One seemingly unavoidable element of adult life is the making of resolutions. Understandably, people like to imagine what things could be like if they were different. If they were better. What does the best version of ourselves look like? What negative characteristics or circumstances would we do away with?
Unfortunately, resolutions often give way to broken promises. To forgotten diets. To empty savings accounts. To unused gym memberships. Resolutions are hard!
For the Magic, current holders of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference with a record of 24-31, there’s probably a good number of things that they would like to change. But if we could guarantee the perfect delivery of one resolution for each member of the rotation, what would it be? What’s one sure fire way we could ensure that the end of the 2019/20 season tops the start of it? We’re going to roll through the roster and come up with an idea for almost everyone - let’s dive in!
Nikola Vucevic - Create All-Star Voter Regret
What was already obvious to Magic fans was solidified in the voting for All-Star reserves: the Vucevic we’re currently getting isn’t a touch on last season’s iteration. 2019/20 has been tough for the Montenegrin big man across the board, with his per-game averages lagging in every category bar turnovers, despite seeing almost an extra minute of court time.
The biggest contributing factor to this lackluster play is his shooting; Vooch is significantly less accurate from the floor from just about every location. The overall field goal percentage is down to just 45.8% from 51.8% last season. Three-point shooting has dropped two whole percentage points to 34.4%. Free-throws are slightly worse, coming in at just 77.6%. He’s making only 67.1% of his shots within three feet of the rim, a far cry from last season’s 70.6%. Long twos are finding the bottom of the net on an abysmal 32.1% of attempts. And although he’s stretched more of these inefficient shots out beyond the arc his long-range accuracy has cooled off, dropping back below the league average.
The Magic need Vucevic to find a higher gear. Last season he was an offensive nightmare for the opposition, facilitating the play from the elbow extended and doing an increasingly better job of setting teammates up. He was precise in his use of the three-ball, while also demonstrating the deft finesse around the hoop for which he’s known. By comparison, every aspect of his game this year has felt slightly sluggish, like an image slightly out of focus. If Orlando are going to make the playoffs with a pulse they’ll need their former All-Star center to make this season’s voters regret their choices.
Evan Fournier - Secure a Payday
Fournier is quietly having what might be his best season as a professional basketballer. It’s a true bounce-back campaign, with the veteran swingman rediscovering his shooting stroke and scoring the ball in increasingly efficient fashion. His 18.7 points per game are a career-best. So too is his three-point percentage, which currently clocks in at 40.8%. There’s only been one season in which he has attempted more free-throws per contest, while his field goal percentage of 46.2% is better than any season since his rookie year. His assist percentage is above his career average while the turnover rate sits below, making for an effective combination. All of this combines for a career-best PER of 16.2, along with his strongest true shooting percentage — .592 — since being asked to assume the role of a reliable scoring option. It’s been a quality showing.
The Magic will continue to ask this of their starting two-guard. In fact, to improve on last season’s result of stealing a single game in the first round they’ll probably need more. Should they get it, Fournier will likely secure himself a sizable pay day, even with a depressed market - talent has a way of getting paid. Although this would present an offseason problem for a cash-strapped Magic side it’s one the team would likely welcome, even if it did lead to the Frenchman’s eventual departure. For a core that might have run its course, one final burst would be a fitting final chapter.
Aaron Gordon - Embrace his Destiny
Even before the dunk contest robbery it had been a rough season for Gordon. His shooting numbers have regressed hard from just about every spot on the floor, dropping both his effective field goal (.473) and true shooting percentages (.504) to career lows. Additionally, the gains he made last season in terms of his playmaking have gone missing, and instances of iso-Aaron forcing the play have seemed to bubble to the surface more often. If it weren’t for the Saturday night festivities his name wouldn’t have come up in the capacity of an All-Star discussion at all in 2020.
Although he seemingly bristles against it, there’s a path to sustained success out there for AG. He needs to harness his absurd athletic prowess, channel his energy into hustle plays, and abandon the alpha-dog scorer mentality that occasionally overtakes him entirely. On offense he should be cutting hard and flashing to space on the floor from the weakside. Seeking out potential mismatches as the screener in pick-and-roll situations. Feasting on opportunistic offensive boards. Embracing his role as an off-ball nuisance. At the other end of the court, he’s already the team’s trusted wing defender. But can’t you imagine him sliding further up the lineup, operating in bursts as a small-ball center with switchability on the perimeter and solid positioning in the post? In a rapidly shrinking NBA the time for such experimentation is now.
Markelle Fultz - Continue to Grow
By any measure this season has already been a successful one for Fultz. During the preseason, healthy and rightful skepticism existed about his capacity for contribution, but he’s blown the more modest projections out of the water. He’s already claimed a starting spot, established career-best figures, racked up a triple-double, and even completely dominated a high-profile game down the stretch. He’s almost certainly one of the few untouchable pieces on Orlando’s roster, and figures to be a central part of whatever this team’s next iteration looks like.
At this point all Magic fans need to see from Fultz is more of the same. Relative to Floridian expectations he’s already ahead of schedule, so anything more is a bonus. If he can close the season strong and acquit himself well during a first-round playoff series it sets him up for further gains in the future. It’s time to maintain the momentum.
Mo Bamba - Play in the Playoffs
The goal for Bamba at this stage should be simple: get to the end of the season as a dependable contributor on a playoff team. It’s no secret that the 2019 version of the Magic took off after his injury jettisoned him from the lineup, so he should have plenty of motivation as we head towards the home stretch. Although the box score stats don’t scream it, Orlando’s second-year big has made some gains this season, particularly recently. Just before the All-Star break he put a very good stretch of play together, scoring the ball more efficiently and demonstrating improved awareness and positioning defensively. It was only a burst, but for a player who frequently looked overwhelmed and a step slow as a rookie it’s a pleasing one to note. If last season’s obvious weakness transforms himself into a positive contributor it will be a cause for both current and future optimism.
Jonathan Isaac - Not Play in the Playoffs
I don’t want to see Isaac back on a basketball court this season. Not because I don’t enjoy watching him play, but because it feels far more important that he be absolutely and entirely recovered from his most recent lower-body injury. As a young player who has already spent a sizable chunk of his career on the shelf, whatever benefit there is to be gained from a best-case scenario first round beating by the Bucks pales in comparison to him being healthy at the start of the next campaign. What JI was doing defensively this season would have had fans of the Magic salivating. Let’s hope the team gives him the best chance of recapturing and then maintaining such form.
DJ Augustin - Have Another Moment
It’s not too much to ask for one more, is it?
Terrence Ross - Actually Hit a Shot
This isn’t a shocking revelation and as such doesn’t need to be beaten any further to death but, oh boy, the Human Torch is having a brutal season shooting the ball. Both his field goal and three-point percentages (38.7% and 33.2%, respectively) are currently career-worsts, with the sheer volume of long-range attempts contributing to some of the poorest effective field goal and true shooting percentages he’s ever recorded. He started the season incredibly slowly with four woeful and wayward games in October, but bounced back somewhat in November and December to push the figures closer to his career mark. However, since then he’s again been brutal, shooting just 38.2% from the field and 32% from deep across fifteen games in January, and a positively arctic 34.1% and 29.6% over seven games in February. Making matters worse is the fact that Ross has actually been shooting the ball more frequently during the inaccurate months, a brutal blow to an already inefficient Orlando offense.
It’s true for many players, but his shooting woes become even more pronounced in losses. His offensive rating drops all the way from 111 points per-100 possessions to just 91, courtesy of a 35.4% mark from the field and a wobbly 27.2% from deep. Over the last twelve months results for the Magic have often followed in Ross’ footsteps; as he goes, so too does the team. For this reason, it’s essential that he once again locate his radar for a team mired in a lackluster playoff push. Orlando desperately needs their marksman to again find his range, an outcome they’ll only achieve with careful shot selection from the player and imaginative sets designed to create space from the coach. Let’s see what the pair can cook up.
Michael Carter-Williams - Avoid Injury
MCW plays with all the energy and hustle you’d expect of someone enjoying a final chance on the biggest stage. With the ball in hand he aggressively and decisively attacks the lane, while on defense he’s a source of unending annoyance, with the limbs to make life difficult for his direct opponent and the tenacity to disrupt passing lanes. However, it’s these very attributes that gave him one final chance in the league that have also resulted in him missing the entirety of 23 games and parts of three others. He puts himself in harm’s way! For the Magic, they’ll need their bench glue guy to stay injury free if they’re going to make more noise than a whimper come season’s end.
Once again it’s time for the home stretch, with the playoff stretch about to begin in earnest. Fans of the Magic will be hoping that the team has a few fulfilled resolutions in the future yet.