Media Day has arrived!
That means one thing and one thing only: the 2018-2019 season is near. We’ll get our first look at the Magic after an offseason in which they hired a new coach, drafted a player with the longest wingspan in the history of the league, and re-signed the face of the franchise.
Each move the Magic made brings questions, and we start to get the answers to those questions today....
1. Can the “B.I.G. Three” co-exist?
This is the biggest question of all, not just for this season, but for years to come. While most teams in the league are building around guards and swingmen, and prioritizing pace and perimeter shooting, the Magic have assembled a core built on frontcourt length, wingspan and defensive versatility. Not sure how much we’ll see early on of all three on the court at the same time, but for the three to ultimately gel on the offensive end, it will require consistent and efficient outside shooting from each to space the floor (and eventually a point guard who can facilitate and thread the needle). Don’t rush to judgement on B.I.G. this season. It’s going to be a multi-year process….And, for our shameless plug of the day, don’t forget to pick up your exclusive Orlando Pinstriped Post “Victorious B.I.G.” t-shirt before the season begins.
Every single person in Orlando needs to buy one of these immediately.... https://t.co/8Pk1b3jJnX— Orlando Pinstriped Post (@OPPMagicBlog) July 28, 2018
2. How many minutes per game does Mo Bamba play?
That leads to another question, and this one will likely have an unpopular answer: how many minutes will Mo Bamba play per game in his rookie season? Many on Magic Twitter want to throw Bamba into the fire and have him in the starting lineup right away to get some hands-on training and experience. What better time to do that than a rebuilding season that offers room for error? The Magic, though, will likely take a more calculated and patient approach, with Bamba coming off the bench behind Nikola Vucevic (put down whatever you are about to throw across the room!). Bamba’s time will come, but I wouldn’t be surprised if early on in the season he plays only 12 to 15 minutes per game at most.
3. How does Nikola Vucevic fit in?
The longest tenured player on the Magic enters what could possibly be his final season in Orlando. Having been here for six years, we are all well aware of what Vooch does and doesn’t do well. The drafting of Bamba has seemingly put an expiration date on Vucevic’s time with the Magic, barring his acceptance of an eventual back-up role and salary cut. I think Vooch will (and should) be in the starting lineup to open the season and serve as a mentor to Bamba, giving him time to develop physically and mentally in a reserve role. Vooch could very well find himself in a different uniform come the trade deadline, opening the door for an increased role for Bamba.
4. Can D. J. Augustin handle the starting job?
D.J. Augustin filled in admirably as starting point after Elfrid Payton was traded last season. Still, it came as a surprise to us all that he kept the job this offseason. Much has been made over the Magic’s point guard issues, including Augustin being ranked the worst starting point guard in the league. But strictly as a one-year stopgap during a rebuilding season, Augustin can handle the job before returning to his customary role of reliable back-up. And don’t be surprised if Augustin is challenged by Jerian Grant for the starting job at some point.
5. Who else is starting?
My guess for opening night: D.J. Augustin, Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic.
I’d say four of those are pretty set in stone (unless Bamba or Jonathan Isaac work their way in, but that likely won’t come until later in the season). I explained recently why Ross should return to the first unit over Jonathon Simmons. And I know Vucevic starting over Bamba will not go over well with the masses in Orlando, but it’s the right move early on.
6. Can the team stay healthy?
The Magic used far too many starting lineup variations last season because of the abundance of injuries the team suffered. Gordon, Vucevic and Fournier each missed 25 games, Ross missed 58, Isaac missed 55. That’s a lot of firepower in street clothes. If everyone can stay on the court, that alone will lead to internal improvement.
7. How much has Jonathan Isaac developed?
Lingering ankle injuries all but ruined Jonathan Isaac’s rookie season, limiting him to just 27 games and averages of 5.4 points and 3.7 rebounds. More importantly, we saw the pairing of Isaac and Aaron Gordon only in small doses, denying the Magic of a versatile and potentially suffocating defensive duo. Isaac shined during summer league, showing an aggression on the offensive end we didn’t see last season (albeit against lesser competition). If that translates to the games that count, Isaac could develop into the prototypical 3-and-D stretch four the Magic so desperately need.
8. Does Aaron Gordon take a leap?
Gordon showed flashes last season, now it’s time to show it on a nightly basis. Gordon is set to make over $21 million in the first year of his new deal, and with that lofty salary comes more responsibility and higher expectations. To meet those expectations, Gordon will have to improve his shot selection and display the outside consistency he showed early last season when he was shooting over 40 percent from three. If he can do so, he should be able to build upon his career-year and inch closer to the 20-point, 10-rebound per game benchmark. The Eastern Conference also has some availability on its All-Star roster.
9. Can Steve Clifford lead another turnaround?
Steve Clifford will be the Magic’s fifth head coach since 2014 (including interim coach James Borrego), and hopefully the last for a while. In his first season as head coach in Charlotte, Clifford inherited a team that had the second worst record in the league and led them to a 43-39 record and postseason berth. That type of quick turnaround is unlikely in Orlando (though not impossible), but if Clifford can help the Magic establish a defensive identify and also stress the importance of ball protection as he did in Charlotte, that will go a long way in helping the Magic improve overall. Beyond that, Clifford’s success will be measured by how well the Magic’s young players develop under him. (Please don’t play Bamba and Vucevic together!)
10. How many games will the Magic win?
The Magic went 25-57 last season and, over the last six years, are 157-325. With a new coach, another highly touted lottery pick in Bamba, continued improvement from Gordon, development from Isaac, and health from other key pieces, the Magic should take a clear step in the right direction next season. I’m expecting a modest improvement in terms of win-loss record with the Magic reaching the 30-win plateau, something they’ve done just once over the last six seasons. But once they get there, I don’t think they’ll go much higher, finishing 30-52. For me, the success of the upcoming season won’t be measured strictly in wins and losses. It’s about player development, building a cohesive unit, and setting the stage for 2019-2020 when the Magic’s will be coming off a summer in which they receive another lottery pick, financial flexibility, and hopefully, a young point guard. That’s when their quest for a playoff berth officially begins.