As the NBA inches closer to their much anticipated restart amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the conversation beings to shift away from teams arriving and getting used to life in the NBA’s “bubble,” to what we can expect as the teams get back into games.
The Orlando Magic kick off their brief three-game scrimmage series this afternoon against the Los Angeles Clippers, which will give the team a chance to see where they stand after a couple of weeks back in the gym. While the game won’t be a tell all about what we can expect to see from them once the games begin to matter, it will give us a look at what the team could look like after a four month layoff.
Before the sudden shutdown, the Magic were on a tear offensively, but were struggling on the defensive end. Will either one of those be a strength and give them a clear cut identity? Or will one, or even both, turn out to be an achilies heel for the team?
Here are some potential strengths, and weakness for the Magic as they begin working towards a playoff birth for the second season in a row.
While each team has the opportunity for an expanded roster, I think the Magic could have a real advantage with their depth. If Jonathan Isaac does return from a knee injury sustained back in January, the Magic will have upwards of 13 players who have played a real role in their rotation at some point this season. They’ll be able to go upwards of three deep at pretty much every position, and possess the ability to go big, or small if they need to.
Now, some of this is tied to the return of Isaac, but even if the third-year big man doesn’t return, the Magic will still have 12 players who have played meaningful minutes in their rotation this season available. Two of them — Gary Clark and James Ennis — came in mid-season, which is always difficult, but the time off could’ve opened the potential for them to watch film and learn more about the systems the Magic run.
Add in the likelihood of multiple players being on minutes restrictions, and having players who have played a part throughout the season is going to be huge, especially from a chemistry standpoint.
Aaron Gordon’s playmaking
As the season came to a screeching halt, we began to see Gordon take a huge step forward as a playmaker. Across his last 10 games played, Gordon dished out six or more assists in seven of those games, including a season- and career-high 12 in a win against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Gordon has shown periods of growth offensively, but had never flashed the playmaking ability that he did in March. With Markelle Fultz likely to be on a minutes restriction, the Magic will need someone to step up and make some plays offensively, and that will likely fall into Gordon’s lap.
He’s one of the few members of the Magic roster that can take people off the dribble, and with his combination of size, power and finishing ability, will force defenses to help and open things up for his teammates.
This has hampered the Magic for multiple seasons, and likely will as the season restarts. Outside of Evan Fournier and the streaky Terrence Ross, the Magic don’t have much shooting on the roster. D.J. Augustin can space the floor some with the second unit, and James Ennis can knock down shots from deep as well, but overall it hasn’t been enough for the Magic before. Is it a guarantee it’ll be better now?
Before the league shutdown in March, the Magic were on a tear offensively, but that also came after they struggled on that end for the majority of the season. Will they be able to find a rhythm on that end quickly and get back into the same flow they had before the shutdown?
The lack of shooting has bit them before, and bogged down the offense, and with teams ramping up for a championship push, I think it could hurt them again. Teams will be focusing on their oppositions weakness’, and trying to make life as hard on them as possible, and if teams shutdown the little shooting the Magic do have, it could make life real tough.
I noted that the Magic’s depth could possibly be a strength, but conversely, the injury side could be a big weakness.
Isaac has struggled to stay on the court in his short career. Nikola Vucevic has been banged up time-and-time again in his career. Fournier was injured before the seasons sudden shutdown. Gordon has battled lower body injuries throughout his career. Mo Bamba is expected to be on a minutes restriction after his lower-leg fracture that cut his rookie season short.
That list is really just the start. Many times as teams go through training camp and into the preseason, players get banged up as they begin to get back into game shape. Those minor ankle sprains, muscle strains, and bruises can sometimes linger into the regular season. If that happens here, the Magic could be in trouble, especially if they lose on of their key cogs.
No matter how much depth they have, losing a leading scorer or important piece like a Vucevic, or a Gordon, or a Fournier could be a huge blow for the Magic.
What are some of the biggest strengths and weakness you see in the Magic as they gear up for the restart? Share your thoughts in the comments below.