With the season at the halfway point for many teams, we slowly begin to get a better picture of where teams will be come the end of the season. For some, they’ll be walking into the playoffs with a “chip and a chair,” a chance at the glory every team yearns for going into the year. For others, they’re poised for the draft lottery, whether due to their franchise being in a rebuilding phase, or a turmoil-filled season with injuries and inconsistent play.
For the Orlando Magic, it’s the latter. In the second year of their rebuild, the losses are beginning to pile up, helping them to the league’s second-worst record thus far. The first half of the year was a tumultuous one for the Magic. From injury issues, to tough losses, to being run out of the gym, the Magic have been through it all.
With the first half done, how have the Magic really done this season? How have certain players performed? How has the team continued to grow as a whole and the players individually? These questions and many more may be answered in this edition of Magic 5-on-5.
1. While the team’s record of 11-32 may not be too hot, they’ve had guys perform well throughout the first half. Who’s been the most impressive player thus far? Least impressive?
Zach Oliver (Baller Mind Frame) – Arron Affllao has been the team’s best and most important player so far this season. He’s improved leaps and bounds over last season, and has really grown into the “go-to” scorer role with the team. His usage rate is sitting at a career high, and his true shooting percentage is currently his second highest in seven seasons. Afflalo and coach Jacque Vaughn have talked about how Arron worked hard throughout the offseason to improve his game off the dribble, and how important it was for him to become a more efficient scorer as well.
As far as least impressive goes, I would have to say Maurice Harkless. He’s seemingly taken a step back, and has struggled to find consistent minutes. He’s had stretches where he’s produced at a high level, and looked like a player who’s taken that next step, but then has nights where he looks lost and struggles on both ends. He’s still extremely young, and will undoubtedly grow more, but his inconsistencies are hard to look over at this point. I also think that Glen Davis has been very disappointing thus far on both ends.
Zac Cleary (Baller Mind Frame) – Even though the consensus is that Arron Afflalo is the most impressive Magic player, and I agree that he has been impressive, I’d say that the most impressive Magic player is Victor Oladipo. Even though he has been inconsistent, he has shown flashes of greatness, including a triple-double and a career-high 35-point game recently against the Chicago Bulls. He’s also cut down on turnovers lately, a problem for him at the start of the season. Even though Afflalo has been great for the Magic and the praise is deserving, I think that Oladipo has been the most impressive in such a limited time, especially seeing the struggle of other rookies, such as Anthony Bennett for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
I think that the least impressive player for the Magic has to be Glen Davis. His shot selection has been horrible, to put it nicely, and the ball just seems to stop in his hands every trip down the court on offense. He has been hindering the growth of the younger forwards, such as Andrew Nicholson, Kyle O’Quinn and Tobias Harris. At this point in the season, where Davis is just essentially a trade chip, he is hurting the team.
Armin Babazadeh (Baller Mind Frame) – Arron Afflalo, no question. He has improved in many facets of the game, so much so that he is now receiving All-Star consideration. In his seventh year in the league, Afflalo’s numbers are at career highs almost across the board, and he has turned himself into a very efficient player. After seeing him struggle as the first option in Jacque Vaughn’s offense last season, I must say I was a bit skeptical of Afflalo’s abilities before the year started. Admittedly, I was one of those hoping the trade for Eric Bledsoe would become a reality. Although Bledsoe has turned some heads himself, it’s looking like it was a good idea to hold onto the UCLA product and let him showcase his growth.
Tobias Harris had Magic fans really excited for the future at the end of last year as he took off as soon as he put on the pinstriped uniform. Glen Davis came back from injury looking slimmer and in great shape. Mo Harkless was rumored to have put in a lot of time working on his shot and bulking up in preparation for absorbing contact and finishing strong at the rim. All three have left much to be desired halfway through the season, but, to me, Harkless takes the cake. His stroke looks a little better, but the shots have not been falling on a consistent basis. He really hasn’t done anything this year to elevate his game and his playing time has taken a toll as a result.
Jake Smith (Orlando Magic Stuff) – You would have to go with Arron Afflalo as Orlando’s most impressive player to date in this 2013-14 campaign. His ability to pair efficiency with just the right amount of volume has been sensational this year, and his work out of the post as both a scorer and distributor has improved ten-fold. I know that this is the cliché answer, but no player on this Magic team has been as reliable as the seven-year guard out of UCLA.
I’ll also stick with “Bow Tie Killa” as the least impressive player—Maurice Harkless was expected to take some sort of leap this year, but one could argue he’s actually taken steps back in his development. The sophomore forward always seems to be the fifth option on the offensive end of the floor and spends most of his time camping out in the corner, where his effectiveness isn’t too high. I’d like to see a more selfish, confident Moe as the season goes on, and it would be nice to see him make a more concerted effort to drive to the rim and make harder cuts.
Chris Barnewall (Rufus on Fire; HawksHoop) – The most impressive has been Arron Afflalo. I know some of the young guys have been playing to their potential this season and that might make it easier to pick one of them but I’ve been shocked at how well Afflalo has played. I expect him to come back down to earth eventually and still think the Magic should trade him while his value is high. He went from “inefficient best player on a bad team” to “efficient scorer and solid defender who can post up on a bad team.” Even his ability to create has been better this season. Last season when Afflalo brought the ball up I’d groan, this season I get excited for what the offense is planning to do.
Least impressive is obviously Glen Davis. Big Baby has been horrid this season, between shot selection, maturity, and that he just looks like he doesn’t care. Davis’ one saving grace despite all of his problems is that he’s always been a solid defender. This season he takes off plays more than ever. Some of that is due to him using up possessions on offense, but when you’re bad at your one good skill, you lose your value.
2. Victor Oladipo is trying to learn a new position on the fly. He’s shown signs of potentially becoming a star, and having a big impact on the franchise long-term. Do you think he’s better suited as a point guard, or a shooting guard? What’s been his most impressive feat or moment of the first half?
Oliver – I think he’s best fit as a shooting guard long term. He’s improved throughout the season running the offense, but he still has his fair share of struggles running the team in the halfcourt. His vision has improved, and he’s the team’s most dangerous player on the fast break, not only facilitating, but just getting out and running as well. He could grow into a point guard, but I believe he’s better off as an off guard who can run the offense if needed.
His most impressive feat this season, I believe, was his 35-point outburst against the Chicago Bulls. While he struggled as the game went through overtime, his 33 points in regulation, coupled with his tenacious defense, eight assists and solid shooting performance, make it his most impressive. His triple-double in the double-overtime loss to Philadelphia comes in a close second.
Cleary – It might be too early to tell if Oladipo is a shooting guard or a point guard at this point, but right now, he has a better future working off the ball as a shooting guard. This could change if Oladipo becomes more comfortable with the ball in his hands, but even then, I think he might be better off as a shooting guard that can handle the ball well. However, I think it depends on where the Magic end up in the draft and who they eventually think can complement his skills.
As far as his most impressive moment, it’s his triple-double against the 76ers. That was an impressive feat so early in his career and showed his ability to stuff the stat sheet. Not only did he get double-digit statistics in points, assists and rebounds, but he also had three steals and only three turnovers.
Babazadeh – If I had to put a label on him, I’d lean toward shooting guard. I just think that Orlando’s philosophy moving forward will be to groom the team into a collection of versatile and position-less players. You can see GM Rob Hennigan going after players that can do multiple things on the court, and when he drafted Oladipo, the first plan of action was to throw him into the role of the main ball handler and make sure he develops into the versatile player the Magic need to fit into the system. I think this mentality is the future of the NBA and Hennigan is ahead of the curve. Look for Orlando’s backcourt of the future to have two guys that can each initiate an offense and play off the ball.
As for Vic’s most impressive moment, I’d have to go with his highlight block on a Damian Lillard dunk attempt. I was tempted to say his triple-double against fellow first-rounder Michael Carter-Williams, but that block in Portland was one of those moments that get you out of your seat. It not only showcased his athletic abilities, but also his fearlessness and aggressiveness on the defensive side of the ball.
Smith – Tough one. I’d debate that the NBA in general is moving in a position-less direction, but for the purpose of the exercise I’ll say that he’s better suited as the off guard. While his ability to penetrate into the paint is sensational, we just aren’t seeing the pinpoint decision making skills and passing accuracy that are generally needed for point guards. He’s given us reason to believe that he will work tirelessly at his weaknesses, but I still think that the Wade comparison is much more fitting than the Westbrook one.
As for the most impressive “moment,” I still can’t get over that triple-OT game against Chicago. VO was scoring at will against one of the best perimeter defenders in the league in Jimmy Butler, and everyone in the building just got that feeling that he’s going to be a special player one day.
Barnewall – The Magic don’t really play with positions like point guard and shooting guard. They appear to be building a team that just has two guards. We can see that in their offense since they’re constantly switching who brings up the ball. Sometimes it’s Nelson, other times it’s Afflalo. If Oladipo is on the court then he might bring it up, or Moore. Rather than one guy do it all the time, they have a guy bring it up based on what they want to do that possession. So to answer your question, yes.
3. Of the young players we saw last season—Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O’Quinn—which has taken the next step? Who’s looked like he still needs more work?
Oliver – I think Nicholson has taken the biggest step, adding the corner three and improving both defensively and as a rebounder. When he’s played, he’s shown that he can produce at a solid level, and his improvement defensively is huge for him long-term. As for the other guys, I’d say Vucevic and O’Quinn have both made strides and Harris has been somewhat the same. Nik has grown on both ends, especially defensively, and O’Quinn has had a larger impact when he’s been able to find his way onto the floor. As for Tobias, his ankle injury really set him back, but he’s starting to play at a high level again and has been one of the better players recently.
As for who needs work … it’s a trick question, they all still need work. The one that needs the most is Harkless. As I stated before, he’s taken a step back this year, and is still really trying to find his role on the team and in the league. He’s got all the tools to be a lockdown defender, but he’s struggled offensively, which hurts him some. I think he’ll be fine down the road, but right now he’s got the most work to be done.
Cleary – Nikola Vucevic has taken the next step and shown that he can be a very solid starting center in the league. It is a shame that he has been hurt so much recently, missing time with various ankle injuries and a concussion, but when he has been in the game for the Magic, he has picked up right where he left off with his impressive play last season. Even though all of the young players have areas that they need to improve on, I think Vucevic needs the most improvement just because he has shown flashes of being a franchise center. I think he might be held to a higher standard than the rest of the younger guys because of how good he has shown that he can be. The jury for him is still out on whether he deserves a long contract like centers such as Brook Lopez and Roy Hibbert have recently received. He still needs to work on his speed and post defense. I think that it is possible that Vucevic can improve on these facets of his game, but his improvements in these areas will determine if he is ready to become a top center in the NBA.
Babazadeh – This is a tough one. Nik Vucevic, Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O’Quinn have all shown great development. Because Vuc showed us so much last season, I think I’ll cross him off this list. Between the other two, I slightly favor Nicholson. Especially early on in the season, the forward out of St. Bonaventure has shown growth in a couple of key areas. He has really expanded his range out to the three-point line, and although he still needs a lot of improvement, his post defense and rebounding have gotten a little better as well. After playing for team Canada in the offseason, Nicholson continues to be a great scoring option in the post, but his play on the defensive end and on the boards is still keeping him from maintaining solid playing time on a consistent basis.
It’s become obvious that Harkless needs a lot more work. While he has the tools, I don’t think he will be able to significantly contribute to a successful team in the near future. He is still very young, so he has time.
Smith – We’ve definitely seen some form of progression out of O’Quinn, Nicholson and Vucevic. Kyle’s been a model of consistency as of late on both ends of the floor and is finally getting more playing time (but not enough) as a result of his improvement. Nicholson’s defensive growth and improving ability to rebound the basketball have surprised many, and I can’t wait to see him refine his three-ball over the offseason now that he has that weapon in his arsenal. When he’s been healthy, Vooch has produced for Jacque Vaughn on both offense and defense, and it’s just a shame that he hasn’t been able to showcase those abilities due to his lingering injury troubles.
Tobias Harris fits somewhere in the middle for me, and as I mentioned before, Maurice Harkless needs the most work. The talent is assuredly there, but Moe needs to be able to fuse that potential with a more commanding style of play. We must remember that he’s still only 20 years old, so patience will be of the utmost importance in his development.
Barnewall – This is such a tough question. Vucevic has taken a huge leap in my eyes. I never expected him to be able to do what he’s been able to do this season. O’Quinn has been on a tear as of late and has had some great moments. Andrew Nicholson has added a corner three game and, like O’Quinn, has had moments of spectacular play. The problem for those two is they can’t seem to get themselves off the bench. Meanwhile, Harris has been dealing with injuries all season.
I guess by process of elimination I’ll have to go with Harkless. Harkless has a future in the NBA, I’m sure of this. The problem is we don’t really know what that future is. With his current skill set he can forver be an eight-man rotation player in the league. But let’s say he adds a consistent jump shot (which, by the looks of it, he’s working on) or improves his dribble, or becomes a dominant off-ball runner, it would evolve his game so much. He needs to add a skill besides defense and dunks. Oh, and Tobias Harris needs to improve his shot selection.
4. Jacque Vaughn is in his second season as coach, and while it may be unfair to judge him with the talent he has on the roster, we need to at least address him. How do you think Vaughn has done this season with managing his young players? How do you think he’s done overall?
Oliver – It’s interesting, he’s doing what he can with the roster he’s given, but man, he needs to find a way to get the young guys more playing time. He’s got a logjam in the frontcourt, which costs guys like Nicholson and O’Quinn some playing time, but there’s no reason to be playing Glen Davis 30+ minutes a game, or Jason Maxiell 20+ some nights. Playing veterans that much is costing precious developmental time for guys like Nicholson and O’Quinn. However, I’ll give him some credit, his players have grown and continue to improve as the season progresses. It’s hard to judge a guy who’s coaching a roster that doesn’t have the most talent in the world, especially in his second year, so I’d give Vaughn a C through the first half.
Cleary – To me, Jacque Vaughn has been an enigma. Like Zach said, he has been working with what he’s been given and I can’t really fault him for that. Let’s face it. This roster is bad by design, so I don’t know if I can criticize him for throwing things against the wall and seeing what sticks, in a sense. However, I think he relies on his veterans way too much and does not get the young players involved nearly enough. Also, whenever I see a three-guard lineup, I just get sad at this point, really.
Babazadeh – From what I see, Glen Davis is given too much playing time and too much responsibility on offense. I would really like to see the younger guys get more action and continue to develop. Unless the word from the front office is to play Big Baby in efforts of increasing his trade value, this is the issue that sticks out most in Vaughn’s coaching evaluation. Also, it seems guys like Harris and Harkless have taken a step back in their development from last year, so that is a bit of a cause for concern as well. All in all, I would say Vaughn’s performance thus far has been below my expectations. Maybe I just miss Stan Van Gundy.
Smith – The only area where I’ll always critique Vaughn is the energy level that he can be getting out of this roster—Orlando simply doesn’t have the talent to compete on a nightly basis, but one aspect of the game that they can dictate is that “how bad do you want it?” factor. The Magic do a relatively good job of showing their eagerness to play, and that’s a product of having a multitude of young players who want to prove themselves to the front office. We’re quick to comment on Vaughn’s minute distribution tactics, but I think that we’ll see an expanded role for the younger guys once we get closer to the final stretch of the season. But … I wouldn’t be the only one who has the mindset that it would be in everyone’s best interest to trade Glen Davis away, because he’s stealing valuable minutes from Nicholson, O’Quinn and Harris, among others.
Barnewall – When I see Andrew Nicholson on the bench and Glen Davis jacking up long twos, I cringe. When I see players playing huge minutes and other guys play five, I curse Vaughn’s name. That said, I’ve been backing off on him as of late. A coach is always going to do whatever it takes to win, no matter the player development, the tanking, or the overall plan. As a result, you will see veterans play over young players because they make fewer mistakes. So whatever it is that these young guys that don’t play do, they do it a lot and that’s why they don’t play as much as they should. Is this frustrating? Oh, god yes. But it at least gives us a little insight into why Vaughn does the things he does. He has certainly not been the best coach out there but he’s been alright. I’d give him a C-.
5. The trade deadline is coming up fast. Looking ahead a little bit, what do you think the team does at the deadline, if anything? What do you think they should do?
Oliver – I think they continue to take offers on players, but I’m not sold they make a move. They should, but they’re going to want such a high return for whomever they’re trying to move. Reports earlier this season stated they wanted a first-rounder for Jameer Nelson; no one will do that. Reports have also said they’re rejecting all offers on Arron Afflalo, which isn’t a surprise, but it shows they want a big return. Glen Davis needs to be traded, but finding someone to take him and his big contract could be a challenge. It might take a young piece to move Davis and/or Nelson, but I don’t think you do that unless you’re getting very good value in return.
Cleary – I have no idea what the Magic will do because the organization is very tight-lipped until a deal actually goes down, but I can talk about what I hope the Magic will do. I hope the Magic continue to look to acquire picks in this year’s draft and unload veterans in the process. I think Arron Afflalo and Glen Davis are the most likely candidates to get traded, but I wouldn’t count out a deal for Jameer Nelson as well. I think the Magic will try their best to be active at the deadline, much like last season, to try to facilitate the rebuild through picks and young players.
Babazadeh – Hennigan will field in offers for Arron Afflalo, but, as reports have shown, his demanded return is very steep. Teams tend to do crazy things at the deadline, and if a team is willing to go all-in and push their stack on Arron, then I think Hennigan could cash out in the form of picks and young talent.
Aside from the Afflalo possibilities, I would love to unload Big Baby. I think he only hurts the team at this point and anything the Magic can get in return for him would be better than keeping him in the rotation.
Smith – It’s all about asset accumulation for Rob Hennigan. I really don’t think that he has a step-by-step blueprint in this “process”; he’s the type of GM who will explore every possible avenue in order to provide flexibility and growth that will pay dividends in the future. I think that Orlando will keep Afflalo beyond the deadline and try to maximize his value on draft night. What Orlando should be trying to do is unload Glen Davis for whatever they can get in return, but this probably won’t come to fruition as a result of his lackluster play. It’s rumored that ownership is very reluctant to trade Jameer Nelson because of the fan base’s familiarity and adoration for the all-time franchise assists leader, so I’m under the impression that he won’t be picking his bags either.
Barnewall – I think the team will try and get draft picks, and when that inevitably fails they’ll trade a veteran for some expring contracts and a throw-in or two. Don’t expect a Tobias Harris to come to town this deadline, I don’t see that happening again. What should they do? Well I’m no GM but … TRADE BIG BABY TRADE BIG BABY TRADE BIG BABY TRADE BIG BABY TRADE BIG BABY TRADE BIG BABY TRADE BIG BABY TRADE BIG BABY TRADE BIG BABY TRADE BIG BABY TRADE BIG BABY TRADE BIG BABY TRADE BIG BABY TRADE BIG BABY.
*You can follow all five guys on twitter at the following handles:
Oliver – @ZachOliverNBA
Cleary – @Zac_Cleary
Babazadeh – @AK_Babazadeh
Smith – @ORLMagicStuff
Barnewall – @ChrisBarnewall