We continue our breakdown of the Orlando Magic's 2015-16 season with a look at the centers and how they faired during the season, and a little bit of what's next for all three. - Ed
The Montenegrin big man came to symbolize what was right and wrong with the Magic this season. On the floor, his consistent scoring (18.2 points per game) buoyed the young Orlando offense. His rebounding, however, (8.9 rebounds per game) took a noticeable step back, and his defense improved – but still remained below league-average for big men.
Vucevic’s value became apparent when a groin injury sidelined him for 13 games near the end of the season, during which the team went 4-9. This proved that the 2015-16 Orlando Magic needed Nik Vucevic for stability and consistency.
Next year, it seems that he will be asked to do more off the floor.
"That kinda veteran leadership can kinda help, even in practices," Vucevic said when asked about his role as a leader. "When you do the scouting, focus on those little things. Make sure everybody pays attention to detail. I think that those parts of practices [are better] with some guys that have done it in the past."
With a contract that puts him on the books until 2018-19, the Magic brass have spoken with their checkbooks – Vucevic is part of the future. This year he dipped his pinky toe into what winning felt like, and the team hopes he can bring that level of consistency when the games begin to really matter next April.
The soft-spoken big man said that a winning culture isn’t far away. "I guess we’re getting there, but we’re not there yet," he said. "[S]o there’s [still] some work to do. There’s some pieces to be added and some stuff to work on."
With Vucevic, that work begins on the defensive end. For Scott Skiles’ system to work in Orlando, a rim-protecting big man is a must. He must be physical, and defensively aware, with the ability to set solid screens on offense.
Another year, and another offseason will determine if Vucevic and Skiles can exist in harmony.
For the raw and athletic Dewayne Dedmon, this year saw a major step forward in his game. Though he played fewer minutes in his second full season in Orlando, his 20 starts and 255 points were career-highs.
Having only played organized basketball since 2008, Dedmon’s offensive game is still developing. With Vucevic injured down the stretch, he was able to log quality minutes night after night. Dedmon responded to the opportunity with a career game against Chicago, where he netted a personal best 18 points to go along with 13 rebounds.
He has often described himself as an "energy guy", but the Magic will have to determine if that talent is worth an extension this offseason. Dedmon’s contract is up, leading to the first true free agency of his career.
"I love Orlando, so this is where I wanna be anyway", said the big man on his impending future.
After playing for three teams in his first four seasons in the league, it appears Dedmon has found a home in Orlando. "Yeah, it definitely feels like home," he said. "Got a puppy and everything".
The biggest issue for Magic coaches to work out this offseason will be Dewayne’s tendency to foul on defense. As an athletic force, Dedmon averaged 2.3 blocks per 36 minutes last year. Those 36 minutes would be impossible, however, as he would’ve averaged 7.7 fouls.
Dedmon is a mound of clay for the right coach to develop. On defense, his issues aren’t the standard intensity, desire, or physicality, but he does lack technique. At age 26 he’s far from young, so that time may have to come sooner rather than later for the investment to pay off.
Another player for whom Orlando was a stop on a larger journey was Jason Smith. Smith quietly had an efficient season taking his signature pick-and-pop long-rang two-pointers.
"I remained consistent," said Smith on his season. "I tried to really prove that to the coaching staff, just to go out there and play consistently. They knew what they were going to get from me."
Because of the plug-and-play nature of Smith’s game, he can only be as effective as the pieces around him allow. That being said, coach Scott Skiles made it clear that he had the confidence to go with Smith at crucial points late in games.
Smith echoed this trust back to his coach when asked about the Skiles regime in Orlando.
"Great coaching staff, said Smith. "Great [head] coach. Guy who implemented a system that was proven to work. Not only on the offensive end, but on the defensive end as well. He’s grade A in my book."
Furthermore, Jason said that he believes in the direction the team is going. "I liked playing for him this year. I mean, he’s a tough coach and he commands the best out of you, but when he commands the best out of you, you’re going to be a winning organization and a winning team."
Smith shot 48.5% from the floor, but more importantly he was able to play over 70 games for just the fourth time in his nine NBA seasons. That durability will be an asset as he embarks into the waters of free agency this offseason.
Stretch forwards are have become a hot commodity for teams across the modern NBA, and a playoff-bound team could very well make a run at Smith as their final piece. This doesn’t mean that he won’t stay in Orlando, however.
"I hope I’m back with this team," said Smith. "I really loved Orlando; the fans were amazing, crowds were great every night, it didn’t matter who was in the building. It was an awesome experience to play down here."
If he can stay healthy, Jason Smith should find himself on a playoff roster next year. His fans in central Florida, as well as Magic management, hope that he won’t have to change teams to do so.