Nikola Vucevic’s absence
For the first time this season, the Orlando Magic will be without their best player.
After his wife gave birth to their first child on Monday, Nikola Vucevic will sit out the Magic’s game against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night. It will be Vucevic’s, who leads the Magic in points (20.6), rebounds (11.7) and steals (1.0), first missed game this season.
Not having Vucevic will be a monumental blow to the Magic, who have struggled with Vucevic on the bench this season. Not only does he lead the team in scoring, but his impact on the offensive end goes much deeper, with the gravity he has as a passing options out of the high post. The Magic will rely heavily on the likes of Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, D.J. Augustin and Terrence Ross to pick up the slack with Vucevic out.
Prior to Wednesday night’s game, coach Steve Clifford said the hope is that Vucevic will be able to return to practice on Thursday, and be able to travel to Chicago for Friday night’s game against the Bulls.
The absence of Vucevic also allows the Magic to get a look at Mo Bamba for extended minutes. Bamba, who has predictably come off the bench this season, has shown flashes of brilliance, but also struggled mightily through stretches of games, and with a tough assignment in All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, could have a long night.
It also allows the Magic a longer look at the “BIG” lineup, featuring Bamba, Jonathan Isaac, and Gordon. Across six games this season, that trio has played nine minutes together, and struggled mightily, posting a -34 net rating in those minutes. Moreover, the likely starting lineup of Augustin, Fournier, Gordon, Isaac and Bamba, has played a mere one minute together this season.
Needless to say, Wednesday night will be a challenge for the Magic against the Spurs with Vucevic, but also an important game for them to, potentially, see a little bit of what the future could hold, and what Mo Bamba can do for them at this point in his career.
It’s no secret that three-point shooting is an important piece of the puzzle in today’s NBA.
For the Magic, the three ball has become an even more important piece this season, and the Magic have, surprisingly, been highly efficient with that shot.
With a roster chalked full of below-average shooters, the Magic find themselves having more success than many expected, sitting 12th in three-point percentage through 29 games. They also average the 14th most attempts in the league (31.6), up almost two attempts per game from last season — they also finished last season with the third worst percentage in the league at 35.1 percent.
Earlier this season, coach Steve Clifford talked about the quality of the three’s they’ve been getting, saying his team needed to get into the paint more and kick it out to the open shooters. While it’s a simple, and common strategy, with players who lack the ability to get into the paint at will, it’s slowly becoming more and more of a challenge for the Magic.
Citing his teams last five games, Clifford said he hasn’t been pleased with the offense, mainly due to a lack of penetration.
“Going back now all the way to the Denver game here on, we haven’t been good offensively,” said Clifford. “We haven’t been inside out, [and] the ball hasn’t hit the paint as much... Tonight we’ll have to be on it. The balls going to have to be moving. We’re going to have to be getting the ball towards the basket to get good shots.”
Finding a way to getting back to what was working for them earlier this season is going to be a key for the Magic. They’ve knocked down the shots when they’ve gotten them, but the quality of the shots has decreased in recent weeks.
If the Magic want to keep their surprising season going, they’ll have to find a way to play inside-out more efficiently once again.