As I said in my Southeast Division: At a Glance article, I’ll be breaking down the Southeast Division, in reverse order from where I’m predicting they will finish in the rankings for the 2014-2015 season, in a series of posts over the next few weeks. Unfortunately for Magic fans, we’ll most likely see them at the bottom of the Southeast again, but with plenty of hope for the future.
Overview: Having won 43 games over the last two seasons, coach Jacque Vaughn and GM Rob Hennigan have had trouble putting together a winning formula in Orlando in the post Dwight Howard era, but they have been putting together a young nucleus of talent lead by Nikola Vucevic and Victor Oladipo. However, the disinterest of any real stars and superstars to join the rebuilding process has this team having to build through the draft, much like Charlotte had to do before Al Jefferson came to town. Orlando traded away their highest scorer in Arron Afflalo for Evan Fournier and a second round pick which they spent on Devyn Marble from Iowa, and the rebuilding continues.
Guards: Elfrid Payton (Rookie), Victor Oladipo, Evan Fournier, Willie Green, Ben Gordon, Luke Ridnour, Devyn Marble (Rookie).
After struggling in his Summer League debut, Elfrid Payton took the rest of the tournament by storm and will most likely look to replace longtime starter Jameer Nelson at the PG spot by seasons end. It also seems as if he’ll be interchanging with Victor Oladipo at SG. Oladipo lived up to his billing in his rookie year by averaging just under 14PPG while dishing out 4APG and quickly adjusting his defense to the NBA. He also put together a few monstrous games and made a real push for ROY honors. Evan Fournier will likely add some quality minutes coming off the bench, averaging 8PPG for the Denver Nuggets in 2013-2014. Willie Green, Ben Gordon, and Luke Ridnour will also vie for minutes, but we all remember the struggles of Gordon and Ridnour so it remains to be seen what kind of contribution they can offer. 6’6 Guard Devyn Marble from Iowa has nice size but comes into the league with below average athleticism with a high motor. He’ll try and force some minutes in his direction as the season goes on.
Forwards: Channing Frye, Tobias Harris, Aaron Gordon (Rookie), Moe Harkless, Andrew Nicholson, Anthony Randolph.
Channing Frye will most likely benefit from a less crowded frontcourt in Orlando, and start at the PF spot after signing a 4 year deal this summer. He’ll bring some much needed outside shooting and experience, averaging 11 points and 5 rebounds a game in Phoenix. He also averaged 2 buckets a game from long range, so he’ll take some of the defense with him out of the paint. Tobias Harris is entering the final year on his rookie contract and manned the PF spot for Orlando last season. He may end up sliding over to SF or could even end up as the 6th man with Frye entering the picture. He’s a solid player capable of putting up big numbers averaging 17 points and 8 rebounds per 36 minutes last year. GM Rob Hennigan surprised a lot of people by passing on the Australian Man of Mystery by drafting Aaron Gordon. Gordon received a lot of hype before the draft, with constant highlights of him at Arizona flying above the rim. He came out as one of the best defensive and athletic prospects in the draft, with an extremely high motor but limited offensive capabilities. Andrew Nicholson in particular should benefit the most from the signing of Frye, and while Maurice (Moe) Harkless could get the start at SF, he still has a lot to prove. His defensive prowess and 3 pt shooting may give him the edge, but SF is an area where the Magic can go in a ton of different ways. Anthony Randolph may not even make the team after his inexplicable demise.
Center: Nikola Vucevic, Kyle O’Quinn, Dewayne Dedmon
The Dwight Howard trade didn’t end up completely terrible for Orlando. Enter Nikola Vucevic. The 23 yr old, when healthy, is really coming into his own as a dominant big man in the league. The guy is a double-double machine, with numerous inside moves and phenomenal rebounding ability. His defense needs a little work, but he has consistently improved since being the 16th overall pick in 2011 and the sky is the limit for this 7 footer. Kyle O’Quinn can easily anchor down for over 20 minutes a game at the Center and Power Forward spot, and is a more than capable backup. Dewayne Dedmon may have stolen the show at the Summer League, flashing defensive brilliance while averaging 2 blocks and 2 steals a game.
All-in-all the Orlando Magic are really putting together an impressive team built on an extremely young core, with a few veterans to shore up the roster, which these young guys will benefit from exponentially. Expect them to improve on their 23 win season last year, but it may still be another year or two before you can expect these guys to make some noise in the Southeast Division. While their focus remains on this season and their budding stars’ progression, the need to lockup Vucevic and Harris remains the most important part of the upcoming season.
Projected Finish: 5th in the Southeast, Missing the playoffs.
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