The NBA continues to careen towards a comeback, with preparations for the resumed season nearing a crescendo. The Disney bubble has taken form, with players arriving, courts being assembled, and the type of muscle development normally associated with unsubstantiated offseason reports already emerging. Basketball is (almost) back!
To help prepare you for the tipoff, collected here is a lightning round report on the state of each player on Orlando’s roster as we near the resumption of play.
Where did things leave off? Where should we expect them to pick up? Let’s take a quick moment to reset our understanding of the roster.
When we left off … Fultz was churning out consistently solid stat lines. In March contests he averaged 15.4 points on strong shooting numbers inside the arc, along with 6.4 assists and just 1.6 turnovers. He was, simply put, a dependable presence at the point guard position.
When we come back … the hope will be that Fultz is up to the high pressure cauldron that is playoff basketball. Can he quarterback a team when the opposing defense locks in for a series? How detrimental will his suspect outside shot be? Can he be counted on in the clutch? How he answers these questions will go a long way towards determining the level of success Orlando enjoys, both this season and beyond.
When we left off … Fournier was in street clothes, nursing a wrist injury. All things considered, it was one of very few down points from what was a career-year for the potentially unrestricted free agent.
When we come back … the expectation is that Fournier will be 100% healthy and ready to lead the team to a second consecutive playoff birth. If he can maintain his excellent outside shooting numbers while further refining his finishing in the two-man game he loves he has every chance of redeeming himself for a subpar performance last postseason.
When we left off … Gordon was in the midst of his seemingly annual surge, this time with a playmaking and rebounding twist. After the All-Star break he posted 6.8 assists and 9.1 rebounds per game, both marks well above his career and season averages.
When we come back … it will be interesting to see whether AG’s late season emergence was a burgeoning renaissance or a false dawn. And if he does unquestionably thrive in the power forward position, what implications will that have for the team moving forward?
When we left off … Vucevic was in the midst of regaining his All-Star form of twelve months previous. Injury free and in a rhythm for the first time all season, the big man had rediscovered his inside scoring touch; post-All Star break his field goal percentage rose by five percentage points, including a bump of 6.3% from inside the arc.
When we come back … Vooch will be afforded a chance to make up for the whimper that was last season’s playoff performance. Almost entirely nullified by Marc Gasol, the prospect of a return date with the Raptors in the first round should be the motivational fuel he needs to fire up when the chips get pushed to the middle of the table.
When we left off … Isaac was still what he has been for the entirety of his Magic tenure: an exercise in captivating potential and understandable concern. A hyperextended left knee had shut his season down, meaning that any evaluation of his development to this point remains frustratingly incomplete. We still don’t know how good he could be.
When we come back … don’t expect to see much of JI at all. The decision makers in Orlando will exercise only caution when it comes to the player they view as a franchise cornerstone, and with little to realistically play for beyond experience expect Isaac to remain mothballed.
When we left off … Ennis was … utterly indispensable? His 10-game stretch as a starter almost perfectly aligned with the Magic’s offensive explosion, suggesting that the optimistic idea of him as a specialist shooter who stretches the floor and creates space for teammates to operate in has some legs. Even if he did shoot just 30% (9 from 30) from deep during the run.
When we come back … it’s worth collectively crossing our fingers that Ennis’ shooting numbers move some way closer to his season and career averages. Although the team is seemingly benefiting elsewhere simply from his presence, some actual buckets certainly wouldn’t hurt the postseason cause.
When we left off … Ross was, quite simply, on fire. Across the final dozen games he made 50 of 106 three point attempts (47.2%), averaged 20.7 points per night, and generally buoyed the Magic’s offense beyond a scope imaginable by even the most optimistic of fans.
When we come back … let’s pray that the torch remains lit. Wayward shooting was a signature of Orlando’s first round exit against the Raptors last year, and a microwave scorer like Ross is sometimes enough to temporarily wallpaper larger team-wide holes. The Magic will need multiple sightings of the Human Torch just to give themselves a puncher’s chance against some of the league’s heavyweights.
When we left off … Augustin was just starting to get his groove back. Like many on the roster he was experiencing a down year, the result of poor shooting numbers and a tricky knee injury that robbed him of 16 games. However, he took off in the final three games before the hiatus, scoring 18, 24 and then 16 points on accurate shooting and crafty free throw generation.
When we come back … the Magic will likely need to lean heavily on their veteran point guard. Fultz is the lead quarterback now, but his inexperience and limitations mean that Augustin will be asked to do a lot as the side aims for a better finish than last year’s gentleman’s sweep.
When we left off … Carter-Williams was enjoying a really solid campaign, emerging as one of the key cogs off the Magic bench. He had scored in double-figures in four straight games when the lights went off, including a 20 point outburst in the last-start win over the Grizzlies. He may not have had the gaudiest numbers, but there was at least something of a case to be made about his importance as a reserve.
When we come back … the Magic are going to need every ounce of heart and hustle that MCW can provide. He was a firebrand in the matchup against the Raptors last spring, and it’s that same level of intensity and desire that the team will want to see from one of their bench leaders.
When we left off … Bamba was injury free and still in the rotation, which makes it an improvement over his rookie year. There were small signs of growth throughout the first 65 games, none the least of which was the fact that he wasn’t a disastrous negative every time he took the floor.
When we come back … we’re going to find out exactly what 28 pounds of muscle looks like. The second-year big is apparently sporting a decidedly different look these days, and the hope will be that it puts him in a position to continue his steady development as he enjoys his first taste of playoffs basketball.
When we left off … it was steady as she goes for Iwundu, who was really only logging time in games that Fournier was unavailable for. The arrival of Ennis essentially sliced him from the rotation and left him as an end-of-the-bench option.
When we come back … we’re probably not going to see too much of Iwundu, and if we do it’s likely because something has gone horribly wrong - like either an injury or the wrong side of a beatdown. He will, however, remain ready.
When we left off … Birch was largely riding the pine. He hadn’t played more than 13 minutes in a game since February 1st, and the failed experiment of him at the power forward slot only underlined the fact that he’s an effective-yet-expensive insurance policy as a third-string center.
When we come back … he’ll be ready to go if called on. Remember, it was only last season that Birch’s injection into the lineup at a injured Bamba’s expense shored up one of the team’s major weaknesses and propelled them into the postseason. The Canadian big man is a trusted professional.
When we left off … Clark was almost a non-entity for the Magic, playing only spot minutes and contributing little since the giddy heights of his January debut against the Lakers. Those were the days.
When we come back … he’ll be there, waving a towel.
And there we have it. A check-in for every key player on the roster, along with some prognostications about what may yet transpire in the bubble. As the return of the Magic draws ever nearer, be sure to sound off in the comments below with your own predictions and projections.