We’ve made it Magic fans. There have been some high’s this season (at Boston, at San Antonio, vs. Philadelphia, L.Ax2, vs. Toronto), and there have been numerous bumps in the road as well (especially lately). The official mid-point of Orlando’s 2018-19 schedule is here.
My progress reports are back for another season (third season featured on this site, I’m blessed). If you missed the first volume, Nikola Vucevic earned the highest grade in the class after the team’s first fourteen games due to his stellar shooting and solid defense. Vucevic again earned the highest grade in my second volume (which covered the team’s next fourteen games). Let’s explore 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 Orlando’s 41 games played this season, 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 (39/41 Games Played)
15.2 PTS, 7.5 REB, 3.3 AST
For me, Aaron Gordon has continued this season with some of the inconsistency in his play he’s shown in past seasons. There have been some really good moments for Gordon this year (Opening Night vs. Miami, at Philadelphia, at San Antonio, vs. Cleveland, vs. Knicks, at Miami), and some equally bad nights he’s suffered through (seven games with a Game Score below “5”, according to Basketball Reference). In other words, I see his limitless potential on the floor some nights, but he must continue to find a performance baseline while eliminating the handful of “dud” games. He’s too important to the team’s overall success.
Gordon has shown some improvement in key areas this year. Midway through his fifth NBA season, Gordon is shooting a career high 35.7% from three-point range. In fact, Gordon is converting 44% of his three-point attempts from the corner. Unfortunately, less than twenty percent of his long-range attempts are considered “corner-threes”.
Gordon has improved his play-making ability and decision-making this season (posting a career high in assists per game, assist percentage, and A/TO ratio). On the defensive end, he’s also shown some renewed interest in taking on the other team’s top scoring threat, seemingly responding to Coach Clifford’s preseason challenge (Clifford challenged Gordon to be an All-NBA defender).
Best game of the first half: 10/17 vs. Miami
26 points (4-5 3PTA’s), 16 rebounds, 2 assists
Nikola Vucevic (40/41 Games Played)
20.2 PTS, 12.0 REB, 3.7 AST
Grade: A (Top of the Class)
Nikola Vucevic leads the team in scoring, rebounding, offensive rating (107.9, tied with Augustin), offensive rebounding percentage, defensive rebounding percentage, offensive box plus/minus, defensive box plus/minus, and field goal percentage. The Montenegrin big-man leads all qualified NBA centers in player efficiency rating (PER - 26.3) and trails only Joel Embiid in “Value Added/Estimated Wins Added” (Hollinger Stats, ESPN).
In his eighth professional season, Vucevic is averaging career high’s in points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, steals per game, blocks per game, field goal percentage, and three-point field goal percentage. He has been Orlando’s best player, and it’s not really close. Vucevic has already recorded 27 double-doubles (and one triple-double) this year; his career high in a season is 46.
It’s been seven years since the Magic have had a representative in the NBA All-Star Game (Howard, ‘12). Vucevic deserves to be the one to break that streak this year, no question.
Best game of the first half: 12/28 vs. Toronto
30 points (12-17 FG), 19 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals
Evan Fournier (40/41 Games Played)
14.7 PTS, 3.6 AST, 3.0 REB
Fournier is struggling through his worst season with the Magic since he joined the organization in ‘14. The 26-year-old seventh year guard from France is currently sporting the worst true shooting percentage of his career 41 games into this season. Fournier’s current field goal percentage and three-point percentage marks are lower than where he’s finished in any of his five seasons with the Magic. Fournier’s offensive box plus/minus, box plus/minus, and VORP numbers are also Orlando career-low figures. To his credit, he is distributing the basketball at a higher rate than he ever has (career high’s: APG, AST%)
Fournier has been better throughout his career than he’s played in ‘18-’19. I expect him to have an improved second half of the season, but that doesn’t help his grade here. The Magic need solid play from a combination of guys to make things work, and they just haven’t been getting it from Fournier (not at the level he’s capable of playing at).
Fournier has scored 20 or more points in a game eight time this year. but he’s also failed to score in double-digits on ten occasions. I tried my best not to hold his most recent one point performance in Utah (in 36 minutes) against him too much while coming up with Fournier’s grade.
Best game of the first half: 12/5 vs. Denver
26 points (6-10 3PTA’s), 8 rebounds, 4 assists
D.J. Augustin (40/41 Games Played)
11.5 PTS, 4.9 AST, 2.2 REB
Augustin leads the Magic at the midway point in offensive rating (tied with Vucevic), net rating, assists per game, assist percentage (tied with Jerian Grant), AST/TO ratio, true shooting percentage, three-point field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and overall plus/minus (1.0).
Somewhat surprised? I know I am. After a rough first season with the Magic, Augustin has now played one full calendar year of outstanding basketball (second half of last season, first half of this season).
In his 11th NBA season, Orlando’s starting point guard is playing as well as he ever has in the league. Augustin is posting career high’s in field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, and offensive rating. The point guard position is a spot Magic fans like to make a lot of noise about, specifically regarding upgrading the team’s talent/depth at the position.
But make no mistake - Augustin has carried his share of the weight (and then some) leading Orlando’s offense. The Magic are +12.4 per/100 possessions better when he’s on the floor.
Best game of the first half: 12/30 vs. Detroit
26 points, 8 assists, 2 steals
Terrence Ross (41/41 Games Played)
13.3 PTS, 3.1 REB, 1.5 AST
Outside of Nikola Vucevic, I’m not sure anyone on Orlando’s roster shoulders as much burden as Terrence Ross. What I mean is, if you look at some of the offensive abilities (or lack-thereof) possessed by the Magic players Ross has shared the floor with this season, one wouldn’t come away very impressed with the scoring options outside of the sharpshooter playing in his seventh NBA season (to say the very least).
The Oregon-native is enjoying a comeback season this year after suffering a knee injury that preemptively ended his ‘17-’18 campaign. Ross is also in a “contract year”, meaning he is set to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. The recent past for Ross was not smooth (said injury), the near future for Ross is not clear (impending free agency status). But in the now, he’s been great for the Magic coming off the bench and providing instant offense (six games off the bench posting 20+ points). Ross has been serving as Orlando’s sixth man, but he routinely finished games for Steve Clifford through the first half of the season.
Ross is averaging a career high in scoring and three-point makes per game for the Magic (which is great, because that’s exactly what they need from him). I guess the knock on Ross, if there is one, is that he doesn’t provide a lot of secondary value to the Magic when he’s on the floor (average defender, has never really produced many ancillary statistics). He’s either “on” when he’s put in the game (which leads to a lot of points), or he’s not (and perhaps not contributing in other ways). Ross paces the Magic in 3PTM’s per/36, and trails only Vucevic on the team in points per/36.
Best game of the first half: 11/26 at Golden State
28 points (4-6 3PTA’s), 2 assists, 2 steals
Jonathan Isaac (35/41 Games Played)
7.9 PTS, 4.6 REB, 1.1 BLK
Isaac was the most difficult player in Orlando’s rotation for me to assess. On one hand, it’s very positive that Isaac has bee able to remain relatively healthy this season (outside of the six games he missed in early November). Before I even get into the numbers, I wanted to make sure that I recognized Isaac’s continued efforts to work on his body and overall strength/conditioning.
I have to keep reminding myself, like we all do I would presume, that Isaac is basically still an NBA rookie. He’s played in 62 career games, not quite one full season, from ‘17 thru the present. He’s still very much a work in progress.
Isaac has slightly improved on offense this season, though the margins are pretty small. Isaac’s offensive rating, player efficiency rating, true shooting percentage, points per/36 scoring average, and on/off per/100 possession metric have all modestly improved this season (compared to his rookie season). For whatever reason, his defensive box plus/minus measure has taken a decent hit, perhaps due to sample size or role (steal and block percentages are lower this season as well).
On the other hand, Isaac is still maddeningly passive at times. The inconsistencies that come with being a young NBA player are to be expected, but I have trouble accepting how Isaac seems to drift or float on the court at times. He has the potential to impact the game in so many ways. I would like to see Isaac play with more assertiveness and aggressiveness in the second half of the season for the Magic (on a more regular nightly basis).
Best game of the first half: 10/22 @ Boston
18 points (8-12 FGA’s), 12 rebounds
Jonathon Simmons (35/41 Games Played)
7.0 PTS, 2.3 REB, 2.2 AST
It’s been a nightmare for Jonathon Simmons this season. He just hasn’t been able to get things going for the Magic. At the midpoint of this season, Simmons is producing well-below his career averages in nearly every metric of production and efficiency (Career FG%: 44%, ‘18-’19: 36%; Career ORtg: 100, ‘18-’19: 88; Career TS%: 53%, ‘18-’19: 44%; Career OBPM: -2.2, ‘18-’19: -5.4, Career PER: 11.0, ‘18-’19: 7.2).
Simmons had surgery in the off-season to repair an injury to his right wrist he suffered late last season. I give Simmons credit for battling through some things this year for the team, but one has to wonder if the Houston-native’s right wrist is still not completely healthy. The Magic are a net -7.7 per/100 possessions when Simmons is on the floor. Simmons averaged just under 14 points per game for an injury-ravaged Orlando team last year, but he has reached that point total only once this season.
Simmons has been somewhat helpful on the second unit making plays for others by playing the role of initiator while running Orlando’s pick-and-roll half-court offense. He can use his size to get in the paint, but Simmons has actually gotten to the free throw line at a much lower rate this season than he has in the past (and he’s not taking as many field goal attempts at the rim, one of his strengths).
Best game of the first half: 12/10 @Dallas
18 points (7-10 FGA’s), 2 rebounds
Jerian Grant (40/41 Games Played)
4.1 PTS, 2.9 AST, 1.7 REB
The good news first. If the Magic didn’t make a move for Grant, then they obviously would still have Bismack Biyombo. I can’t say for certain that Steve Clifford would have played Biyombo over Mohamed Bamba in Orlando’s regular rotation. But even if he chose to go that route just a few times throughout the season, Magic fans would’ve rioted (and rightfully so). Disaster averted. I don’t love the idea that the organization gave up a couple second-round picks in the Grant deal, but at the same time, Orlando’s management group hasn’t shown yet they value second round picks very much anyway.
And now the bad news - the move didn’t work out. It was a gamble that didn’t cost the Magic much, but Grant now seems to be officially out of Clifford’s second unit. To be fair, Grant hasn’t been any worse with the Magic than what he’s done his entire career. He actually caught fire shooting three-point field goal attempts over a stretch of games in early November that pushed his season average above 40% on three’s (has now settled at 34.7% for the season). But his ceiling is just so low; Grant has only scored in double-figures for the Magic one time this season.
Grant leads the Magic in steals per/36 (1.7 steals) and ranks second (behind Augustin) on the team in both assist percentage and assists per/36. At the midpoint of the season, Grant is sporting an OBPM of -2.8, a BPM of -3.3, and an on/off of -9.5 per/100 possessions.
Best game of the first half: 11/9 vs. Washington
13 points (5-5 FGA’s), 3 rebounds, 2 assists
Mo Bamba (39/41 Games Played)
6.3 PTS, 5.0 REB, 1.4 BLK
Obviously, I graded Bamba on a bit of a curve. I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised with the New York-native at times. I think he’s more coordinated and aware on the court at this point in his development than where I thought he would be. Like Isaac, one of the biggest aspects of becoming a “pro” that Bamba will continually have to work on is his body (lower-body strength, upper-body strength, conditioning). It will be interesting to see how Bamba’s body holds up over the second half of this season when things start to really become a grind.
Bamba is averaging 13.7 points and 10.8 rebounds per/36 to go along with his team-leading 3.0 blocks per/36 (also ranks first on the team in block percentage). Bamba has recorded three or more blocks in a game five times this season (swatted a season-high five attempts away against Sacramento). Measuring Bamba’s defensive contributions this season is not an easy task. The eye-test seems to reveal that Bamba has struggled slowing down opposing backup centers. The Magic are -17.7 per/100 possessions when Bamba is on the floor (worst number on the roster), which happens to be -18.7 per/100 worse than when he’s off the floor (also ranks last on the team). Clearly, that’s very bad. But Bamba’s defensive rating (105) ranks second on the team, as does his defensive box plus/minus metric (2.9).
Bamba hasn’t had the type of exposure and run that some of the other rookies in his class that were drafted in the lottery have had. He happens to play the same position as Orlando’s best player; the organization is doing the right thing with Bamba, bringing him along in a reduced role (for now).
Best game of the first half: 10/17 vs. Miami
13 points (6-8 FGA’s), 7 rebounds, 2 blocked shots
Wes Iwundu, Khem Birch, Jarell Martin, Isaiah Briscoe, Melvin Frazier, Jr., and Troy Caupain
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!