Yes, I had to do it to ‘em. My progress reports are back for another season (third season featured on this site, I’m blessed).
It doesn’t seem possible that the Magic have completed nearly 20% of their 2018-19 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 fifteen 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. Enjoy!
Aaron Gordon (14 games)
Gordon’s play has been up and down already this year, although maybe not as extreme as we saw at times last season. My main concern with the versatile forward coming into this season was his ability to perform with some sustained consistency. He’s been mostly good, posting five double-doubles on the season to date. The Arizona product has shot 50% or higher from the floor on seven different occasions, as well as 40% or higher from three-point distance in six contests. A few dud games (vs. Charlotte, at Milwaukee, vs. L.A. Clippers) have been sprinkled in from Gordon as well, and those kinds of nights are going to happen. But for the Magic to have the kind of success they hope for, they need continued consistency from their franchise cornerstone.
Gordon has been challenged by his head coach to play at an All-NBA defensive level. I’m not sure he’s played at that end with that kind of dominance yet, but he’s been better defensively (so far) than in past years. Gordon’s on/off metric of +14.1 per/100 possessions paces the Magic this season.
I still think Gordon is taking too many mid-range jumpers (roughly 22% of his FGA’s), but his shooting efficiency thus far has been nothing to really complain about. He’s converting nearly 80% of his attempts at the rim; more shots inside of three feet please (and free throw attempts, but that’s another story).
Gordon’s best game during this stretch: 10/17 vs. Miami
+9, 26 points (9-18 FG, 4-5 3PT), 16 rebounds
Nikola Vucevic (15 games)
Grade: A+ (Top of the class)
Say it all together now: Contract. Year. Vucevic is playing the best basketball of his career this season and was easily my pick for “Top of the Class” during this stretch.
Vucevic leads the Magic in points and rebounds per/36, defensive rating (among regular rotation players), player efficiency rating, rebounding percentage, win shares per/48, offensive box plus/minus, and box plus/minus. He’s already recorded nine double-doubles, including one triple-double, only 15 games into the young season.
The Magic have been running their offense through their Montenegrin center, and why not? Vucevic has knocked down 50% or more of his shots ten times this season, is converting over 40 percent of his three-point attempts, and he’s averaging a career high 4.2 assists per/36. I would still like to see Vucevic get to the charity-stripe a little more frequently (always my qualm with him), but I don’t think that’s an aspect of his game that’s going to improve/change at this point.
Vucevic’s best game during this stretch: 10/20 @Philadelphia
+12, 27 points (10-15 FG, 4-4 3PT), 13 rebounds, 12 assists
Evan Fournier (15 games)
To give Fournier credit where it’s due, his defense hasn’t been completely disastrous so far this season. Coach Clifford has been complimentary of Fournier’s defensive efforts (and contributions) numerous times already this year. I’m not sure I would go that far, but he’s been better this season compared to some of his past defensive metrics. He’s averaging a career high in steals per/36 and steal percentage. That’s not really indicative of defensive contributions, but it’s something.
If I were Clifford, I would be even more inclined to praise how willing Fournier has been this season to share the basketball. He’s leading the team in assist percentage while averaging a career high in assists per game (4.4 APG, career high for a season is 3.0).
With that being said, Fournier’s shooting has been really bad – and that’s what the Magic need from him above all else. He’s already suffered through ten games of shooting less than 40% from the field. “Don’t Google” has been way too good of a shooter in his NBA career for the numbers to stay down where they currently are, it’s only a matter of time before he breaks out.
Fournier’s best game during this stretch: 10/20 @Philadelphia
+19, 31 points (12-23 FG, 6-10 3PT), 4 rebounds
D.J. Augustin (15 games)
Augustin started the year off pretty slow through the first couple weeks of the season, but he’s come on strong as of late (has scored in double-figures in five of his last eight games).
Augustin hasn’t been a guy that has taken a ton of shots this season (I wish he would shoot more, only six games with 10+ field goal attempts), but he’s been especially efficient with the ones he has taken (TS% of 60.5% leads the team). Augustin leads the Magic in three-point percentage, offensive rating, and offensive win shares. He’s never been very efficient inside the arc, but fortunately enough for the Magic, Augustin attempts fewer two-point field goals (as a percentage of his overall attempts) than anyone in the regular rotation.
He’s basically been, outside of Vucevic, the most consistent offensive performer for the Magic so far this season. But as the story always goes with Augustin, he’s hurting the team defensively. Augustin has the lowest defensive box plus/minus metric of all the regular rotation players; his defensive rating is at the bottom as well.
Augustin’s best game during this stretch: 11/4 @San Antonio
+8, 18 points (6-10 FG), 7 assists, 5 rebounds
Terrence Ross (15 games)
Like Augustin, Ross is another guy for the Magic that started the year off slowly. His grade comes in a little higher for me (than Augustin) because he’s been Orlando’s best player for about a week.
Ross has been saddled with the burden of carrying a heavy offensive load as the leader off the bench for the Magic. The Oregon-native is counted on by Coach Clifford to provide the second unit with shooting, scoring, defense on the perimeter – pretty much everything. He’s currently leading the team in three-point makes per/36.
Ross has connected on three or more three-point attempts off the bench eight different times this season for the Magic. He’s averaging just under 20 points per/36 this year (has eclipsed the 20-point mark three times, including on back-to-back nights earlier this week in New York and Washington).
Ross’ best game during this current stretch: 11/11 @New York
22 points (8-12 FG, 5-8 3PTA)
Jerian Grant (15 games)
Grant’s numbers this year hide the fact that he was pretty unspectacular through the first few weeks of the season. Grant has turned it on as of late, which has raised his overall averages to a more respectable level.
The Notre Dame product leads the Magic in assists and steals per/36 minutes (as well as steal percentage). He’s also been scorching hot from three-point range for over a week, connecting on 7 of his last 11 attempts from distance.
Grant’s defense has been more than acceptable; his size and versatility gives Coach Clifford some match-up options off Orlando’s bench. I don’t anticipate Grant continuing to knock-down three’s at the clip he’s currently posting, but he’ll continue to receive minutes as long as he keeps defending.
Grant’s best game during this stretch: 11/9 vs. Washington
+5, 13 points (5-5 FG, 2-2 3PT)
Jonathon Simmons (13 games)
It’s been a miserable beginning to the ‘18-’19 season for Simmons. The Houston native had surgery in the off-season to repair an ailing right wrist, an injury the veteran swing-man is clearly still not fully recovered from.
Simmons’ shot has been pretty broken this year. He looks like he’s lost a lot of confidence in his jumper, which in turn is leading to Simmons putting his head down and forcing his way to the rim. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if Simmons is getting to the line, but too often this season bad things have occurred with the ball in his hands (turnovers, forced shots, ball stoppage).
The Magic are -10.4 per/100 with Simmons on the floor, which is considerably worse than when he’s off the floor. There’s nowhere for Simmons to go from here but up.
Simmons’ best game during this stretch: 11/11 @New York
+18, 9 points, 7 assists
Mohamed Bamba (15 games)
Bamba has been pretty much as advertised fifteen games into his rookie season. If anything, he’s probably been even a little better than I thought he would be this early in his career (considering how much work his body still needs).
His lower half is still so weak, he struggles mightily to hold positioning against veteran players (that’s usually the story with young players like Bamba). But his instincts and defensive awareness have been ahead of the curve. Bamba leads the Magic in block percentage, blocks per game, and defensive box plus/minus.
Bamba is fairly limited on offense to rim runs and three-point attempts; again, that is to be expected. He’s definitely a work in progress, and the Magic are more than happy to give him plenty of time to develop behind Vucevic. Bamba has already converted 50% or more of his attempts in eight contests this year.
Bamba’s best game during this stretch: 10/17 vs. Miami
+13, 13 points (6-8 FG, 1-2 3PT), 7 rebounds, 2 blocks
Okay Magic fans, lets hear it. Where did I go wrong? Am I too easy of a grader? My students would probably concur with that sentiment. Was I too harsh with anyone? Leave your comments below!