If Orlando Magic fans are getting hyped for the 2019-20 season, they’re not alone.
“Wooooo. It’s time man, it’s time,” Aaron Gordon told me at the opening of the NBA Experience at Disney Springs. “There’s nothing better in the world than NBA summer leading up to the season.“
The Magic finished as one of the hottest teams in the NBA in 2018-19. Casual fans will remember DJ Augustin’s electric performance in Toronto in the opening round of the NBA playoffs but they may not remember their 11-2 regular season finish, or their 22-9 firestorm over the course of the final 31 games.
The Magic completed the season with the sixth-best net rating in the NBA in the last 15 games (plus-7.4) and seventh-best in the NBA since the All-Star break (plus-5.0).
The Magic did it on both ends. They finished as the NBA’s fifth-best defense last season (106.6 points allowed, 107.0 Defensive Rating since All-Star break) but they may have forgotten the Magic were also a top-ten offense since the break, coming in at a tidy 112.1 offensive rating (ninth).
“Yeah, I know everybody’s excited just based on how we did last year - having the same coach, that’s big,” Gordon continued. “The same coach, having someone we can buy in, rely in and trust in the system. It’s going to be another collective year.”
His excitement was palpable in this classic mano e mano duel between two of the NBA’s most electric rim smashers (Gordon and DSJ).
But dunking isn’t the only facet of Gordon’s game claiming his offseason attention:
“Earlier in the year, I didn’t want to get pigeonholed as somebody who only plays on the block – (I was) overthinking it. So, I lost the game that I needed – that we needed - which is playing on the block.”
This observation was spot on. Gordon shot less than half of his shots from inside ten feet (six per game). Gordon’s conversion rate was an impressive 56 percent from inside that threshold, while he shot just 36 percent from everywhere else.
“The low block, the jump hook, up-and-under, just making sure my teammates and coaching staff and whole city is comfortable with me having the ball in the block making a play for the rest of my teammates.”
Finding more minutes inside the paint and within ten feet is something that can both open up the offense for the Magic as well as further develop Gordon’s game, especially when Nikola Vucevic sits above the break or on the bench in Mo Bamba reserve minutes.
“Of course. That can be our only mindset,” Gordon said of attacking the opening of the schedule. “Last year we didn’t know what to expect and because of that we didn’t really have that confidence to buy in. We showed that we could win. Now it’s time to play at a level of Orlando Magic basketball that we know we can do, night in and night out.”
“It’s going to be a big season for us, a pivotal season. I think we’re ready for it.”
The other power forward from Orlando has been busy as well. Isaac’s progression as a ball handler, jump shooter and rim protector in year two earned comparisons to Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis and Kevin Garnett, among others.
Isaac’s floor spacing rose a level in 22 games post ASG, bringing his average up to 38 percent on 4.6 shots per game from three. Watching the ball fall through the net time after time has to play a factor in Isaac’s offseason development. That, in addition to conditioning and strength work should elevate Isaac’s game in 2019-20.
”Getting comfortable with being able to bump and grind,” Isaac said on the direction of his offseason training. “I feel like a more confident shooter, a more consistent shooter.”
But Isaac is still remaining humble and focused. While many dismissed the option of representing the country this summer, Isaac embraced it and being a member of USA Basketballs Select Team has proven an incomparable factor in his offseason growth.
”It was a fantastic opportunity and honor just to be able to wear USA across your jersey,” Isaac told me. “Getting to scrimmage against the national team was fun. When they win, everybody wins, that’s what they go by. That’s what I learned what USA is about.”
Many can’t help but wonder why so many like Aaron Gordon moved on from the opportunity, instead opting to spend the summer in the homeland.
”It’s a great honor. I understand it being so close to the season, some guys, older guys, their bodies, stuff like that,” Isaac said. “It’s not a good, bad decision either way. It’s an honor. At the same time, every situation is different.”
While those older guys rest and work with their private trainers, Isaac continues weighing his game against that of international competition, something that should only serve him well as the Magic approach the regular season.
”I’m hyped. We’re excited about it. I know AG is excited about it,” Isaac said. “T-Ross had a post on Instagram about how much he can’t wait for the season to get here. And I’m the same way. I’m hyped about getting done with Vegas because it means the season is coming.”
The Magic’s biggest question mark heading into the 2019-20 season is the former number one overall pick acquired hours before the trade deadline last season.
While Jeff Weltman and John Hammond will continue preaching patience, Isaac let it be known that Fultz has been putting in the work necessary to be ready to go sooner rather than later.
“Markelle has been working his butt off this summer,” Isaac told me. “I got the chance to be in the gym with him. He’s been working really hard.”
Gordon was also anxious to bring Fultz into the fold and begin acclimating him to the team.
“Yeah, I talked to him this week,” Gordon said. “I’m probably going to take him out to dinner.”
And in terms of on court effect, Gordon made no secret about what he thinks the Magic can do with Fultz in the fold.
“Big time player, big guard, big body, can do a lot of different things on the floor so that’s great having that extra versatility. We’ve got a lot of versatile guys on this team - that can do a lot of different things. So having those guys on the floor will make waves.”
So, rest up Magic fans. The season is almost here.
And Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac are hyped.