It doesn’t seem possible that the Magic have already completed over 12% of their 2017-18 schedule. Let’s visit who on the roster has been pulling their own weight and who needs to start playing better sooner rather than later.
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.
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!
Aaron Gordon (8 GP), Grade: A+ (Top of the Class)
Gordon still frustrates me, quite often actually. He seems so lost at times with his decisiveness; sometimes he puts his head down and goes when he should pull it out, other times he pulls up when he should go right to the rack or back someone down. But he’s still just a kid, even in his fourth year in the NBA. And when he figures out a shot-selection repertoire that works both for him and the team, watch out!
With that being said, we may be seeing the beginning of Aaron Gordon making his proverbial NBA leap. Through the first ten games, Gordon leads the team in points per/36, PER, FG%, 3PT%, TS%, Win Shares per/48, and box plus/minus. Compared to last season, Gordon is clearly more comfortable in his now permanent role as the team’s power forward. Gordon has already recorded two double-doubles, shot over 50% from the field four times, and connected on three or more three-point attempts three times this season.
Best game in this stretch - 41 points (14-18 FG), 14 rebounds vs. Brooklyn (10/24)
Evan Fournier (8 GP), Grade: A+ (Top of the Class)
Evan has played like one of the top offensive wings in the NBA so far in 2017, there’s no denying that. Fournier either leads or is second on the team in the following offensive categories: Points per/g, 3PTM per/g, 3PT%, TS%, Offensive Win Shares, Win Shares, and Offensive Plus/Minus.
Evan has been a net negative defensive presence thus far, but just barely. Considering the lift that Fournier has given the Magic for long stretches so far this season on offense, you can live with his defense on the wing (which again, really hasn’t been that bad). My main gripe with Evan has been his lack of proficiency finishing at the rim. Fournier ranks dead last on the roster (out of guys who have played at least 100 minutes) in FG% at the rim (0-3 feet); that is surprising. I would also like to see Fournier get to the line more. But I’m just nitpicking, he’s been pretty darn good.
Fournier has shot over 50% from the field in seven of Orlando’s first ten games, including five games in which he’s connected on three or more three-point attempts. Incredibly, Fournier has gone over 20 points in eight of Orlando’s first ten games.
Best game in this stretch - 28 points (9-15 FG), 6 rebounds vs. Brooklyn (10/24)
Nikola Vucevic (10 GP), Grade: A
Ask and you shall receive. Vucevic is shooting “three’s” this season, rejoice! I wrote a piece this past offseason about different ways that the Magic can generate floor-spacing, and one of the options was simply suggesting that Nik should consistently take a step or two back from where he’s been hoisting shots up his whole career. How about 4.9 3PTA’s per/36 thus far this season? It seems as if Vucevic is following in the line of NBA centers such as Brook Lopez, Al Horford, and Marc Gasol, who have all added the consistent threat of a three-point shot to their arsenal. Vucevic has connected on two or more three-point attempts four different times already this season.
Vucevic is easily off to his best shooting season in his career (2017 TS% - 58%, Career TS% - 53%) while attempting from a career high average distance (2017 average FGA distance - 14 feet, Career average - 9.5 feet). Vucevic’s defense has been unremarkably average, if not legitimately solid, which as we all know is huge. There’s really no debate at this point who the best center on the roster is, while there may have been one at this point last year. Nik has still been anemic when it comes to getting to the free-throw line (1.6 FTA per/36). His rebounding has dropped off a bit as well so far this season; that could be a product of either playing further from the rim on offense, and/or Aaron Gordon experiencing a slight uptick in rebounds (as well).
Best game in this stretch - 41 points (17-22 FG), 12 rebounds @ Brooklyn (10/20)
Terrence Ross (10 GP), Grade: C-
Yuck. I have a feeling this is the grade I’m dishing out that I will hear about in the comments below, but let’s be honest. Ross has been really bad. Terrence Ross has been one of Orlando’s best perimeter defenders this season, I get it. He’s been given tough defensive assignments that have put him in a position on any given night to defend any one of three positions. That’s why I was generous enough to give him a “C-” and not a “D” or an “F”. He is contributing on one end of the court, I recognize that.
But come on. Without the defensive contributions, he’s basically been Mario Hezonja (to be absolutely clear - this is not me saying Hezonja should be getting Ross’ minutes moving forward). Ross has been a streaky player his entire career, this is nothing new. He really wasn’t special last season for the Magic either, outside of a few contests. Ross will have better stretches ahead of him this season, I’m pretty confident about that (how could it get worse?). Out of the regular rotation players this season, Ross ranks last on the Magic in PER, TS%, Offensive Win Shares, and Win Shares per/48.
Best game in this stretch - 15 points (5-11 FGA), 6 rebounds vs. Miami (10/18)
Jonathon Simmons (10 GP), Grade: B+
Make no mistake here, Simmons has been terrific. I think the play of Gordon, Fournier, and Vucevic has been so exceptional this season that the grading-standard in this volume of progress reports may be a bit higher than usual.
But one could make an argument that Simmons has been one of the major reasons why things have been different for the Magic this season. Out of all the stellar play that has come out of the beginning of this season, I think I trust Simmons’ start the most. He is relentless; even when his shot isn’t falling, Simmons is not going to stop attacking. Simmons knows only one speed, evidenced by his sheer effort at getting to the free-throw line (6.3 FTA per/36, leads team). I would like to see him cut down on the 3.3 TO’s per/36 he’s posted so far this season, but a good bit of that has to do with Simmons playing with the ball in his hands way more than most of us expected (the last couple of games especially, due to injuries of course). Simmons is taking a career high 14.2 FGA’s per/36 and scoring a career high 20.9 points per/36 with the Magic in ‘17.
Interestingly enough, Simmons has been a negative plus/minus defensive player with the Magic this season. An argument can be made that his sub-par defensive numbers (DRtg, DWS, DPM, etc.) are a product of the other guys he’s sharing the floor with, but still it’s something that I’m monitoring.
Best game in this stretch - 27 points (9-15 FG), 4 steals @ Charlotte (10/29)
D.J. Augustin (8 GP), Grade: B+
Augustin was thrust into the starting point guard role three games into the season after Elfrid Payton went down with a hamstring injury in Brooklyn. Augustin then proceeded to play some of his best ball in a Magic uniform during a six-game stretch in which the Magic went 5-1.
However, Augustin went down in Memphis with a hamstring injury as well. He’s missed the last two games, and Augustin’s absence has been felt on the court in Orlando. Augustin easily paces the squad through ten games with a team high Offensive Rating of 128 (per 100 possessions).
Best game in this stretch - 19 points (5-8 FG), 6 assists vs. Brooklyn (10/24)
Shelvin Mack (9 GP), Grade: C+
Mack has been solidly adequate. If you’re disappointed with Shelvin Mack’s play, I have to ask you what exactly you expect out of him? He is what he is at this point in his NBA career. I doubt the Magic expected he would be playing this much early in the season, but injuries happen.
Mack has provided steadiness at times, but it’s never going to be flashy. Mack has posted well over a 3:1 A/TO ratio, I’m very pleased with that. His shooting numbers are exactly on par with his career averages, so nothing really to see there.
For me, he’s just a quality end of the bench NBA player that has been forced to play more minutes so far this year than he will have to once Payton and Augustin get healthy. Until then, “return of the Mack”.
Best game in this stretch - 9 points (3-4 FG), 8 assists @ Memphis (11/1)
Jonathan Isaac (9 GP), Grade: B
I have to admit, I’m taking age and experience (or lack thereof) into consideration with this grade. Blindly, the numbers alone feel more like a “C+/B-” grade is appropriate, but it’s not. I’ve certainly seen worse ten-game stretches played by 20 year-old rookies in the NBA. I have to admit, I was very wrong about Isaac’s NBA readiness.
It’s no secret that I was a huge fan of the Magic taking Dennis Smith Jr. in last summer’s draft, but I came to terms with the selection of Isaac rather quickly. Still, I went into this season with little expectations for Isaac, I just didn’t think his body was ready to compete with professionals.
The young man has a ways to go on offense, but he is a legitimate NBA defensive player already (and honestly, the offense hasn’t been bad). He routinely causes problems and finds a means to contribute in so many ways that don’t show up in a box score. Isaac deflects passes, takes charges, alters shots. After ten professional games, Isaac leads the Magic in defensive plus/minus. To be honest, the next Magic player in that metric is not even close to Jonathan Isaac (Isaac - 2.7, Vucevic - 1.4).
Best game in this stretch - 7 points (2-3 FG), 3 blocks @ Memphis (11/1)
Incomplete: Elfrid Payton, Bismack Biyombo, Mario Hezonja, Marreese Speights, Arron Afflalo
Thoughts? Weigh-in with your comments below!