Our second installment of ten game Progress Reports has arrived. As a teacher who is used to assessing on a regular basis, this is right up my alley! Included in this report are statistics from the last ten games along with some comments from yours truly that hopefully explains why I graded the guys the way that I did.
It doesn’t seem possible that the Magic have already completed a quarter of their 2016-17 schedule. Let’s visit who on the roster has been pulling their own weight as of late, and who needs to start playing better sooner rather than later. I will hold no punches if need be; I will be fair to players if it’s deservingly fair to do so.
In the comments section below, please feel free to agree or disagree with any of my assessments, or simply just let me know if this is something that interests you. Credit for statistics goes to Basketball Reference and NBA.com as always. Enjoy!
Evan Fournier (10 GP), Grade: B
Nothing to report here, Fournier has pretty much done in the last ten games exactly what he did in the first ten games. Periods of inconsistency have plagued Fournier throughout his Magic career, but in the largest offensive role he’s ever been provided in his career, Evan has remained pretty consistent.
Fournier’s production is so vitally important to Orlando’s overall success; you can see what an off night for Evan (11/14 Loss @ Indiana - team scored less than 70 points, 11/25 Loss vs. Washington - team scored 91 points) can do to Orlando’s offensive output.
Fournier is the team’s current leader in offensive win shares, true shooting percentage, and free-throws attempted per/36 (6.7 FTA). Fournier is actually getting to the line at a career high pace, which is a welcome development for a team that struggles so mightily to score at times.
I would still like to see Evan continue to improve on the defensive end, but let’s all be honest, his offensive contributions are needed by the team a whole lot more than his defense. I actually hope to see some lineups in the future that might include Fournier playing alongside Jodie Meeks. Fournier’s capability (or lack thereof) to slow down the other team’s wing scorer probably doesn’t make a difference at shooting guard versus at small forward. So on night’s when the Magic don’t play Lebron James, Jimmy Butler, etc., they might be able to get away with Evan playing more time at the “3”.
Best performance in the last 10 games: 11/27 vs. Milwaukee
27 points (11-21 FG), 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals
Serge Ibaka (10 GP), Grade: A- (Top of the Class)
Ibaka has seemed a bit more comfortable in a Magic uniform compared to his first ten game stint in pinstripes. Serge is shooting the ball pretty well; he ranks second on the team (right behind Fournier) with a TS% of 56%, and leads the team with a cool 40% 3P%. Equally as important, Ibaka is connecting on a team leading 74% of his shots from inside of 3 feet.
Ibaka is still regularly getting scored on in man-to-man defensive situations, but at least he appears to be much more active in “clean-up” help defensive situations. Ibaka now posts an even higher BLK % than Bismack Biyombo (4.4% to 4.3%) and he leads the team in Blocks per/36 (2.1).
Outside of his monster of a game against the Thunder, Ibaka has posted his next three highest game scores of 2016-17 in the last ten games (19.5 @ MIL, 18.3 vs. Washington, 18.9 @ SA).
The “Team(s) the Magic have played recently who might be interested in trading for Serge Ibaka” Sweepstakes: Memphis. When I think “splashy” moves, I usually don’t think the Grizzlies. But Memphis did shell out an exorbitant amount of money this past offseason to Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons. And Marc Gasol isn’t getting any younger, nor is Zach Randolph or Tony Allen. In fact, the Grizzlies are going to have to make a decision on Randolph after this season when his deal expires. I don’t know who they would have to ship out to fit Ibaka under the cap, or if another team would have to get involved to make salaries work. But in theory, Ibaka would be a nice veteran big who could easily play alongside Gasol in the starting lineup, and as a “5” in a front-court alongside Randolph. Then next summer the organization would have the ability to negotiate with Randolph or Ibaka, or neither. I just think if their foot was on the pedal last summer, they might as well stay aggressive and committed now. This is assuming that Orlando would be interested in a young piece that Memphis currently possesses (Baldwin, Deyonta Davis, perhaps a pick).
Best performance in the last 10 games: 11/21 @ Milwaukee
21 points (6-11 FG, 3-4 3P FG), 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals
Elfrid Payton (10 GP), Grade: C-
Elfrid has been coming off the bench the last four games, and much like his career has gone, the move has produced up and down results. Payton looked really comfortable in the second unit against the Bucks and Spurs last week, but has since produced back-to-back dud performances against the Grizzlies and Sixers. I still think that coming off the bench is what’s ultimately best for both him and the organization moving forward. Payton’s lack of any kind of shooting prowess is masked a bit easier coming off the bench, and his production on the floor has a greater chance to be positive facing lesser competition on a nightly basis.
Moving Payton out of the starting lineup also probably cost Nikola Vucevic his spot in the lineup. It would be largely detrimental to have Payton and Biyombo spend too much time on the court together, so in order to balance the lineups, Biyombo is somehow now starting.
Payton especially killed the Magic last Thursday against the Grizzlies (0.7 Game Score). Payton committed critical late game turnovers and connected on a meager two of his ten shot attempts (1-8 FG, 1-2 FT), yet still recorded 30 minutes in the contest for some reason.
Best performance in the last 10 games: 11/27 vs. Milwaukee
16 points (6-9 FG, 1-3 P, 3-4 FT), 3 assists, 3 rebounds
Nik Vucevic (10 GP), Grade: B+
Make no mistake about it, Nik is rebounding his butt off. Vucevic’s 2016 rebounding campaign has been a career best thus far; he ranks amongst the league leaders in most rebounding statistics between players who’ve played at least 25 MPG. Vucevic has produced at least 3 more defensive rebounds per/36 & 3 more total rebounds per/36 than the next best person on the Magic (Biyombo).
Just as impressively, Nik has shown noticeable and quantifiable improvement on the defensive end under the tutelage of Frank Vogel. Vucevic’s Defensive Rating of 98 is the lowest on the roster amongst the eight primary rotation players. His Defensive Wins Share number of 1.1 currently leads the team as well. He just seems like he’s taking a lot more pride and interest in his play on that end of the floor; I guess he has to if he wants to play these days.
It still drives me crazy that he can’t get to the FT line, like ever. But he’s slowly adding a little wrinkle to his game to perhaps offset his lack of FT production. Vucevic has connected on five three-point attempts in the last 5 games (45%), it appears like the extended range is coming pretty naturally to him (albeit, small sample size).
His shooting efficiency numbers are still bad. I think (I hope) by next report they will be back to (or at least close to) his career norms.
Best performance in the last 10 games: 11/23 vs. Phoenix
21 points (10-15 FG), 13 rebounds, 2 assists
Aaron Gordon (10 GP), Grade: C-
Of course I believe that Aaron Gordon is being played out of position. Yet, I would still like him to be more aggressive. Why doesn’t he bully opposing small forwards more and take them to the block, back them down when his shot isn’t falling? I can’t hold him completely complicit, perhaps that’s a coaching decision by design to keep him on the perimeter for the majority of the time. It’s just not his game to be shooting jumpers coming off screens, off the dribble in the half court, etc. I don’t mind when he’s in the corner with his feet set, or anytime in transition for that matter, but shot selection has been a thing with Aaron for me. Couple his poor shot selection with a stretch when shots just aren’t falling for him, and things are kind of ugly at the moment. Gordon’s FG% inside of 10 feet is second to only Ibaka on the roster, yet he’s averaging nearly 14 feet of distance per shot on the season.
According to Basketball Reference, Gordon has played 95% of his minutes this season at SF. I get it, he needs more time to adjust a new position. But the fact is, he’s beginning to put up shots further and further from the basket, yet his PER, TS%, OWS, eFG%, etc. are all at career lows. The lane is continually clogged with other bigs, and Gordon isn’t free to exercise some of the strengths of his game that he’s been able to show in the last couple years. He has to find a way to pick up his play; run like crazy to create easy opportunities on the break, get back to attacking the offensive glass (this may be where coaching comes in, he maybe is being asked to get back on defense instead), etc. He’s not rebounding anywhere near his career rate either, but that’s understandable. Less opportunities if you’re on the perimeter guarding the other team’s best wing player the majority of the time.
The grade looks rough, I know. Let’s face it - According to Basketball Reference, Gordon posted games scores of 1.0 or less four of the last ten games. But his average +/- (what the team is doing when he’s on the floor) in that same stretch is the best on the team.
Best performance is the last 10 games: 12/2 @ Philadelphia
20 points (9-14 FG, 2-4 3PA), 2 rebounds
Bismack Biyombo (10 GP), Grade: B-
Biyombo, a guy who is primarily known for rebounding, has a PER for the season of less than 10. And PER is a flawed statistic that is heavily influenced by rebounding. How is this possible?
Seriously though, I’m actually weirdly okay with Bismack starting. I greatly prefer Nik Vucevic as a player, especially considering his short stretch of improved defensive play. But moving Payton to the bench, and then separating Biyombo and Payton because #basketball, really balances the two units in a more functional way. I think the move was about Ibaka as well. Serge wasn’t really pulling his weight defending the rim. Inserting Biyombo handles interior defensive concerns while also allowing Ibaka to help from the weak side (which we’ve already seen the last few games).
I’m most concerned about Biyombo’s ridiculous amount of turnovers he’s committed this year. Biyombo is averaging a career high in TO’s, TO’s per/36, and TOV% (this year 22%, career average of 17%). Biyombo’s Offensive Rating of 93 per 100 possessions is the worst of any player in the regular rotation, which is to be expected.
Best performance in the last 10 games: 11/19 vs. Dallas
13 points (4-6 FG, 5-7 FT), 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 assists
Jeff Green (10 GP), Grade: D-
Alert! Jeff Green just played more minutes in a ten game stretch than Aaron Gordon, this is not a drill!
I was more than outspoken against the Jeff Green signing last summer, and I actually felt bad for being so negative before I saw how it was going to play out. But this was my biggest fear, that Green would be chucking while Gordon (or even Hezonja, even though he hasn’t earned a thing) was on the bench watching.
Green is the only player in the regular rotation who is shooting less than 40% from the field on the season, he ranks last in the rotation in WS per/48 (.02) and Box +/- (-3.9), and second to last in the rotation in TS% (Nik actually has a slightly lower TS%, yikes).
And of course: 11 more days until Jeff Green can be traded, 81 days until the NBA trade deadline
Best performance in the last 10 games: 12/2 @ Philadelphia
16 points (6-13 FG, 2-4 3PA), 6 rebounds, 3 assists
D.J. Augustin (10 GP), Grade: B
Two thumbs up for D.J. being inserted into the starting lineup. Let’s face it, the franchise PG Orlando so desperately needs is not on this roster. He’s probably playing in college (perhaps in L.A. in Seattle at UW, for the Pack in Raleigh, or for the ‘Cats in Lexington), but will the organization recognize this and start organizing themselves for the upcoming draft? I digress...
The Magic are giving up a little bit on defense with Augustin at the helm, but not a ton (because Payton has been pretty bad on defense too). And you lose a good deal of playmaking ability in the starting lineup without a combination of Payton AND Vucevic (compared to Augustin and Biyombo). Yet I still think it’s worth it, the Magic need that third floor-spacing shooting/scoring option on the floor as much as possible. That’s exactly what D.J. has provided for Orlando. He’s out there for one reason, to shoot three’s at close to a 37%-39% clip (more than half of D.J.’s FG attempts this year have been form behind the arc).
Best performance in the last 10 games: 11/19 vs. Dallas
18 points (6-11 FG, 2-5 3PA), 6 assists, 2 rebounds
Head Coach Frank Vogel, Grade: C+
Sort of an up and down ten game stretch for Vogel. I support the Augustin insertion into the lineup. I’m kind of meh about Biyombo, but I get it. I didn’t like starting Green over Gordon a couple weeks ago at all. Vogel and the coaches are still tweaking here and there, I respect that.
Vogel’s grade is down a couple pegs because there have been some late game situations in the last ten contests with guys like Payton and Green on the floor making poor decisions, which left all of us wondering why they were on the floor in the first place. The 4th quarter Memphis collapse was bad.
Still, he’s got this team at 8-12, when they probably should be more like 5-15 or 6-14. The offense is the worst in the league, but he’s turned the team into a top tier NBA defense, especially of late. Stay tuned.