Before the Magic ventured out to the West Coast for four games we debated what would be considered a successful trip.
A split of the four games seemed to be the consensus, with anything more being a bonus and anything less being a disappointment. Based on that theory, the Magic disappointed.
They were able to win the opener in Phoenix in convincing fashion before getting routed in Denver, falling in Golden State, and blowing an early 14-point lead in Portland.
With the Magic back on Florida soil, let’s now debate a few of the things we may have learned about the team during their 1-3 West Coast swing. Of course, everything below is the opinion of one man and you are free to agree or disagree.
The Magic are a .500 team
When the Magic jumped out to a surprising 6-2 start and were hitting threes like the second-coming of the Warriors, doubters said there would be regression. Now 8-7, their offensive and defensive ratings have dipped and they are tied for the eighth spot in the East with the Cavs. And that’s fine. Based on natural progression, the goal for this team should be to finish over .500 and sneak into the playoffs.
There will be games that they should win and don’t, and games where they aren’t expected to win yet do. It is part of the maturing process of a rebuilding team, one that had just 29 wins last season. Winning outside of Orlando, as evidenced by the current three-game losing streak, will continue to be a struggle. The Magic just have to do it often enough to finish a few games above .500 and secure a spot in the postseason.
Nikola Vucevic is not quite yet a true stretch-five
We may need to pump the brakes a little on giving Vucevic that title. He entered the road trip hitting over 41 percent of his three attempts. He connected on 6 of 18 attempts during the trip, and IMHO, his long range shot selection wasn’t as fluid as it had been previously this season when his attempts came within the flow of the offense. Some of his attempts were of the pre-release “WHAT IS HE DOING?!” variety.
As Vooch wandered beyond the three-point line out West, it seemed defenders were leaking off of him rather than fully contesting. That, of course, will change when he is knocking down threes more consistently and establishing a better balance between his inside and outside game. And on the positive side, just the threat of him launching threes changes the gameplan for opposing defenses and opens the floor for the Magic. So keep firing away, Vooch.
The Magic need help in the paint and on the boards
For those attacking the rim against the Magic, there is essentially a welcome mat lying at the free throw line. The Magic showed little resistance against slashers knifing their way down the lane, particularly against the Nuggets when they allowed 60 points in the paint. Orlando is now allowing 51.1 points in the paint per game, which is second worst in the league ahead of the Pacers, who allow 51.2. The Magic also allow 13.9 points per game off second-chance opportunities per game, which is seventh worst. The Magic are now averaging 40.2 rebounds per 100 possessions, which is second fewest in the league, and 7.4 offensive rebounds per 100 possessions, which is the worst in the league.
Putting a rim protector like Bismack Biyombo on the court completely compromises the Magic’s spacing on the offensive end. So, just throwing this out there: when Jonathan Isaac returns from injury, what do we think about experimenting with a lineup of Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Isaac and Vucevic? Isaac brings length, rebounding tenacity and the ability to be disruptive around the rim, all while still being capable of stretching the floor on the offensive end.
What did you learn about the Magic while they were out West? Join the debate below…