With the Magic having passed the midway point of the season, and while they’re currently in the midst of a three-day break, what better time to hand out some mid-season awards?
While some were easy choices, others were not so clear cut. Whether you agree or disagree, or have categories you’d like to add, feel free to join the debate.
Most Valuable Player: Aaron Gordon
Easy choice here. Gordon, in his fourth season, has currently set career-highs in every statistical category. At 22 years old, there is still plenty of room for improvement (specifically, consistently working within the flow of the offense, reducing his over-dribbling, opting to find the open teammate rather than forcing shots, etc.). By establishing himself as an outside threat, Gordon has rounded his game and is showing signs of developing into a player that could ultimately be a viable first-option. It’s unlikely Gordon is selected as an All-Star this season, but he is evolving into the cornerstone the Magic have long sought. Runner-up: Nikola Vucevic
Least Valuable Player: Terrence Ross
Before Ross suffered a knee injury that has kept him out since late-November, he was in the midst of the worst season of his career. Oddly, as the Magic emerged as an early season three-point shooting team, it was Ross, their top outside threat, that was struggling mightily with his shot. Averaging 9.0 points per game, the fewest since his rookie season, Ross was shooting 40.7 from the field, a career-low 32.9 percent from three, and had a true shooting percentage of 51.5 percent, also the lowest since his rookie season. He was replaced in the starting lineup in favor of Jonathon Simmons, and soon after, got injured. Runner-up: Elfrid Payton
Most Surprising Player: Wes Iwundu
In his limited role with the Magic, the second-round pick has shown flashes of his defensive prowess and play-making ability. Runner-up: Hmmm, kind of thin in this category.
Most Disappointing Player: Elfrid Payton
For the Least Valuable Player award above, we ranked Payton as the runner-up. But he takes home the trophy for this category. Supporters of EP will argue that we are being too harsh given his offensive production, which includes career bests in many categories. And even I must admit that Payton, though he will never have the range expected of point guards in a league that prioritizes spacing, is not the biggest issue for this Magic team. Simply put, watching him on the defense end can be infuriating. For a statistical analysis of Payton’s defensive shortcomings, check out Aaron Goldstone’s midterm progress reports. Now in his fourth season, a contract year at that, Payton hasn’t made any strides defensively, looks as lost as ever in pick-and-roll coverage, and has regressed overall on the defensive end. That is the reason he is taking home this award. Runner-up: Terrence Ross
Best game: Magic 114, Cavs 93
On October 21, the Magic played in Cleveland on the second-night of a back-to-back and without Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton, and routed the Cavaliers. The Magic built a 37-point lead and snapped a 17-game losing streak against the Cavs. Orlando connected on 17 of 35 threes (48.6 percent), which became something of an early season trend. It was the third game of the season, and hope began to seep in for Magic fans. It now feels like a lifetime ago. Runner up: Magic 114, Spurs 87 (no Kawhi Leonard, but still impressive)
Worst game: Jazz 125, Magic 85
On November 18, the Magic suffered one of the most lopsided losses in franchise history. Trailing by as many as 46 at one point, the 40-point loss matched the largest margin of defeat on their home court. Adding to the disappointment of the loss was that the Magic had just returned from a West Coast road trip, in which they had gone 1-3. In desperate need of a win to regain the momentum they had built with their early season success, they were routed in their own building by a Jazz team that was playing on the second night of a back-to-back and without Rudy Gobert. What had once been an 8-4 record for the Magic became 8-8, and Orlando has been under .500 ever since. Runner-up: Bulls 105, Magic 83 on November 3 (we should have known then)
Best individual performance: Aaron Gordon vs. Nets, October 24
Gordon set a career-high with 41 points, including the go-ahead three with 36 seconds remaining. He was highly efficient, shooting 14-for-18 from the field, and hitting all five of his three-point attempts. Honorable mention also goes to AG’s performance against the Thunder in November, during which he had 40 points and 16 rebounds. Gordon – who shot 13-for-23 from the field, including 6 of 12 from three – helped the Magic snap a nine-game losing streak. Runner-up: Nikola Vucevic, 41 points against the Nets on October 20 (6-for-8 from three)
Most likely to breakthrough in second half: Jonathan Isaac
An ankle injury has limited the rookie to 15 games so far this season. How much longer he will be out, no one really knows. But when he does return, it will be to a team in full tank mode (and possibly a gutted roster). When healthy and not limited by a minutes restriction, there will be plenty of opportunity for the 20-year old to develop his raw talent. Runner-up: Mario Hezonja, whether it be for another team after he is traded, or if trades open up more opportunities for him down the stretch with the Magic
Best off-season acquisition: Jonathon Simmons (three years, $18 million)
Early in the season, Jonathon Simmons had this award wrapped up. The gap has since closed with Simmons’ struggles since being inserted into the starting lineup and Mo Speights becoming a valuable veteran presence and vocal leader. Simmons has given the Magic a strong perimeter defender and a slasher who can get to the line, but his flaws as a turnover-prone ball stopper have also been exposed at times. On a team-friendly contract, he is still, IMO, a bargain and great signing. While I fully supported his move to the starting lineup, it has become apparent that he is better suited as a spark off the bench against second units. Speights, while he can win (or lose) games with his quick trigger and instant offense, has provided valuable leadership to a locker room in desperate need of it. Runner-up: Mo Speights
Worst offseason acquisition: Shelvin Mack (two years, $12 million)
As our Garrett Townsend wrote in his story about Magic back-up point guards over the last 10 years:
Orlando decided to splash $12 million across the next two years (the back half of which is mercifully unguaranteed) on Shelvin Mack, who has immediately proven himself to be a certified Magic backup PG by posting a career low shooting percentage and ranking as a net negative in terms of on court contributions as measured by basically every advanced stat.
Most likely to be traded: Evan Fournier
Some view Fournier’s contract as a bargain, others see it as an albatross. Set to make $17 million per year through 2021, I see it as an appropriately priced movable contract, though one that wouldn’t net much value in a trade. The Magic need a clean slate. With Fournier drawing interest - specifically from the Pistons, per Woj – the Magic need to pull the trigger on a salary dump and rebuild their core. As the trade deadline nears, contenders will look to add an outside threat and established scorer, so perhaps the Magic can find a deal in which they acquire some expiring contracts and don’t have to take on someone like Reggie Jackson. Runner-up: Nikola Vucevic, who had it not been for his broken hand, would have won this award.
Most immovable player: Bismack Biyombo
Biz is a rim protector, a high-energy guy, and a good teammate. Coming off a career-high 21-point game, he has played admirably since taking over for Nikola Vucevic in the starting lineup. But his play will never justify the contract Rob Hennigan gave him. At $17 million a year for two more seasons after this one, he is going nowhere. Runner-up: D.J. Augustin ($7.25 million per year through 2020)
Best play: Aaron Gordon’s block on Malik Monk
Aaron Gordon let rookie Malik Monk know he hasn’t earned that right yet. pic.twitter.com/YnMOVXCITy— The Lando (@TheLando__) October 30, 2017
Worst play: Mario Hezonja’s 4-on-1 fastbreak between-the-legs pass
Mario Hezonja might never play another minute for the Magic. pic.twitter.com/1rI0JzYApb— Harrison Wind (@HarrisonWind) December 29, 2017
Runner-up: Elfrid Payton’s “hair-ball”
Elfrid Payton airballs the floater because he can't see the rim through his hair pic.twitter.com/l9GfGG5daC— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) January 2, 2018
Best Elfrid Payton hair photo:
Best Aaron Gordon dunk photos:
Best disappointed Frank Vogel photo:
Most important remaining games:
Jan. 23 vs. Kings
Jan. 31 vs. Lakers
Feb. 8 vs Hawks
Mar. 3 vs. Grizzlies
Mar. 7 vs. Lakers
Mar. 9 vs. Grizzlies
Apr. 1 vs. Hawks
Apr. 4 vs. Mavericks.
All of which are must-lose games for the Magic to stay atop the tanking power rankings.
Is Elfrid Payton really the Magic’s most disappointing player? Was there a play that was worse than Mario Hezonja’s between-the-legs pass? Feel free to agree or disagree in the comment section below