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Sunday, February 22, 2015

SDH's 2014/2015 Worst to First Countdown for the First "Slap-mester" (Oct/Nov/Dec): 21. Orlando Magic

Win/Loss Record as of December 31st, 2014:  13-22, fourth place Southeast Division, 9th Place Eastern Conference

Projected 2014/2015 Finish
Current Rank as of December 31st

Team Statistics and League Rank as of December 31st,  2014: 

  • Points Scored: 94.2 (29th)
  • Points Allowed: 99.1 (12th)
  • Team FG%: .458 (15th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .458 (19th)
  • Team FT%: .722 (26th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .374 (5th)
  • Rebounds per game: 40.9 (24th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 42.8 (16th)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.4 (22nd)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 12.4 (25th)

Individual Statistical Leaders as of December 31st, 2014:

Worst of the Class: Andrew Nicholson

Two years ago he had a surprising rookie performance as he averaged eight points and three rebounds in just under 17 minutes per game while shooting .527 from the field.  With such an impressive rookie performance to go along with  his balanced mix of size, skills and athleticism, Nicholson looked as if he had the potential to be an elite player for years come.  Unfortunately, that all changed the following year when he followed up his inspiring rookie campaign with a less than stellar sophomore effort where his numbers and efficiency dropped across the board as this supposed shooting star suddenly has fizzled away. Now in his third season, he has both fallen out of favor with the coach Jacque Vaughn as well as out of the rotation with the off season acquisitions of Channing Frye and Aaron Gordon.  Now he has went from becoming a up and coming player who could of been a piece of Orlando's puzzle to becoming dead weight looking to be cut off.

First of the Class: Evan Fournier

It seems as if the Magic has cornered the market in the "diamonds in the rough" department picking up players who had been discarded by their previous teams only to become major contributors as in the cases of Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic. Nonetheless, the Magic seemed to have found another hidden gem in Evan Fournier, a player who could find a place on the +Denver Nuggets roster, acquiring him in an off season deal in which Orlando sent veteran swing man +Arron Afflalo in return.  In what looked like a rather one sided deal that favored Denver, it would be the Magic that would get the better of the deal as the young Frenchman exploded as he started the season posting a career high of  15.4 points per game while shooting a scintillating .414 from behind the arc at the end of November.  He certainly proved to be a better acquisition than Afflalo, who stumbled out of the gates and has struggled with his offense while playing for Denver thus far.  It only goes to show that you never know what you have until you throw it away and both the coaching staff as well the front office of the Nuggets must be kicking themselves the same way that the +Philadelphia 76ers and +Los Angeles Lakers did in that whole +Dwight Howard debacle.

Two years after the monumental trade that bid farewell to their one time franchise player Dwight Howard, the Orlando Magic continue to remain at the bottom of the +NBA totem pole; however, they are in far better shape than the three other teams that took part in that infamous deal.  Both the Lakers and Sixers were expected to benefit the most from the deal with LA. acquiring Howard and Philly picking up another all star big man in +Andrew Bynum; however both have been reduced to rubble as Howard fled the Hollywood spotlight for the Texas sun while Bynum became a complete non-factor and is no longer playing.  The third team that was involved in that ill-fated deal, the Denver Nuggets, was the least scarred as they would part with Arron Afflalo, a player who would soon later emerge as Orlando's leading scorer and a potential All Star candidate. Nonetheless, they would end up getting bitten in the real when they brought him back to the fold and watch as the player they simply discarded for him exploded for a career season while they watched Afflalo falter in his return to the Mile High City.  Now Orlando stands the tallest among the fray as they not only have one of the most promising young teams in the league, but also have not just one, or two, but three All Star talents to build their franchise around.

Upon arriving in Central Florida, no one expected Nikola Vucevic--a player that was picked very late in the first round four years ago--to become anything more than being a solid role player off the bench which was why Philly was so willing to part with him for the the more recognizable Bynum; however, the Sixers now rue the day that they ever underestimated the Serbian big man.  Now three years and two double-double seasons later, Vucevic has emerged as one of the top centers in the league and almost certain candidate for the Eastern Conference All Star team averaging 19 points and 12 rebounds per game coming into 2015. Similar to Vucevic, Tobias Harris was another young player who was cruelly discarded by his former team, the +Milwaukee Bucks, who certainly did not know what they had nor did they care to find out; however, now he has emerged alongside Vucevic as not only a candidate for the All Star team, but also for the Most Improved Player of the Year. The 6'9" swing man has lead his team in scoring averaging nearly 19 points per game, along with grabbing seven boards and shooting at a rather impressing .380 from beyond the three point line thus making him one of the league's bright up and coming young player alongside Vucevic--who happens to be his teammate as well.  Add Even Fournier into the mix, who was also considerably underestimated by his former team, the Nuggets, and you have a very scary three headed monster capable of putting up potentially 55 points per game thus rivaling any three man combo in the NBA.

Although it has not shown in their 13-22 record, with three potential All Stars in its possession along with one of the deepest treasure troves of young talent in the NBA, the Magic are on the cusp of something great and are basically one player away from becoming a contender for not only the playoffs, but possibly winning the Eastern Conference one day.  Here is a team whom despite its youth and inexperience has chemistry which rivals even the most seasoned of NBA veteran clubs as it ranks among the best in the league in team field goal percentage and three point field goal percentage as well as being among the best in keeping their opponents scoring as well.  Although they may rank near at the bottom in the league in rebounds and turnovers per game, that can explained by primarily their impressive field goal accuracy which diminishes the availability of potential rebounds; plus, their turnovers are not as bad a they seem considering the fact that their 14 per game basically mirrors almost half of the league.   If this talented group of youngsters only had a veteran superstar to rally around and run the show while at the same time providing the necessary leadership to take it to the next level the same way that +Chris Paul has done with the +Los Angeles Clippers, the Magic would simply be unstoppable.  And it does not even to be an established star such as Paul either, but simply a player who has shown the potential to become not only a great passer, scorer and defender as Paul, but also have the personality and the charisma to lead his teammates by both example and the word.

The Magic has certainly plenty going for it with its wealth of size, youth, athleticism and talent; however without the right player to bring all their strengths together, then whatever, if any, potential they have in becoming a true contender in the East will all but evaporate.  Right now there are such players whose names are being circulated in trade rumors whom although may not have the name recognition as the more established point guards in the league, still have the potential to rise above their ranks and become that player of the future.  One such player is Reggie Jackson of the +Oklahoma City Thunder, who after posting All Star like numbers that rivaled his teammate +Russell Westbrook in the month of November may want the chance to lead his own team instead of providing support for another All Star.  Jackson might consider changing addresses as he will be a restricted free agent come the end of the season and with a wealth of cap space that the Magic have gathered over the last few years, they might just be able to outbid OKC for his services even though the Thunder will have the right to match any salary that any team offers him.  Another option is the +Phoenix Suns' +Goran Dragic, who is also coming off another exceptional season, but with his impending free agency and the fact that he has been playing in a rather crowded backcourt sharing the ball handling duties with teammates +Eric Bledsoe  and Isaiah Thomas, he may also be ripe for the picking as well for Orlando.

Perhaps the best option to go for in free agency is +Rajon Rondo--a player who can dominate a game without scoring one basket and who passing skills and leadership on both ends of the floor can quickly make this young Orlando team jump from lottery lingerer to playoff contender.  Rondo would certainly be the best fit on the team as he is a player who has the innate ability to get the best out of his teammates and unlike most of the other top point guards in the league, will not dominate the ball on offense taking away much needed touches from his teammates.  His accolades and credentials both on and off the court would serve as an excellent example to all the younger players, and will prove to be an excellent mentor to rookie Elfrid Payton and +Victor Oladipo--two players whom the franchise plans to be the back court of the future.  Regardless, whoever they decide to get, the Magic need to strike while the iron is hot or they will have to settle with another sub-par season once again returning to the lottery and that will not bode well for the team's head coach, Jacque Vaughn.  Although he deserves a majority of the credit for the team's solid disciplined play, excellent chemistry as well as its rather swift maturity, after three straight losing seasons, he may just find himself without a job if he continues this losing trend.

Nonetheless, despite the team's rosy outlook and the assets at its disposal in terms of players as well as cap space, the Magic are still a work in progress and will remain so unless something major happens--which will most likely happen in the off season.  Having three off their players with breakout seasons will certainly help fans remain optimistic for the time being, but there is still much more work to be done until this band of young talents are able to rise to the occasion. Fortunately for the Magic, unlike the rather repressive Western Conference where opportunity to advance anywhere but the eighth playoff spot is fleeting at best, the Eastern Conference is pretty wide open and they have the ability to make a run late in the season for a potential post season run. Right now they are in ninth place, but regardless of whether or not they are able to make the playoffs this season, one thing remains certain: for a team that was expected to be in shambles for years to come, the Orlando Magic still remain a head above the rest of the teams that were supposed to be contenders after the infamous deal that sent their disgruntled superstar packing.