We’re back … again!
In our third installment, we continue the deep dive into Orlando’s 2017-18 season and anoint some more winners and losers. Be sure to check out Part I, which includes winners such as Mario Hezonja, and Part II, which includes losers such as Jonathan Isaac’s ankles.
Now for Part III....
Loser: Terrence Ross
This was a brutal season for Ross. He managed only 24 games thanks to injury, with a nasty MCL sprain and non-displaced fracture in his right leg basically ending his campaign in late November. It’s likely that this would already have been enough to cement loser status, but when considered alongside the fact that he apparently forgot how to shoot a basketball it ensures that such a designation was a lock.
Ross converted on less than 40% of his attempts from the field for the first time since entering the league, including a career-worst mark of 32% from beyond the arc. He struggled mightily in the mid-range game, ultimately racking up another dishonorable first by contributing negative offensive win shares on the season. His scoring totals only cracked double figures nine times, and he generally looked little like the 3-and-D wing that the Magic faithful envisioned. Shooting slumps can submerge even the greatest of players from time to time, so the hope will be that ‘Flight 31’ can raise those numbers a little higher next season once he’s totally back from injury.
Loser: Nikola Vucevic’s relationship with winning
Okay, I’m not trying to be mean, but I think we can put to bed any hope of ‘Vooch’ ever being a featured seven-foot cog in a winning basketball machine. The guy has been plying his trade in central Florida for six seasons now, and at no point has he convinced us that he is the man to lead this team out of its interminable rebuild. He gets his numbers, sure, and it remains plausible that he may one day carve out a role as a support player for a team competing in the playoffs. It just seems unlikely that it ever happens in Orlando - that horse has bolted.
It’s actually a real shame, because Vucevic has made legitimate improvements to his game over the last few years. These days he moves and reacts better on defense, has steadily become more of a passing threat, and has purged many of the inefficient long-twos he had in his game in favour of the more valuable three-ball. Ultimately, though, it simply hasn’t added up to much in the win column. It’s absolutely unfair to lay all of this precisely at his feet (as our own Aaron Goldstone points out, the big guy isn’t the one responsible for compiling the mess of a roster he has called home this last half-decade), but Vucevic has simply been sprayed by Orlando’s skunk of failure one too many times. A winner he ain’t.
Winner: Khem Birch, Destroyer of Worlds
In regards to the charges brought against the defendant by the ASPCA may I present to you Exhibit A, wherein a remorseless Mr. Birch repeatedly commits acts of cruelty against the NBA’s preeminent KAT.
Winner: Rodney Purvis
The 24-year old Purvis had things cooking in the G League before eventually securing two ten-day contracts with the Magic. After impressing in those outings he parlayed his good play into a contract for the final nine games of the season, including a couple of starts. Although he struggled with his shot and never really had the break out performance he would have been hoping for, the season was undoubtedly a win for the undrafted ‘tweener’ guard out of UConn. Dude played in the NBA, and could very well be back again next year with a strong showing in Summer League. That type of upward trajectory is good for a win by any measure.
Winner: Jonathon Simmons, bench spark plug
Holy cow, remember the flying start that Simmons got off to in his opening season in pinstripes? ‘Juice’ was the featured super-sub in 19 of the team’s first 20 games, generally excelling in the role. He averaged 14, 3 and 2 on some very strong shooting numbers across these contests, including a sizzling (for him) 37% on attempts from beyond the arc. He was asked to be more of a playmaker with the second unit, making solid use of what would have easily been a career-high 24.5% of possessions while on the court. This helped him emerge as an offensive creator that the team could lean on to keep the scoreboard ticking over while the starters sat, and even occasionally down the stretch. His offseason signing looked like such a steal for the franchise that the work experience kid was undoubtedly told to start looking for ways to clear space in the trophy cabinet to make room for an incoming NBA Executive of the Year Award.
Loser: Jonathon Simmons, overmatched starter
By the time December rolled around Simmons was entrenched as a starter, a consequence of both his strong play and the team’s injury concerns. However, the move apparently sapped him of his (*groan*) magic, as his statistical output and general effectiveness tapered off. Shooting cooled, turnovers increased, and both the team’s offensive and defensive ratings took a bit of a hit as he racked up greater minutes. Some of this was undoubtedly a result of our dear old friend regression, but there was also the fact that he was now going against the top lines rolled out by the opposition. This level of responsibility and attention exposed some of the weaknesses in his game, particularly his tendency to over-dribble and grind possessions to a halt as he looked to attack off the dribble. A key for the Magic going forward will be to figure out how to best employ Simmons’ skillset; 2018 suggested it’s probably not as a starter.
Loser: Fox Sports Florida
David Steele, Jeff Turner and the team at Fox consistently put out a good product when it comes to gameday coverage, even if the numbers suggest that not many people are tuning in. Instead, they’ve been slugged by the team’s inability to field a winning side. The Magic had the second worst ratings in the league (thanks, Brooklyn!), a number they careened into after a 25% drop from the previous season. Turns out it’s pretty hard for the average fan to justify a couple of hours out of their day multiple times a week when the team is only racking up Ls.
Winner: The OPP Community
Incoming cheap pop: despite the fact that the on-court product hasn’t always been the best, the wonderful community here keeps on coming back to partake in lively discussion, spirited debate and shared lamentation. Rain, hail or shine, you’re here talking Magic. Work, rest or play, you’re here talking Magic. Win, lose or … lose ( ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ), you’re here talking Magic. And for that we thank you!
And there we have it! Just in case you weren’t certain, we can now confirm that the Magic’s campaign was indeed a losing one, with the philosophical losses accounting for the philosophical wins by a final margin of 10 to 9. Now we just need to collectively cross our fingers and hope that it doesn’t take another six years for the team to reverse the result.