Opening night has arrived.
With the Orlando Magic coming off their first playoff appearance in seven years, and with the continued development of their young core, there is plenty of excitement and anticipation surrounding the team. But there are also plenty of questions, just as there were last season when we did this same exercise.
To address some of this year’s questions, Zach Oliver, Aaron Goldstone, Garrett Townsend and myself held a roundtable discussion for the annual OPP Fill-in-the-Blank Season Preview. Be sure to check out Part I here.
The Magic’s season will be a _______.
Zach: ...another step forward. Last season we saw the Magic take a big step from being a team in the lottery to making their first playoff appearance in seven years, and they brought back all of their key players from last years big jump. We’ll see them take another step forward, and jump up another small tier in wins, and their grouping in the Eastern Conference.
Aaron: ...a slightly bigger success than last year. I have them starting the season very strong, and ultimately finishing with a slightly better record than last season.
Garrett: ...slight improvement. While the depth is appreciably better, it’s likely that injuries bite a little harder. While Fourier should bounce back, there’s no guarantee that Vooch and Augustin will reach the same ceilings.
Mike: ...filled with encouraging highs and frustrating lows. There will be nights when the Magic beat the Bucks convincingly and then, the following game, somehow lose to the G League team that is the Wizards or Hornets. The consistency isn’t there yet. But overall, the season will be a success.
Aaron Gordon will average ____ points per game this season and he will ______.
Zach: ...20 points per game this season and he will be an All-Star. I think this is the year Gordon really takes the big, big step many have expected. I think he’s more polished offensively, and will be able to flash a bit more than we’ve seen. He’ll be more comfortable, and be able to play off his teammates as well.
Aaron: ...16.0 points per game this season and he will eclipse 30 points in a game three times in 2019-20.
Garrett: ...18 points per game this season and he will generate some All-Star buzz outside of Florida. I don’t see a huge scoring jump for AG just because there are a lot of mouths to feed on this team, but I can see him turning up the playmaking dial some and continuing to play top-notch defense on some tough wing assignments. You know, the type of stuff that blog boys go nuts for.
Mike: ...18 points per game this season and he will take more attempts per and shoot a higher percentage than last season.
Jonathan Isaac will most improve his _______ this season.
Zach: ...scoring this season. I think this is a big year for Isaac, and we’ll see him be more confident with his shooting stroke, and give the team more on that end. We all know his defense is going to be stout, now he’ll start becoming a more well-rounded player.
Aaron: his propensity to get in foul trouble (by not fouling as much as he did last season).
Garrett: ...box score stats this season. Although it’s a possibility I don’t see the Siakam-esque leap as likely, but I can envision him being a little more involved and a little more efficient with his contributions. Expect an according uptick in his stats.
Mike: ...three-point shooting percentage, particularly from spots other than the corner. Isaac has the potential down the line to average one of those rare 2-2-2 stat lines where he averages or at least approaches two threes, two steals and two blocks per game.
What excites me most about Mo Bamba is ______.
Zach: ...his shooting potential. He’s flashed a confident stroke, and if he can knock down that shot consistently, it will open up a lot for the second unit, mainly for Markelle Fultz.
Aaron: ...his defensive upside (and length, obviously). Bamba still has a long way to go with his body, awareness, and technique, but you can’t deny his physical abilities/potential. Once he figures things out, especially on the defensive end, watch out.
Garrett: ...his ability to alter seemingly every shot that comes into his orbit. He had an obscene block rate through the early part of the season, racking up swats that fueled BIG dreams. He has the raw tools to be the Magic’s next dominant defensive center.
Mike: ...his shot-blocking ability on the defensive end and his growing confidence in his outside shot on the offensive end.
What worries me most about Mo Bamba is ______.
Zach: ...his defense. Bamba has struggled mightily on that end of the floor, and didn’t look much better in the preseason. His instincts aren’t that sharp, and he finds himself out of position too often. I think he can improve there, but I’m definitely concerned about those struggles.
Garrett: ...his feel for the game. It’s always tough for rookie bigs without a dependable offensive game, and Bamba was no exception. He just seemed to be out of place or a step slow incredibly often. Here’s hoping a year of seasoning has helped in that regard.
Mike: ...that being a good shot blocker doesn’t necessarily make you a good defender. Bamba has a long way to go with his man-to-man and help defense.
Al-Farouq Aminu will help the Magic _______ this season.
Zach: ...defensively this season. Chief has been a good defensive guy since he came into the league, and I think he’ll be a steadying presence with the second unit, and his versatility will give them even more options for defending.
Aaron: ...by bringing consistency this season. You could do a lot worse than bringing a veteran with the playoff experience that Aminu provides off your bench if you’re Orlando (and they have, in the past). Aminu will only help Orlando continue to progress in the Eastern Conference by providing stability, versatility, and switch-ability playing on the second unit. That’s a lot of abilities! Sorry…
Garrett: ...win some games this season. He provides good defense and decent shooting, and has a track record as a veteran presence of contributing to winning sides. His steady reliability off the bench will prove valuable in Orlando.
Mike: ...have a safety net this season. The Magic had unprecedented health last season. That can’t be expected again. Should Gordon or Isaac miss time, Aminu can fill in for both. I’m curious to see how the minutes are divided when all are healthy, but I’m also eager to see the Aminu-Isaac-Gordon lineup that Clifford mentioned during preseason.
The Chuma Okeke pick was ______.
Zach: ...a calculated one. I think the Magic made a good move by saving some money and drafting and stashing Okeke. He’s going to give them some good value after this season, and he comes out on top as well making more money than he likely would’ve.
Aaron: ...questionable (at best). I will hold off my judgement about Okeke (as a player) until next season, because what other choice do I have? There were other guys on the board when the Magic picked at #16 that could have helped the team in the more immediate future. It’s okay to draft the player you want three to four years down the road in the middle of the first round, he doesn’t have to be an instant impact guy. But I’m not convinced that the Magic reached for Okeke because he blew them away, or that he was even near the top of their draft board. I think it’s obvious now that Orlando drafted Okeke with the intention of not signing him this year, mostly in part to stay below the luxury tax. I think there were too many quality choices at that point in the draft available to approach the draft with that kind of mentality.
Garrett: ...a move to dodge the tax. Money is tight in Orlando, and the minute this pick was in it was evident that something was going on. Let’s revisit this one next year.
Mike: ...probably the wrong one. The Magic were coming off a playoff season and they had areas of need that, if addressed, could have really benefited the team this season. With the East as weak as it is this season, I would have preferred the Magic draft someone for the backcourt who could have made an immediate impact and provided outside shooting. Every big scoring night this season from Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who was drafted the pick after Okeke, will sting for Magic fans. Hopefully Okeke proves me wrong next season.
Markelle Fultz’s stat line and percentages at the end of the season will be _______.
Zach: ...11 points, 5.5 assists, 3 rebounds on 42/35/78 shooting splits.
Aaron: ...75 percent. As in he plays in at least 75 percent of Orlando’s gams. That’s the stat.
Garrett: ...10 and 5 on 40% shooting. Assume he starts slow and inaccurately, picking up speed and precision as the season unfolds. Or assume he kind of just hangs around this middle ground all season long. Either way, it wouldn’t be terrible output for the back up point.
Mike: ...12 points and 5 assists while shooting 40 percent from the field, 30 percent from three and 75 percent from the free throw line.
Markelle Fultz’s season will be considered a success if he ______.
Zach: ...plays consistently. I think we’ll see confidence grow in Fultz as he gets more games in, and becomes more comfortable out there. As long as he can play, even if it isn’t every night, it will be a success.
Garrett: ...proves to be a reliable back-up point guard. He doesn’t have to emerge as a star or even a starter this season. In fact, it’s probably unreasonable to expect as much. Instead, if he can be dependable over the course of 82 games in an important reserve role, that’s a win.
Mike: ...plays the entire season, makes steady progress, and perhaps threatens to take the starting job.
My greatest concern about the Magic is _______.
Zach: ...Mo Bamba. Bamba was a train wreck last season, and I didn’t see much in the preseason that gave me hope he was going to take a big step forward in year two. I think as he plays more he’ll improve, but right now, he’s my biggest concern since he was one of the worst players in the league last season.
Aaron: ...shooting the basketball and scoring the basketball.
Garrett: ...the looming specter of injury. Last year they were absurdly lucky health-wise and made the playoffs. The previous season not so much with a very similar roster and they ended up picking 6th.
Mike: ...if last season was their ceiling. It’s going to take internal improvement for the Magic to get to the next level. Each member of their young core certainly has plenty of room for growth. I think/hope they will continue to develop, but I wonder/worry if it will ever be enough to make the Magic a true threat in the East.
The Magic potentially having orange jerseys is _____.
Zach: ...horrible. This is an all-time bad idea. Just wear the throwback pinstripes.
Garrett: ...going to ensure a high visibility option in my wardrobe when I inevitably pick one up.
Mike: ...OK for a few games. I like when teams get weird with their jerseys. I would also love to see the Magic bring back the McGrady-era star-patterned jerseys that most people seemed to hate but I always loved.
The Magic game I am most looking forward to this season is ______.
Zach: ...the first west coast road trip. This is a cop out, as it’s multiple games, but that road trip always sheds a lot of light on how the season will go, and I think that will likely be the case once again this year.
Aaron: ...when the Magic host the Houston Rockets. I know that must seem completely random, but I’m sort of low-key excited to see James Harden and Russell Westbrook back together again. I’m not sure it will work out the way the Rockets want it to, but it sure will be entertaining to watch unfold one way or the other.
Garrett: ...Wednesday night against the Cavs. I’m ready for Orlando basketball to be back in my life!
Mike: ...The first game against the Bucks in early November. I want to see how the Magic stack up against the best in the East early in the season. And of course, the Sunday matinee game in early April when Fultz makes his return to Philadelphia.
The player on the Magic most likely to be traded this season is _______.
Zach: ...Evan Fournier. In the last year of his contract, Fournier could draw some value around the league. I don’t think the Magic trade him, but if I had to pick one player, I guess it would be Fournier.
Garrett: ...Evan Fournier. His contract is of a size that can be chucked into all number of deals, while its potential to expire as early as this offseason is also potentially appealing. Plus, he plays a position at which Orlando will be looking for improvement.
Mike: ...Khem Birch. Birch deserves better than a third-string role and he could get a decent return in the trade market for a team in need of a big at the deadline. He’s valuable insurance for the Magic in the event of an injury to Vucevic or further ineffectiveness by Bamba, But it wouldn’t surprise me if the Magic re-signed Birch with the intent of flipping him at some point. I know Fournier’s contract makes him an ideal trade chip, but I think he is going to have a bounce back season and be indispensable to this shooting-starved Magic team.
The Magic will win _____ games this season and finish as the _____ seed.
Zach: ...46 games this season and finish as the five seed.
Aaron: ...44 games this season and finish as the six seed.
Garrett: ...44 games this season and finish as the sixth seed. A small but necessary step in the right direction, although the real question in my mind is what the team will be capable of in 2020/21.
Mike: ...45 games this season and finish as the five seed.
The Magic can actually make the second round of the playoffs this season if _______.
Zach: ...they improve offensively. We saw how bogged down the offense got last year without a go-to scorer, so if they can improve on that end, and someone like Aaron Gordon takes that step, they’ll have a good chance of making it out of round one.
Garrett: ...someone on the wing makes a leap. Gordon, Isaac or even Fournier playing their way into legitimate All-Star consideration would go a long way towards giving the team the extra firepower they need alongside Vooch to give the postseason a real shake.
Mike: ...some combination of the following takes place: the defense is one of the best in the league, Vucevic replicates last season, Gordon emerges as a true first-option, Isaac becomes a reliable stretch-four, Fournier hits close to 40 percent of his threes, and the Magic finish no worse than the sixth seed.
My top hot take for the Magic is that ________.
Zach: ....they’ll be a top-5 defense. They have all the pieces to do so, and I think we see them build off of last seasons success on that end of the floor.
Garrett: ...they’ll finish in the top third of the league in three-point accuracy. For a team full of players with reputations as non-shooters they were surprisingly good from beyond the arc in 2018/19, despite a down year from Fournier. The team will still barely get to the free throw line, but at least they’ll be knocking down shots from somewhere.
Mike: ...they’ll challenge for the three seed. There are only two teams in the East that at this moment I see as undeniably better that the Magic (Bucks and Sixers). I think the Magic can compete with the Celtics, who take a hit with the Kyrie/Kemba swap and the loss of Al Horford, and are banking on similar internal improvement. The Raptors and Heat will also be in the mix. If the Magic can steal four or five more wins than expected, it’s a real possibility.
If I was general manager of the Magic for one day and was allowed to make just one move, I would _________.
Zach: ...extend Wes Iwundu. I think he’ll have value in free agency next season, and he’s a more important piece than I think people realize.
Garrett: ...look into trading Augustin. Potentially an unpopular opinion, but if this Magic team is ever going to be a real Eastern Conference contender it won’t be before DJ starts sliding. Flipping him now when his value is reasonable could return an asset that will pay off down the line.
Mike: ...see what I could get for Khem Birch. Love the guy, but he will mostly be wasted on the Magic bench and he could be their most valuable asset in the trade market. If a trade brings back a player who could be of more use in the playoffs, I’d have to consider it.
I became a Magic fan because ______.
Zach: ...Tracy McGrady was exciting to watch in the early 2000’s as the best player in the league. He was able to draw you in and keep you interested, even through the tough times.
Garrett: ...of Shaq and Penny. But then I stuck around because of Anderson, 3D, Horace Grant, T-Mac, Hill, Mike Miller, Darrell Armstrong, Dwight, Jameer, Turk, Pietrus, Lewis and Oladipo. Gordon, Vooch, Isaac and Ross are just the latest in a long line. Let’s add a few more names to that list this season.
Mike: ...when I was a kid, my grandpa was watching the news and they showed Shaq rip down the backboard in New Jersey. I became a Magic fan that day.