this year. Davis will get a huge increase in looks on offense which he won't back down from. Davis statistically is in line for the best year of his career. I believe Glen will morph into a volume scorer and continue to be a pesky defender. The real dilemma Orlando is going to have to face is if Davis does perform well is he good enough to build with into the future or is he a stat stuffer on a losing squad? My bold prediction is that Davis throws up 18/8 and sneaks into the All Star Game.
Nikola Vucevic: Vucevic is a 2nd year Center out of USC who played sparingly for the 76ers last season. My observations of Vucevic to this point: A) He's not very athletic B) He plays tall C) He prefers to pop on PnR. Vucevic seemingly is a Center who won't be able to anchor the D, will grab rebounds by using a combination of good position and use of his length. Offensively he seems to possess a stereotypical euro game, solid passer, prefers to take jumpers although he does possess a decent hook out of the post. I predict Vucevic will lead the Magic in rebounding this season, possibly averaging double digits but don't expect much else.
Gustavo Ayon: Ayon is hustle big that is extremely fundamentally sound. Depending on the night he may play more minutes than Vucevic based on matchups. Gustavo is seemingly a better defender and a good playmaker out of the Center position. If Ayon plays well this season Orlando may consider trading him at the deadline to a team that's looking for an extra big for a title push.
JJ Redick: Redick has continually improved his game each off-season and I don't expect this season to be any different. Redick will see some looks alongside Afflalo at times to provide some life to Orlando's offense as well as backing up Afflalo at Shooting Guard. Redick should have the best statistical season of his career due to a higher usage and more minutes played. With those improved stats he'll up his trade value and i'd expect Orlando to deal him before the trade deadline.
Ish Smith: Ish Smith may be one of the most exciting players on the Magic this year. Ish should thrive in the up tempo offense that Jacque Vaughn wants to run. He's more of a pure PG than either E'Twaun Moore or Jameer Nelson. When Jameer goes down this year (He will) expect Ish to fill up the stat sheet and take advantage of Orlando's up tempo offense.On defense much like Nelson, Ish will struggle to defend NBA PG's on a nightly basis. Ish will likely be the backup PG this season and do a nice job at creating good looks for teammates in this up-tempo offense.
Andrew Nicholson: Andrew Nicholson has an extremely polished offensive game for a rookie. On the down side that offensive game is far ahead of Nicholson's frame. Nicholson will score points but his percentages could be low for a big man due to being pushed around by bigger and more athletic NBA Power Forwards. With time and the proper work put in at the gym Nicholson can be a good player for the Magic in the future.
Maurice Harkless: Harkless is an extremely athletic and lanky small forward out of Saint Johns. Luckily for Harkless and the Magic, Harkless has recovered from his sports hernia faster than expected and has been cleared for full contact practice before the season begins so he shouldn't miss many games. If Harkless can play smart and learn defensive schemes he may be able to take Hedo's starting job at some point this season.
DeQuan Jones: New Orlando Magic cult hero DeQuan Jones captured the hearts of Orlando fans this pre-season with his athletic dunks and ability to consistently be in the right place at the right time. If Jones is able to replicate his success from pre-season Jones very well could take over Hedo's starting spot. However with Maurice Harkless coming back from injury so soon Jones only has a limited time to prove that he deserves those minutes. My bet is that Jones spends most of the season on the bench (possibly D-League) until JJ Redick is dealt.
Kyle O'Quinn: O'Quinn was very inconsistent in pre-season which mirrors his college career. I don't believe O'Quinn will play much this season unless the Magic are hit with a few injuries or if Ayon is traded. O'Quinn has the length to be an NBA center and the right mentality to be a rotational big in the NBA. I believe O'Quinn will play a good portion of the season in the D-League where Orlando gets him the experience he needs to play his role (garbage man).
E'Twaun Moore: Moore in my eyes is an undersized shooting guard as opposed to a score first point guard. His handles aren't particularly great (although better than Chris Duhon) and his court vision is spotty. He'll be a volume shooter at PG when he fills in. I believe Moore would have a lot more success as a SG if Orlando decides to play him there but with Orlando's limited options at PG he'll be forced to play there. Moore will get some decent playing time this season when Jameer eventually goes down with injuries.
Josh McRoberts: McRoberts has looked atrocious since he left Indy. Unfortunately he continued that trend in the pre-season. Don't expect McRoberts to play that much unless Orlando gets hit by an injury bug that decimates the front court. Orlando will probably try to involve him in a trade with Ayon or JJ if one should occur.
Al Harrington: Orlando will likely try and deal Harrington. When Harrington gets healthy Orlando will could play him at the 3/4 spots. Orlando will need to showcase him to prove that he's worth his contract in a trade. He may get a start over Hedo at some point as a part of that process. He should start practicing mid-November if he has no setbacks in his rehab.
Jacque Vaughn: Vaughn will have his guys fired up every night. As far as the schemes go, defensively I haven't seen them enough to say they'll be successful or unsuccessful. However with Orlando's lack of defensive talent i'm not sure scheme matters much at this point. Vaughn on the offensive end is trying to counteract Orlando's lack of offensive talent by getting easy points in transition. That should make for exciting and smart basketball with this roster.
My prediction is that the Magic offense will keep them in games and that they'll be an exciting team to watch however they'll lose plenty thanks to their defense. The defense will be horrendous this season, they literally have the potential to be the worst in the NBA. Lost in the midst of losing Dwight Howard is the loss of Stan Van Gundy and his brilliant defensive system. That loss will negatively impact Orlando as much as losing Howard if not more. My prediction is that Orlando finishes the season 28-54. The Magic are building for the future and with a young team and a new front office they're off to a quick start in a new direction. The Magic need to place faith in the ping pong balls that have been so kind to the franchise in the past and in General Manager Rob Hennigan's "Process" to find the light.