The Orlando Magic finally take the court on Monday.
And they’ll do so with a new coach, a new prized rookie and newfound anticipation and optimism for the coming season.
But there will also be questions and concerns, which will first be answered and addressed when they will face the 76ers in Philadephia at 7 p.m. on Monday. Here are 10 things to keep an eye on in the Magic’s preseason opener....
The Starting Lineup
We’ll get our first answers to the season just by seeing who is on the court for the Magic during the opening tip. My guess would be D.J. Augustin, Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic. Does Jonathon Simmons, recovering from wrist surgery, get the nod over Ross, who lost his starting job to Simmons last season and then went on to miss 58 games to injury? Does Jonathan Isaac, who played in just 27 games as a rookie, crack the first unit in the preseason opener? Does Mo Bamba, the long-term center for the Magic, get thrown right into the fire over Vucevic, the longest tenured player on the team and free-agent-to-be? We find out tonight.
Who’s first off the bench?
We discussed this a few weeks back and the logical pick is Jonathon Simmons, assuming he is healthy and set to play. Simmons, who brings a change of pace with his ability to attack the rim and get to the free throw line, was at his best last season when anchoring the second unit. How and when Isaac and Bamba first come off the bench, assuming neither starts, is something we all will be playing close attention to.
Style of Play
Steve Clifford, as head coach in Charlotte, helped the Hornets finish in the top 10 in defensive rating in three of his five seasons at the helm. The Magic, at 107.7 points allowed per 100 possessions, ranked tied for 19th in the league in defensive rating last season. How much influence will Clifford have on the defensive end early on? Offensively, do the Magic slow their pace (100.3 possessions per last season, 10th highest in the league), shoot more or less threes (2,405 attempts last season, a franchise record), and reduce their turnovers (13.3 per game last season), a trademark of Clifford’s offenses in Charlotte?
Bamba vs. Embiid: Part I of Many (and Bamba’s minutes)
WARNING: MO BAMBA MAY HAVE A LIMITED ROLE THIS SEASON FOR THE ORLANDO MAGIC. Do not be surprised to see the Magic’s prized rookie play under some form of minutes restriction as he continues to develop and prepare his 7-foot frame for the grind of the NBA. He averaged 19.7 minutes per game in summer league. Does he get more or less in the preseason opener? We can only hope it’s more on Monday considering he would be going up against Joel Embiid, the top center in the East who has already been battling with Bamba on the court and social media. In fact, Bamba’s first ever tweet mentioned Monday’s game...
The development of Jonathan Isaac
Having missed all but 27 games during his rookie season due to lingering ankle issues, Isaac returns to the court at full strength against NBA veteran talent for the first time in a long time. During summer league, he displayed impressive aggression on the offensive end, averaging 14.3 points per game despite shooting just 35 percent from the field. Does he maintain that aggressiveness and assertiveness and continue to expand his offensive arsenal in the preseason and regular season? Or is he better suited as catch-and-shoot, corner three specialist? And while we’re on the subject, what kind of development do we see in Isaac’s fellow second-year player, Wes Iwundu?
The rise of Aaron Gordon
It’s the first game for Gordon after his career year and payday. How does he build off of it and continue to grow? Clifford has said that the goal for Gordon should be to make the NBA All-Defensive first-team. On the offensive end, Gordon will need to tighten the reins on his shot selection and improve his efficiency, continue to improve his three-point shooting (28.8 percent on 267 attempts in 2016-2017 and 33.6 percent on 342 attempts in 2017-2018), and further establish himself as a player that can be handed the ball in must-score, late-game situations.
D.J. Augustin at the point
Assuming D.J. Augustin gets the starting nod on Monday, it will be the first of many games where the Magic’s lack of point guard depth is analyzed and dissected. Augustin, a trusted and productive back-up point guard throughout his career, gets his first opportunity to silence the critics. And we also get a first look at Clifford’s point guard rotation and minutes allocation...But how exactly are the Magic going to defend Ben Simmons?!
The new additions
On the Magic’s bench are plenty of newly acquired players with plenty to prove. That starts with Jerian Grant, who could ultimately challenge Augustin for minutes and the starting job as the Magic try to find out what they have with the fourth-year point guard in the final year of his rookie deal. Another former first round pick entering the final year of his rookie deal is 6-10 power forward Jarell Martin. Can he and others - like former Kentucky Wildcat/international POY Isaiah Briscoe, Lakeland’s own Troy Caupain, or second round pick Melvin Frazier Jr. - make the most of the exhibition playing time they may receive and crack the Magic rotation?
The return of Terrence Ross
Terrence Ross is healthy. Terrence Ross is in a contract year. Terrence Ross is worth keeping an eye on.
Nikola Vucevic...and the frontcourt logjam
Nikola Vucevic made a career-high 64 three-pointers last season on 31.4 percent shooting, this after hitting just 30 over the first six years of his career. Now Clifford wants to see more balance from Vooch and a return to the post and mid-range. It will be fascinating to watch how Vucevic is utilized and balanced, primarily with Bamba, but also with Khem Birch. And I guess Timofey Mozgov will have to play at some point, right? Maybe. Maybe not. Probably not.