Welcome to Five Magic Observations. It’s tough to watch this Magic team when they’re struggling this much, so let’s focus on something else: how good you folks were at predicting how bad the Magic have been. That’s...technically more positive. Right?
Midseason Prop Bets Update
In the preseason, we put together a little competition for members of the OPP community, to take a stab at a handful of “over/under” bets concerning the Orlando Magic team and players. Once we got all the answers in, I dug through the responses to see where the community stood as a whole, where you overwhelmingly agreed (“The Magic will be a top-14 defense.”) and where you were most split (“How well will Serge Ibaka shoot from long range?”).
With the season about halfway through, let’s take stock of where the Magic currently rank in these 11 categories, and how well you all would be doing if the season ended today. For the “counting” categories, such as “Number of wins against the SE Division,” I’ve included what the Magic are on pace to reach by the end of the season. These stats are current as of 1/22, following the Warriors game.
Where things stand right now
|Category||Over/under||Right now||Result||Community Pick|
|Category||Over/under||Right now||Result||Community Pick|
|Team FTA/g||21.5||20.2||UNDER||OVER (61.5%)|
|Wins vs SE||6.5||4 (7.11*)||OVER||OVER (84.6%)|
|Def. Eff. Rank||14.5||21||UNDER||OVER (92.3%)|
|Players traded||2.5||0||UNDER?||UNDER (74.4%)|
|Marriage Proposals||3.5||1 (2.05*)||UNDER||UNDER (84.6%)|
|Ibaka 3pt%||34.50%||38.70%||OVER||OVER (53.8%)|
|Payton TO/g||2.4||2||UNDER||OVER (64.1%)|
|Green mpg||23.5||23.6||OVER||UNDER (51.3%)|
|Vucevic games started||60.5||22 (38.3*)||UNDER||UNDER (56.4%)|
|Biyombo Fieldthrowovers||2.07||2.32||OVER||OVER (94.9%)|
The good news: as of right now, you all are collectively correct on 6 of the 11 bets. “Players traded away” is hard to judge right now, since it seems all but certain that Orlando will make some kind of move, but technically the under is accurate right now, so we’ll give that to you all.
Good news for me, too: if you all are right around a 50/50 success rate, it means I did a good job of setting the lines. The one I nailed was Jeff Green’s minutes, which sit almost exactly at the 23.5 I set. It’ll probably shift enough one way or the other by the end of the season, but if any of the bets appear to be “tied,” I’ll make a point of doing the division to get a few more decimal points and settle what side they fall on.
The other close calls right now: free throw attempts and SE Division wins, the former about 1.2 attempts under and the latter projected to sneak right over the 6.5 wins line.
Some thoughts about the 3-point shot
It’s been a little while since the Magic hosted the Rockets, but the game has stuck with me for a while. Part of it was that the Magic managed to stick close to Houston most of the game, part of it was Aaron Gordon’s expert defense against James Harden, but most of it is about the way Houston played the game.
Anybody who even vaguely pays attention to the NBA knows that the Rockets are gonna let it fly from downtown with impunity, but even knowing that ahead of time didn’t prepare me for the experience. It was overwhelming, and stressful, and I wasn’t even the one playing the game. There was something terrifying about knowing that every time the Magic made a mistake—every missed defensive rebound, every turnover, every lost assignment, every failed switch, every time somebody didn’t make it around a screen fast enough—there was a very good chance the Rockets were going to take a 3-pointer, and a very good chance they were going to make it. That’s how they took the most 3-pointers an opponent has ever taken against the Magic in its history.
This isn’t to suggest I’m anti-3. Quite the opposite, I believe in the 3-point line more than anything as a basketball analyst, both as a way to play to one’s maximum potential, but also as a way to make the game fun to watch. I don’t just see the recent trend toward more long-range shooting throughout the league as a stylistic choice, or “the modern NBA.” To me, this is “correct” basketball.
I suppose this is all just a long-winded way of saying I’m jealous. The team that made me fall in love with the sport was the Howard-SVG Orlando Magic, a team that leveraged their dominant big man into quality 3-point looks, that lived by the three more than they died by it. It’d be nice to have a team like that again.
The defense probably isn’t coming back after all
In mid-December, I headlined an observations piece with a faux-noir detective story, in search of the Magic’s missing defense. Detective Hutson’s conclusion was that there was no crime, and it was just a matter of time before the defense came back on its own.
Well, Detective Hutson was wrong. It’s been about a month and a half since the Magic played any consistent defense. At this point, the smart bet is on another disappointing defensive season.
The thing is, I stand by what I wrote at the time. The Magic really were playing solid, fundamentally sound defense. The win on Friday was a flashback to that style, the way they closed off the paint, giving up any midrange shot the opponent wanted, but nothing more than that. They played a Frank Vogel style of defense, limiting 3-point attempts and protecting the rim.
I don’t know why they stopped. I don’t think it’s because opponents “figured them out.” Schedule probably played a part in it, but not enough to drop the Magic from the top-10 to the bottom-10. They just went back to making the mistakes they made at the start of the season: poor communication on pick-and-rolls, allowing dump-off passes by the rim, and overhelping on drives that leave shooters open.
I’m not the type to dive into the psyches of the players and coaching staff, so I’m not gonna say they just don’t care enough or lack heart or anything like that. If that is the reason, though, it’s a disappointing way to lose what could have been a halfway-decent season.
That one time Mario Hezonja made a great play
Mario Hezonja’s been, well, meh lately. That’s actually good news! “Meh” is a sharp upgrade from “Huerk gggrrlglbrr *vomit* .”
He didn’t get the assist credit, but I appreciated that he was able to make a precision pass like this one, when precision’s been his greatest enemy since he entered the league. A couple games is hardly enough to prove he’s an NBA player, but for the first time in a while there’s a tiny bit of hope he can be a backup rotation kind of guy.
Really, he just needs one thing to break his way for his career to turn into something. If he can find his long-range touch, that’d be perfect, but even something like “Don’t commit the second-highest live-ball turnover rate in the NBA” would go a long way.
What’s coming up next?
1/27 - Magic @ Celtics - This week might actually be the toughest the Magic will face all season, in terms of quality of opponent, facing off against the Warriors, Celtics, and Raptors (in addition to the aforementioned Bulls). With the guard rotation thin, this could be a brutal game trying to defend the Celtics’ array of backcourt players (though a recent Avery Bradley injury helps the Magic’s cause a little).
1/29 - Magic @ Raptors - Oh hey, another game against a challenging array of backcourt players! A brief sidebar: Russell Westbrook not making the All-Star starters was the headline snub, but I’m much more upset about Kyle Lowry not starting in the East. It’s one thing for the fan vote to underestimate him, but it was disappointing to see the media only rank him 5th. If someone really believes DeMar DeRozan is the better player, all they’re paying attention to are those points per game. We should know better by now, people! There are plenty of All-Star caliber guards to choose from, but Lowry should have been an obvious starter.
1/30 - Magic @ T-Wolves - At the time of this writing, the Magic and Timberwolves sit an an equal 28 losses each, both struggling to find some kind of traction to salvage the season. If last time was any indication, however, this could be a bad matchup for Orlando, who could suffer at the hands of Minny’s inside-out game. The Magic could turn this into a shootout like they’ve done several other times this season, but that doesn’t tend to work out in the long run when the offense sputters out at the very end.