The eve of the Orlando Magic’s season opener has arrived.
To breakdown the upcoming season, OPP’s Aaron Goldstone, Zach Oliver and Mike Cali sat down for a season preview roundtable. Instead of using the traditional Q&A format, we went with a fill in the blank style and it produced a wide range of answers.
We tackle all subjects: from predicting Aaron Gordon’s stats, to guessing the member of the Magic most likely to be traded, to listing the Magic players in franchise history that we would most like to have dinner with.
Feel free to answer some or all of the questions yourself in the comments below.
The Magic’s season will be _______.
Aaron: …another developmental year. With an all new coaching staff, and a roster that’s in a bit of a transition (Veterans such as Vucevic, Ross, Augustin eventually giving way to guys like Gordon, Isaac, and Bamba).
Mike: …a step in the right direction. I’m not basing the season’s success on wins and losses, despite the fact that Magic fans have waited long enough to focus on winning. The foundation is officially in place, the front office has a clear plan, and it will all start to come together this season in the development phase.
Zach: …an up-and-down one. I think there will be high moments, but there’s going to be some low moments also. They’re inevitably going to struggle through portions of the season, as they have the past few, and it’s not going to be easy for anyone involved.
The Magic’s primary goal this season should be to ______.
Aaron: …to compete every night. Additionally, the Magic should look to get Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, and Mohamed Bamba on the floor together (in the second half of the season) as much as possible
Mike: …to put Aaron Gordon, Mo Bamba and Jonathan Isaac in the best position to succeed. Building chemistry between the trio and getting an idea of if this little frontcourt project can actually work in the landscape of today’s NBA takes top priority this season.
Zach: …to develop Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba. Isaac and Bamba expect to be a big part of the Magic’s future, and continuing to develop them this season will be important for their potential future success.
The Magic’s starting lineup should be ____, _____, _____, _____ and ______.
Aaron: …D.J. Augustin, Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross, Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Vucevic.
Mike: …D.J. Augustin, Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic. That’s my opening night starting lineup. By the end of the season I’d like to see (and expect to see) Jerian Grant, Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba on the court for the opening tip.
Zach: …D.J. Augustin, Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic. I think this is the best option for the Magic to start the season. They need as much shooting as possible, and it still leads to the potential of flexibility with rotations.
Aaron Gordon will average ____ points per game this season and he will ______.
Aaron: Aaron Gordon will average 16.5 points per game this season but I think he will slightly improve his scoring/shooting efficiency, which is obviously a plus. Gordon’s scoring average will dip a little due to other guys being available who were mostly out last year.
Mike: Aaron Gordon will average 18.5 points per game this season and he will have a more disciplined shot selection under Steve Clifford. Having a healthy Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross on the floor this season should open things up and give Gordon more room to use his athleticism to his advantage against less agile power forwards.
Zach: Aaron Gordon will average 19 points per game this season and he will focus more on defense. Last season Gordon was up-and-down, not always bringing it, unless the team was playing a big name. This season Gordon will show more consistency, especially on the defensive end, bringing it on a nightly basis.
When the season ends, Nikola Vucevic will be playing ________.
Aaron: …elsewhere. I know that’s not very specific, but I do think he will be dealt to a contender at the deadline. Unfortunately, a potential Vucevic deal will probably look similar to Payton’s deal last season (a second-round pick returning to Orlando). His contract is expiring; thus, teams likely won’t be willing to give up a whole lot to acquire him.
Mike: …behind Mo Bamba right here in Orlando. The market for expiring contracts isn’t nearly what it once was, and the return that the Magic might be offered won’t be enough to warrant giving away his production and value as a mentor. Depending on the free agency market, Vooch may even ultimately decide to re-sign with Orlando at a reduced rate to serve as Bamba’s back-up.
Zach: …in Orlando. They’ll look at deals around the deadline, but ultimately decide to hold onto their incumbent starter.
Mo Bamba will be the Magic’s starting center by _______.
Aaron: …late February. See my previous response about Vucevic; I believe Bamba will be handed the reins post-Trade Deadline.
Mike: …Christmas or so. The Magic will quickly show they are a lottery team, Bamba will show enough development and potential to earn the promotion, and Vucevic will show enough of the flaws that have always irritated the fanbase to convince the organization to make the swap.
Zach: …2019. Aside from likely starting a game here or there when Nikola Vucevic ultimately misses time, I don’t think we see Bamba has a full-time starter this season.
Jonathan Isaac is best suited as a ______.
Aaron: …an NBA player. I know, that’s lame. What I mean is, I haven’t seen nearly enough of Isaac to know what he’s best suited to be (position-wise). He just needs minutes/games under his belt. And of course, he needs to be healthy.
Mike: …a potential stretch-four. And that makes me very curious to see how the interchangeable 3-4 combo of Isaac and Aaron Gordon will work this season when they are on the court together.
Zach: ...a power forward. He’s a power forward. Sure, he might be able to switch some and play a little three, but he’s a power forward.
D.J. Augustin as your starting point guard is __________.
Aaron: …“is-what-it-is”. Augustin is a savvy veteran who will be fine leading this team for the time being. We know he’s not a top-15 NBA point guard or anything, he never has been. He’s a solid NBA back-up point guard who happens to start for a bad team. I think the Magic will give Jerian Grant a look as the lead guard by season’s end.
Mike: …not nearly as big a deal as many are making it seem. He’s a perfectly capable fill-in as a one-year stopgap at point guard in a rebuilding season: a reliable game-manager who can spread the floor and won’t make too many mistakes. But next season, a new starting point guard via the draft or free agency, would be a welcome addition, making Augustin the quality back-up he has been throughout his career.
Zach: …is fine. I wrote about how Augustin is a fine option at point guard, and how he’s going to have another good year. He’ll take a big leadership role, and be a good option overall.
The biggest challenge facing Steve Clifford is ________.
Aaron: breaking the guys from some of their bad habits. It’s cliché, but I think one of the biggest challenges facing Clifford and his staff will be changing the team’s (losing) culture. There’s a handful of guys in that locker room that have lost a lot of games in Orlando.
Mike: …building a cohesive offensive unit. Clifford isn’t exactly known as an offensive mastermind and the Magic don’t exactly have the pieces to form an offensive juggernaut. So exactly what kind of system will we see on the offensive end?
Zach: …rotational balance. I feel like the depth is a bit better -- assuming everyone stays healthy -- but how they balance Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac will be interesting. Same with Evan Fournier, Jonathon Simmons and Terrence Ross on the wing.
The most underappreciated player on the Magic is _________.
Aaron: …Nikola Vucevic, and I don’t think it’s really close. His defensive shortcomings are wildly exaggerated at times. I just don’t get it, he’s a quality pro.
Mike: …DJola Augevic. I couldn’t decide between Nikola Vucevic and D.J. Augustin so I just combined the two into one answer. Each have shortcomings, and I understand the need to vent at times, but neither deserve the endless criticism they receive from some.
Zach: …D.J. Augustin. I get it, he isn’t a sexy name at point guard, but had a quietly solid year last year. I think he’s going to be important for the team, especially playing with pace, offensively, and will take a big leadership role.
The player on the Magic most likely to surprise this season is _______.
Aaron: ...Terrence Ross. Coming off a season wrecked by a knee injury last year, Ross is off the NBA radar. However, ’18-’19 is a contract year for the versatile swingman, and I envision Ross bouncing-back in a big way.
Mike: …Jerian Grant. The former All-American and first round pick obviously needs to improve his shooting for this to happen (career 41.1 percent shooter, 31.1 percent from three), but he set career-highs in the main statistical categories last season, including 4.6 assists per game in 22.8 minutes per game (7.3 assists per 36 minutes). The Magic have a void at point guard this season, and Grant has the potential and opportunity to fill it.
Zach: ...Jarrell Martin (pictured above). I don’t think many people have a real idea what Martin can do. His versatility is going to be important off the bench, and I think, if he gets consistent minutes, could put together a fairly nice season.
In order for the combination of Bamba/Isaac/Gordon to be effective, the Magic must _______.
Aaron: ...give it time. I think that trio can be dominant defensively very soon. With Gordon’s athleticism, Bamba’s length, and Isaac’s instincts, opposing offenses will find themselves in a nightmarish situation. But I think it will take time for the trio to gel offensively, as well as a couple seasons (at least) for the organization to put the correct pieces around them (more shooting, facilitators, etc.).
Mike: …be patient. If the B.I.G. frontcourt is to become a successful, breaking the mold of teams built around pacing, spacing and three-point shooting, it is probably not going to happen in the first game, first month or even the first season. The Magic will have to find the right personnel to surround them with, including shooters and a traditional starting point guard.
Zach: ...surround them with shooting. The Bamba, Isaac, Gordon trio is still too streaky shooting wise, so they need guys who can knock down shots, and hopefully open up some driving lanes, and suck the defense out of the paint a little bit.
Check back tomorrow for Part II of our Orlando Magic Season Preview Roundtable