“Do You Believe in Magic…” If you recognize my pun as a song title, then your age is telling just as much as my decision to use it.
As I was reading and writing up various preseason team previews I was generally excited for the (then) upcoming NBA season. When it came to teams such as the Orlando Magic, however, I needed to turn to an episode of The Big Bang Theory or an Adam Sandler flick to get a smile on my face; as the angles I was working on were along the lines of how awful the team was going to be this year. I mean how can anyone expect them to be competitive after losing their marquee center, Dwight Howard, in a trade that sent the franchise into rebuilding (from scratch) mode?
Fast forward to the actual first week and a half of NBA action and I ended up being very pleasantly surprised to see the Magic get off to a 2-0 start. What? Paint me slightly impressed at that point. While it’s true that the Chicago Bulls handed Orlando its first loss of the season last night, the win didn’t come as easily as most would expect. It was actually a hard-fought game for most of the night. In fact, the Magic held on to several leads at various junctures in the game. Magic players played hard despite missing the services of injured starters, Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson. They were led mainly by the efforts of Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Arron Afflalo, but got good help from E’Twaun Moore who was stepping in for the injured Nelson and Nikola Vucevic who has been simply a diamond in the rough, piling his second double-double performance of the season.
It’s true that many teams, like Chicago, will be able to sick a long-armed defender to shut down or stifle Glen Davis’ game or even put a tenacious perimeter defender to frustrate Arron Afflalo. Even so, they aren’t a joke to be taken for granted and will beat teams that err on the side of complacency. What Big Baby lacks in height as a power forward, he makes up for in his quite accurate 18- to 20-foot jumper that swishes through the net when he gets a rhythm going. As predicted by most, Afflalo will emerge as the team’s leading scorer after all has been said and done. He brings with him the training and boost in confidence he developed after playing under George Karl for the Denver Nuggets. Shut him down, and other role players such as J.J. Redick and Moore will be up to the task to step up and contribute.
For Vucevic, who got crowded out of significant development in the Philadelphia 76ers front court, we are going to see him really grow this season as a player. It’s true he lacks the instincts to body-up (properly) on big men like Carlos Boozer, allowing them to score at will against him, but he is showing that he isn’t shy to crash the boards and that he can play well with his back to the basket when the opportunities allow. Now that he’s thrust into a serious starter’s job with Orlando, Vucevic will only get better as he learns the ropes of dealing with heavy minutes and a bigger role. He will have his down games as he adjusts, but it’s clear that he does have the physical tools to be a solid center in the league.
While three games into the season is not enough of an accurate sample size to extrapolate how well or terrible the Magic will fare come season’s end, it was enough for me to see effort, talent, and the drive to win games from its rag-tag roster of trade components and carryover pieces. Those are the qualities that make the Magic an underdog worth cheering for. They will, more likely than not, lose more games than win this season, but the growth the individual players will get will be invaluable for the franchise’s future. I believe!