How can it be possible that the Orlando Magic have officially reached the All-Star break already? One could argue the break came at a bad time for the Magic. Sure, they could certainly use the rest, but they’re also playing some of the best basketball the franchise has played since the days of Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy. The Magic sprinted into the break winners of five in a row, and seven of their last eight games, beating teams in their last four games by an average scoring margin of 26.0 points.
My progress reports are back for another season as well (third season featured on this site, I’m blessed). If you missed the first three volumes, 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 also received the highest grade on the team in volume two, as well as the highest midterm progress report grade in volume three. 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 last ten games played along with some comments from yours truly that hopefully explain 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 (10 games played)
Gordon’s shooting numbers are starting to plummet again, similar to how they dropped over the second half of last season. But unlike last year, I think Gordon is playing a much better team game. He’s gotten considerably better this season involving others in Orlando’s offense, a welcomed developing skill in his offensive arsenal.
Gordon’s offensive efficiency hasn’t been great over this stretch, but his defense has been very solid. He’s doing enough on the floor to still contribute to Orlando's success despite the minor shooting slump. Because so many other guys are playing at a high-level for the Magic right now, Gordon’s somewhat pedestrian play of late hasn’t hurt the team. Hopefully the break (and rest that comes with it) will help get Gordon back on track.
Best game during this 10-game stretch: 2/12 @New Orleans
20 points (6-10 FGA’s), 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals
Evan Fournier (10 games played)
Now that’s more like it. It’s been a miserable year for Orlando’s starting shooting guard in ‘18-’19, but we’re starting to see some real signs that he’s playing his way out of it. At first glance, Fournier’s counting stats over the last ten games look similar to his season averages. But there’s no denying it, this has been Fournier’s best stretch of play this season to date.
The seventh-year guard has been efficient, shooting 50% or higher from the field in six of the last ten games, and has connected on two or more three-point attempts in five of ten games. Like Gordon, Fournier’s ability to initiate offensive opportunities for others has also been a pleasant surprise this season. The French-wing has dished-out four or more assists in seven of his last ten games.
Fournier leads the team in Offensive Rating and plus/minus over this current ten-game stretch.
Best game during this 10-game stretch: 2/5 @Oklahoma City
25 points (8-16 FGA’s, 4-7 3PTA’s), 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals
Nikola Vucevic (10 games played)
Grade: A+, “Top of the Class”
Ho-hum, just another ten-game stretch where Orlando’s All-Star big man has averaged 20/12/4, right along the lines of his season averages. For me, Vucevic’s play has been as consistent this season as any player has been for the Magic in quite some time. The eighth-year pro out of Montenegro represented Orlando this past Sunday in the NBA’s All-Star Game (4 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists in 12 minutes). Vucevic was Orlando’s first representative since Howard (‘12).
Heading into the All-Star break, the @OrlandoMagic are 27-32. Here's how all #PureMagic players have fared in TPA during the 2018-19 season: pic.twitter.com/mJm89v2S69— NBA Math (@NBA_Math) February 15, 2019
Vucevic led Orlando over this last ten game stretch, like he has most of this season, in points, rebounds, and rebounding percentage. Vucevic is giving the Magic a little bit of everything: he’s scored 20 or more points in four of his last ten games, pulled-down 15 or more rebounds in three of the last ten games, and dished-out five or more assists in five of his last ten games.
Best game during this 10-game stretch: 2/12 @New Orleans
25 points (10-18 FGA’s), 17 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals
Jonathan Isaac (10 games played)
If you had to point to one single factor that has contributed to Orlando’s torrid play leading into the All-Star break, it would have to be the improved play of the second-year forward out of Florida State. Isaac has been an animal on the defensive end of the floor, leading the team in both steals and blocked shots over Orlando’s last ten games (two or more steals in five of last ten games, two or more blocks in eight of last ten games). His Defensive Rating (98.0) over that same stretch is the best mark among the Magic starters.
You’re also starting to see flashes of Isaac’s emerging offensive game coming along. The three-ball is still not quite there, but Isaac has found a way lately (off-ball cutting, put-backs off offensive rebounds, in the open floor, etc.) to contribute more to the Magic offensive attack. Isaac has scored in double-figures in eight of his last ten games, including his first career 20-point game a week ago Tuesday in New Orleans.
Over this current ten-game stretch, Isaac has been second on the team in rebounding, second in plus/minus, and second in Offensive Rating. His Net Rating (ORtg-DRtg) of 19.2 over that same stretch is the highest-ranked rating on the team.
Best game during this 10-game stretch: 2/10 @Atlanta
17 points (6-12 FGA’s), 5 blocks, 3 rebounds, 2 steals
D.J. Augustin (10 games played)
Augustin has done everything asked of him this season. Coach Clifford and his staff want Augustin to play smart and efficient, to defend without fouling, and to limit his turnovers; he’s done exactly that and then some over this current ten game stretch (he’s done that all season to be honest).
Augustin leads the Magic in assists and assist to turnover ratio over the last ten games. He’s recorded six or more assists in five of the last ten games, and more importantly, he hasn’t turned the ball over more than two times in a game since January 25th. Incredibly, Augustin helped the Magic defeat the Indiana Pacers in late January by going 10-10 from the free-throw line, a feat he’s now accomplished twice this season.
Best game during this 10-game stretch: 2/10 @Atlanta
14 points (6-9 FGA’s), 10 assists, 3 rebounds
Terrence Ross (10 games played)
I must say, I wasn’t completely confident that the Magic were going to hold onto Ross past the NBA Trade Deadline a couple of weeks ago. Ross is set to become an unrestricted free agent this July 1st, and I thought there may have been a possibility the team would cash in on their Sixth-Man of the Year candidate.
Instead, the team was able to make a deal for Markelle Fultz without including Ross, and the decision (to keep Ross and try to re-sign him this summer) has seemed to ignite the team.
This stretch has certainly been an interesting one for Ross. In the last ten games, the seventh-year pro has posted both the worst offensive and defensive ratings of Orlando’s four bench players in the regular rotation (Ross went a combined 4-21 in games against Brooklyn & at New Orleans).
Oh yeah, and he also scored 30 or more points twice in the last few weeks (four games of 20 or more points). The 30 points Ross scored against the Pacers at the end of January was a season high, which he went on to top one week later against the Timberwolves (32 points, second highest point total of his career). Ross has knocked down 3.3 three-point attempts per game over the last ten games (leads the team), and is second on the team in scoring average behind Vucevic in that same stretch.
Best game during this 10-game stretch: 1/31 vs. Indiana
30 points (11-18 FGA’s. 5-8 3PTA’s), 4 rebounds, 3 steals
Isaiah Briscoe (8 games played)
This is going to sound cliche, but Briscoe does so many things for the Magic that don’t show up in the box score. His numbers don’t jump off the page, but they don’t account for his ability to take charges, dive for loose balls, deflect passes, pressure the ball, etc. What I’ve seen from Briscoe is exactly what you would think someone who played in Estonia for a year would be doing: anything and everything to stay in the NBA.
And the Magic are 7-1 with Briscoe as the primary back-up point guard over the last three weeks. In those eight games, the Kentucky product finished with a positive +/- in six contests. Clearly, the team is playing well with the rookie running the second unit. Briscoe has been solid rebounding the basketball in traffic (6.2 rebounds per/36), which has helped the Magic get out in transition (five or more rebounds in a game three times in last eight contests).
Briscoe has led Orlando’s nine rotation players (over the last ten games) in assist percentage and is second in assists per game, assists per/36 (7.2), and assist to turnover ratio during this current stretch.
Best game during this 10-game stretch: 2/9 @Milwaukee
9 points (4-5 FGA’s), 7 assists, 3 rebounds, +16 in 24 minutes
Wes Iwundu (8 games played)
Okay, so Iwundu is not going to keep his blazing-hot shooting from the outside going at the rate that he’s been of late, no one possibly could. I mean...come on, he’s made 8 of his last 12 attempts from behind the arc (career 29% from “3”). But while he’s feeling it, why not take the time to celebrate how good Iwundu has been (and reward him with an “A”)?
Iwundu has been a stud defensively all season. Now that his shot is coming along, Iwundu is starting to put things together and provide Coach Clifford with a really nice option off the bench. The Kansas State product has a Defensive Rating of 90.3 over his last eight games, which is the best mark on the team. His 69% true shooting percentage over the same stretch is remarkable; the man is hot right now (net rating of 15.7, best rating of the four bench players in the rotation).
In his last eight games, the second year forward has posted a line of 14.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.7 blocks per/36 minutes. Iwundu is doing a bit of everything while playing at a very high-level.
Best game during this 10-game stretch: 2/14 vs. Charlotte
11 points (2-2 FGA’s, 2-2 3PTA’s, 5-6 FTA’s), 3 rebounds
Khem Birch (7 games played)
Birch has been the main beneficiary from Mohamed Bamba, Orlando’s prized lottery pick from the ‘18 draft and future franchise cornerstone, going down indefinitely with a left foot injury (stress fracture). While everyone wishes Bamba a speedy recovery and eagerly anticipates seeing him on the floor again soon, the alternative (Birch getting more consistent playing time) has been a really nice option for the Magic.
The second-year big man from Canada played well for the Magic late in the season last year, but minutes were hard to come by this year due to a crowded depth chart at the “5” position.
That has all changed, and Birch now has an opportunity for the most steady/consistent minutes he’s ever received in the NBA. It was no secret before, and things haven’t changed as of late: the Magic play well when Birch is on the floor (+2.9 per/100 possessions, +4.0 per/100 better when he’s on the floor). In his last seven games since taking over the backup center duties, Birch has finished with a positive +/- five times, has finished with six rebounds or more three times, and has scored six or more points five times.
His per/36 minutes over Orlando’s last seven games: 13.1 points, 12.2 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, and 2.2 assists.
Best game of this 10-game stretch: 2/14 vs. Charlotte
8 points (4-4 FGA’s), 4 rebounds, +15 in 17 minutes
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!