The Orlando Magic enter Monday with a 2-5 record, ranking 13th in the East and tied for 24th in the NBA overall. Even at this early juncture, it's clear that Orlando won't compete with most of the league's teams on a night-to-night basis. And though the season has just gotten underway--the Magic still have 75 games to go--it's never too early to start trying to assess what's going on. Here's some stuff we've noticed through Orlando's first seven contests.
Fournier can hoop
Evan Fournier's play to date has been impressive enough to wonder why the heck the Denver Nuggets simply asked him to stand in the corner all day. The 6-foot-7 wing, whom Orlando acquired from Denver for Arron Afflalo on Draft night, has proven lethal off the bounce, creating plays for himself, and occasionally for others, on his forays to the rim.
Not that his performance to date could surprise him: in his first presser as a member of the Magic, Fournier made it clear he feels comfortable handling the ball. Still, his facility with the rock in his hands is a boon to Orlando's overall poor offense: he's scoring nearly a point ever two minutes on 61.9 percent True Shooting as the Magic's third option. Only Nik Vučević and Tobias Harris (17 apiece) use more shooting possessions per game than Fournier (12.9).
The key question, predictably, is sustainability: as a member of the Magic, Fournier's shooting 74.1 percent in the restricted area and 50 percent on three-pointers. In his sophomore season as a Nugget, those percentages stood at 57 and 37.6, respectively. But even with a mild regression, the style with which Fournier has played bodes well for his success in an Orlando uniform. He's the only wing on the roster who can both shoot reliably from the outside and drive the ball all the way to the rim.
Shot mix an issue
Fournier's offense has been a bright spot in an otherwise miserable offensive season for Orlando: its offensive rating is down 2.5 points from a year ago, and shot selection is a big reason why.
Through seven games, the Magic have launched 22 corner three-pointers and 161 long twos, or one corner trey for every 7.3 long twos. In the 2013/14 season--a campaign in which, let's remember, the Magic played noted long-two enthusiast Glen Davis over 1300 minutes--that ratio stood at one corner three for every 4.7 long twos.
There's more to running a good NBA offense than simply uncorking from the corner, sure, but no team in today's NBA can hope to achieve even mediocrity on that end with such a skewed shot mix.
In fairness to the Magic, the team recognizes the value of spacing, as its big free-agent cash outlay on Channing Frye attests. And Frye knows his strengths, taking 60.5 percent of his shots from three-point distance while parking himself on the wings instead of in the corners, which positioning forces defenses to make an unenviable choice between leaving him open in one of his sweet spots or helping from the corners just one pass away... but Frye can't do it alone.
Luke Ridnour and Ben Gordon have, earlier in their long careers, demonstrated they can connect from deep. Perhaps asking one or both players to become corner specialists would benefit all parties involved: Orlando gets more spacing and cuts its long-two diet, while the veterans reinvent themselves in such a way that could prolong their careers by making the most of shooting, a skill which ages well and which is always in demand.
Harkless makes things happen
Magic fans have watched Maurice Harkless' minutes with great interest: the third-year forward earned a Did Not Play-Coach's Decision in three of Orlando's first four games, a surprising decision on the part of Jacque Vaughn, given that Harkless' age and skill set make him valuable to a rebuilding squad stockpiling young talent.
Harkless has played in each of Orlando's three games since, and he's made a difference: on the season, the Magic have outscored their opponents by 12.9 points per 100 possessions, giving Harkless the best such mark of any Orlando player with at least 50 minutes of court time.
Certainly, the caliber of the opposition accounts for that excellent figure, so I don't mean to suggest that playing Harkless more would necessarily reverse Orlando's luck. But as the only Magic regular with a positive efficiency differential, Harkless stands out.
Harkless still doesn't have the respect of opposing defenses, who are content to leave him open, but that invisibility can be workable so long as he runs the floor in transition and his teammates manage to find him. That's what happened Friday in Orlando's come-from-behind victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, wherein Harkless scored 11 points in just 21 minutes without having a play called for him.
The Magic's commitments to Harris as its starting small forward and to fourth overall Draft choice Aaron Gordon as his backup will squeeze Harkless a bit, but if he continues to produce in limited minutes, Vaughn won't have much of a choice but to find more time for him.
With grateful acknowledgement to NBA.com/stats