We’re back! After the first installment of this season’s winners and losers the ledger stood square at three apiece, which means it’s time for us to break the deadlock. Who or what else came out ahead at the end of game 82, and who or what else ending up taking an L? Let’s dive in and find out!
Winner: Jonathan Isaac
This might seem like a bold call for a rookie who played only 27 games, but it really isn’t. Despite the fact that he basically can’t shoot the ball at all at this stage of his career (39% on two point field goals!) Isaac’s defensive worth is such that the team looks entirely different at that end of the court with him on the floor. The sample size is only small but opposing teams scored 7.6 points per-100 possessions less against the Magic when his lanky frame was on patrol. To the eye test he has the potential to be a long term difference maker as he communicates well, rotates from the help position, disrupts plays, and can switch a number of different assignments on the perimeter. He’s also a ballhawk: if he had played enough minutes to qualify his steal and block rates both would have ranked top ten in the league. It’s easy to salivate at the thought of Isaac and Gordon locking down opposing wings and bigs with endless switching and intruding limbs for years to come. Hopefully this season was but a glimpse.
Loser: Jonathan Isaac’s ankles
Now we need to talk about the number 27. For a fanbase still suffering recurring nightmares featuring the ankles of Grant Hill, tracking the ongoing woes of Isaac’s lower leg injury concerns this year was an unpleasant task. In mid-November he rolled his right ankle blocking an Emmanuel Mudiay shot attempt, and was expected to miss a couple of weeks. He returned a little over a month later, only to be shut down indefinitely after a few games due to ongoing pain in the same ankle. Inactive is how Isaac would remain until the start of March, when he surprisingly returned to the lineup. However, he sadly wasn’t able to survive until the end of the season unscathed, with this time a left ankle injury sending him back to the sideline. Magic fans would have felt pretty good about what they saw from the youngster in just 27 games....next season they’ll just be hoping to see two good ankles.
Loser: Frank Vogel
I don’t think anyone could really argue that the last two years are Vogel’s fault. Sure he stuck with some players who probably didn’t deserve the ongoing faith of their coach. Sure he was often incredibly slow to make meaningful changes to the rotation. Sure his reputation as a defensive maestro never came to fruition with this particular roster. Sure from about February on he seemed to be actively planning his summer holiday while he stood on the sideline. Yet through all the losing he maintained a positive disposition (which cannot be said about the last coach) and he kept turning up to work (which cannot be said about the last coach). In 2018 Frank’s team lost a lot of games, his head lost a lot of hair, and then he lost his job.
Winner: Draft Enthusiasts
Do you love the excitement of ping pong balls and lottery odds? How about the NBA Draft itself, with its multitude of surprises and boundless optimism? Well, if you answered yes to both and also happen to support the Orlando Magic you’re in luck - for the sixth year running the team will be picking in the upper echelons of the league’s annual event.
It’s fair to wonder exactly how many Magic fans remain enamored with the draft. For this particular franchise recent lottery trips have seen the giddiness of promise and potential eventually give way to some degree of disappointment time and time again. Hezonja and Payton were misses, Gordon has been good but not great, and the team gave up on Oladipo (not to mention Sabonis!) far too early. The team hasn’t hit the home run it’s been looking for, and a few late season wins likely aren’t going to make that already tricky process any easier this year.
Still, for those that love the NBA draft and all that it entails -- projections, predictions, mocks, trades, wingspan, booing the commissioner, awkward photos, etc. -- it’s a pretty good time to be a fan of the Magic. They’ll likely be hanging out in the lottery for a while longer yet.
Loser: The Rebuild (again)
This particular losing status could also have been awarded to “those who enjoy the number 36”. The Magic’s never-ending rebuild rolled through it’s sixth year of 35 or less wins and, sadly, the end still doesn’t seem to be in sight. The 2018 squad was still largely paying for the sins of last summer when former-GM Rob Hennigan decided to try and accelerate the rebuild by trading for Serge Ibaka and signing a few high-price veterans in free agency. This false start ended up being a double whammy: it set the rebuild back while also limiting the team’s flexibility going forward. A tough job made even tougher.
Casualties of the rebuild were seen everywhere this season. The Magic said goodbye to their former lottery pick Payton at the trade deadline, shipping him to Phoenix for a minimal return. They also kind of said goodbye to another former lottery pick in Hezonja at the start of the season, but then watched him stick around for another 82 games and actually play pretty well (classic Orlando). The hoped for leap from Gordon didn’t stick, while the retainment of Fournier now looks more costly and less palatable only 24 months on. Ultimately the supposed building blocks of this rebuild were exposed as a faulty foundation.
As the Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence (or, you know, True Detective) taught us all, time is a flat circle and life is ultimately a case of endless repetition. For lifelong fans of the Orlando Magic this will definitely ring true.
Stay tuned for Part III of “Winners and Losers” coming soon!