With the working week winding to an end, let’s check the pulse of all things pinstriped.
Who won the week that was?
It might seem like a surprising pick, but Gary Harris continued his mild rejuvenation across last week’s outings. After scoring in double-figures just once in his first twelve games, the veteran two-guard has now eclipsed that mark in seven of his last eight starts, including all three in the last seven days. In fact, across this most recent trio of games Harris averaged 14.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, an assist and 0.7 steals on 57.1% shooting from the floor, including 7-16 from deep. In short, the type of veteran contribution that a young team like the Magic could stand to receive more frequently.
Perhaps most importantly, recently Orlando appears to be logging stronger performances in Harris’ time on the court. Against the Rockets he was a team-best +18 in a two-point loss. His personal differential was -14 in the tilt against the Warriors, a seemingly unappealing number but one that was actually the second-best mark for the Magic amongst players who saw more than 20 minutes that night. This sort of raw on-off data is always notoriously noisy, but it does give some indication as to the general competitiveness of a team when a specific player is on the floor; across this last week, the results have indicated a relative fondness for Harris.
The upcoming slate
This week’s schedule: at Clippers (Sat); at Lakers (Sun); vs Hawks (Wed)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
It’s another weekly schedule for the Magic during which they’ll not enter a single contest as either the favorite or even an intriguing underdog. First up is a brutal Hollywood double feature, with a Saturday matinee against the Clippers preceding a Sunday showdown against LeBron and the Lakers. Coming on days nine and ten of an exhausting road trip it would be a victory of sorts just for Orlando to keep things close in either contest.
The tough stretch doesn’t end there, as the Magic will head home afterwards for a midweek date with the Hawks. Although Atlanta have struggled to soar to the same heights as they did down the stretch last season, there appears to be growing evidence of their sail being set right; they’ve gone 7-3 over their last ten games, with quality wins over the Bucks, Hornets and Grizzlies helping to elevate their differential to amongst the leaders in the Eastern Conference. Their current slot in the standings probably undersells their general quality as a team.
As a result, it’s tough to predict any upsets for an inexperienced Magic team still struggling with the affliction of injuries. The recent result against Denver was a reminder of why one never says never in the NBA, but even with that in mind it would take a brave soul to choose this week to fire up the Central Floridian bandwagon.
The crystal ball says …
0-3. Expect the gap between the Magic and the other teams chasing the play-in race to widen further this week.
The next week is an important one for …
Chuma Okeke. To date it’s been a tricky sophomore campaign for the second-year forward, with injury slowing him down out of the gates and inconsistency since plaguing his game as a result. His contributions are down almost uniformly across the board, a fact seen most starkly in his shooting percentages; his accuracy has tumbled all the way to just 38.2% from the field on the season, including an ice-cold 23.3% from deep. He’s struggling to make a positive impact, culminating in the zero point egg he laid against the Kings in Orlando’s last start.
To make note of these struggles is a deflating experience. Despite the adversity he has already had to handle in his career Okeke’s belated rookie season was a real bright spot, with the young forward flashing a feel for the game that belied his relative inexperience. His grit, poise, and complementary game at both ends of the court gave the sense of a player who would contribute no matter where he played. He might not have appeared to have been on an All-Star trajectory, but it looked like the Magic had found a long-term glue guy for the rotation.
As unfortunately noted, however, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Okeke since getting back on the hardwood this season. To reestablish the confidence that his rookie season generated, the hope will be – for both the individual and the franchise – that his fortunes soon experience a full sail once again.
A figure for thought
0.0 — the percentage that Orlando’s opponents have converted from three-point range during 29 clutch minutes so far this season.