Since being acquired from the Philadelphia 76ers in the blockbuster trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers, Magic center Nikola Vucevic has shown signs of greatness. In his first two years with the team, Vucevic emerged as one of the best rebounding big men in the league, while showing off a reliable mid-range jumper on the offensive end. This, combined with his continued growth on both ends of the floor, led to the Magic locking Vucevic up for four years at a reported $52 million.
With a new contract in place, Vucevic set out and had his best year yet. Playing in 74 games, the 7-footer averaged a career-high 19.3 points, to go along with 10.9 rebounds--good enough for sixth in the league--and two assists per game, also a career high. Moreover, Vucevic also showed off an improved back to the basket game, not relying on his jumper as much has he had previously.
While the growth on the offensive end was a welcome sight for the team, Vucevic still showed his vulnerability on the defensive end. Some of the struggles were due to the schemes that the team was running for the former USC Trojan, but much of his struggles on that end can be traced to his lack of lateral quickness. With his struggles on that end, the team was unable to play him and key free agent signee Channing Frye together like they had hoped they would be able to.
Unless the Magic strike gold and win the NBA's Draft lottery, Vucevic is going to be in town for the long haul. He's a reliable double-double machine, and with the right coaching and schemes should improve on the defensive end and, potentially, turn into one of the top centers in the league.
A strong 2013/14 campaign with the Phoenix Suns led the sharpshooting Frye to ink a four-year, $32 million deal with the Magic in free agency. The deal, which surprised many, was one that made sense. The Magic, who have focused on finding high-energy, hard-nosed, defensive-minded players, were in desperate need of floor spacing and shooting, so they went out and got their guy in Frye.
However, a knee injury suffered early in the preseason set Frye back as he tried to get used to his new teammates and learn the offense and defense that the team ran. This, coupled with poor play on both ends throughout the season, made Frye's first year in Orlando one he, and many others, would soon like to forget.
While his defensive woes and struggles on the glass--he averaged a mere 3.9 rebounds per game, the second-lowest mark of his career--are the forefront of the discussion with Frye, what he was brought in to do--shoot--can't be overshadowed. Frye's 39.3 percent clip from downtown is the second-highest of his career, and best since he primarily became a three-point shooter during the 2009/10 season, his first with the Suns, when he shot a blistering 43.9 percent.
Finally healthy from the knee injury which set him back, this summer will be an important one for Frye. He's going to have to continue to find good chemistry with his teammates, especially guards Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton, and with a new coach coming in, could be able to hide some of his shortcomings on the defensive end to allow him to play with Vucevic, something that would make the Magic's offense even more dynamic than it already is.
A mid-season 10-day contract signee in 2013/14, second-year big man Dewayne Dedmon came into the 2014/15 season with a lot to play for. With his contract only partially guaranteed, the high-energy big man knew he had to play his heart out every time he stepped on the floor, and that he did.
Not only did Dedmon bring energy whenever he was on the floor, but he also brought a certain edge and nastiness that the team lacked with him on the bench. He wasn't afraid to foul someone hard or try to send a shot 10 rows deep into the crowd. It's just the way Dedmon plays, and that was one of the main things that helped him carve out a real role on this Magic team.
While Dedmon doesn't put up big numbers scoring the ball--he averaged just 3.7 points per game--his rebounding ability, coupled with his ability to alter shots, gives the Magic something they so desperately need. Of players who blocked at least 50 shots this season, Dedmon ranked seventh in the league in opponent field goal percentage at the rim, allowing opponents to finish just 43.7 percent of their attempts. Dedmon's mark was also the best of any Magic big man, and second-best on the team to guard Willie Green--worth noting Green's sample size is considerably lower than Dedmon's, hence his lower number.
This offseason will be a key one for Dedmon to continue to work on smoothing out his game. If he can work on his touch around the basket, along with finding a way to keep himself more in control while he plays, we could see the reserve big man in Orlando for a while.
Coming off a solid second season, expectations were high for former second round pick Kyle O'Quinn. O'Quinn, who had split time between starting and coming off the bench in his second season, seemed poised for a breakout year. However, a sprained ankle in the opening game of the season kept O'Quinn out of action for 15 games, putting O'Quinn behind the eight-ball early in the season.
Upon returning from the injury, O'Quinn played exceptionally well, giving everyone glimpses of what could've been had it not been for the injury in the opening game. The third-year man also saw his role continually change, starting some games while coming off the bench for others, making it hard for him to find a real grove. Once James Borrego took over for Jacque Vaughn, however, O'Quinn struggled to get onto the court consistently, appearing in only 15 of the 30 games Borego coached, with many of his minutes coming in garbage time.
It was puzzling to see O'Quinn fall so fast. The emergence of Dewayne Dedmon obviously did not help O'Quinn, as he's best suited as a backup center, rather than a power forward, which he played much of the time he started for the team.
This is a big summer for O'Quinn. He's entering restricted free agency, and a big man with his skill set could be in high demand for a handful of teams. He's shown he can be productive starting and coming off the bench, so, it's not out of the question to see that O'Quinn might not have a future with the Magic.
Following a strong rookie campaign, the sky appeared to be the limit for Andrew Nicholson. In his second season, he expanded his game and added a corner three-pointer, a shot he relied heavily on during that season. In doing so, he went away from his bread and butter: working with his back to the basket.
Fast forward to his third season and Nicholson struggled mightily to get on the floor. Appearing in only 40 games--22 of which came in the second half with Borrego at the helm--Nicholson struggled to find any consistency with his game. One night he would come out, show off his refined, silky smooth post moves, then the next not play, or camp around the three-point line.
Nicholson has his fair share of shortcomings--he's a below-average rebounder and struggles on the defensive end from time to time--but would've been a great asset for the Magic, who consistently went through lulls on the offensive end this season. He's a guy you can dump it down to and he can get you a bucket, or he can pop out and knock down an open jumper, adding some versatility to the offense.
With the final year of his rookie contract upcoming, it'll be interesting to see how the Magic utilize the talented big man. He has the tools to be a rotational big man in the league, but has yet to find the team that can use him and use him correctly and consistently.