The Magic play a basketball game tomorrow.
And when they do, their starting five is expected to look quite similar to the one they used down the stretch last season, until injuries struck.
With the Run-It-Back vs. Blow-It-Up debate still ongoing, let’s take a very non-analytical look at the wide range of individual possibilities this season for each member of the Magic’s starting five.
As you might expect, it mostly revolves around shooting...
Best case: Having played his first full season, and having gone through his first (somewhat) normal offseason where injuries and uncertainty were not a concern, Fultz adds another chapter to his comeback story and another dimension to his game through natural development. Most beneficial for the Magic, as we all know, would be if Fultz improved his perimeter shot after shooting 26.7% on threes and 31.5% on his spot-up field goal attempts. Improved mechanics on his form certainly could help that.
Steve Clifford says Markelle Fultz's jumper is returning back to the point it was pre-injury: "You're going to see it when you see him play."— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) December 10, 2020
Video of his jumper pre-injury pic.twitter.com/rBOnsUP9km
“You’re going to see it when you see him play,” Steve Clifford told reporters on Wednesday. “His spot-up threes, his release point is getting to be back where it used to be.”
Worst case: Regression, of course. With the veteran D.J. Augustin having been replaced with a rookie point guard in Cole Anthony, there is added pressure on Fultz to perform. Failure to improve his shot and help the Magic create some much needed spacing will be troublesome without the outside shooting of Augustin to mix things up. Of course, if Anthony comes out firing right out of the gate, while Fultz struggles, a point guard controversy could start brewing between two core players.
Best case: Vucevic plays the entire season the way he did in the 2020 playoffs, when he averaged 28 points and shot 40 percent from three. Numbers that aren’t sustainable over a 72-game season. We can just about pencil him in for 20 points and 10 rebounds every game, but if he is able to keep his percentage from long range closer to 40% than 30%, that will open up the court for his teammates and translate into some Magic victories.
Worst case: With Vucevic on the wrong side of 30 years old as of October, Father Time comes to collect from the Magic’s most senior citizen (not quite, Al-Farouq Aminu is a month older). Production decreases, injury risk increases. The engine that runs the Magic offense doesn’t run as smoothly anymore. And it’s all the more concerning with the uncertainty surrounding his eventual/hopeful successor, Mo Bamba.
Best case: Fournier follows up a career-best season during a contract year with another career-best season during a contract year. This time around, Fournier doesn’t have a $17 million player option in his back pocket. He is playing for his next contract. Replicating his regular season from last year (career-best 18.5 points per, essential career-best 56.0% effective field goal percentage) would benefit the Magic in their win column and Fournier in his bank account, though it likely will be another team signing his checks. By doing so, Fourier becomes either a vital player in Orlando’s playoff run or a valuable trade chip for the lottery-bound Magic.
Worst case: Fournier fails to match last season’s production when the pressure is on, much like he did in the 2020 playoffs (12.8 points, 45.6 eFG%). Dependent on Fournier as their most reliable outside threat, the shooting-starved Magic drop in the more competitive East, become sellers and the value on the return in a Fournier trade drops.
Best case: The Magic’s offensive explosion that coincided with, but was not directly related to, the insertion of Ennis into the starting lineup picks up again. But this time, the recently-signed Ennis contributes more on the offensive end, where he hit just 28.6 percent of his 3.2 attempts from three last season.
Worst case: Ennis doesn’t inch closer to his career percentage of 35% from deep and finds himself in the second unit. Overall, though, that is probably a best case scenario for the Magic because it likely means rookie Chuma Okeke has worked his way into a starting role or Aminu has had a healthy and successful return.
Best case: Aaron Gordon makes his long-awaited leap.
Worst case: Aaron Gordon doesn’t make his long-awaited leap...until he’s on a new team.