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Monday, May 18, 2015

SDH's 2014/2015 NBA End of Season Worst to First Countdown: 26. Orlando Magic

2014/2015 Projection: 22-60, fifth place Southeast Division, fifteenth place Eastern Conference

Actual Finish: 25-57, fifth place Southeast Division, thirteenth place Eastern Conference  

2014/2015 Finish

Actual 2014/2015 Finish

Team Statistics and League Rank

  • Points Scored: 95.7 (25th)
  • Points Allowed: 101.4 (23rd)
  • Team FG%: .453 (14th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .463 (28th)
  • Team FT%: .729 (25th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .347 (16th)
  • Rebounds per game: 41.8(25th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 43.5 (15th)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.3 (24th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 13.9 (12th)

Individual Statistical Leaders

  • Scoring (ppg): Nikola Vucevic (19.3)
  • Rebounds per game:  Nikola Vucevic (10.9)
  • Minutes per game: Victor Oladipo (35.7)
  • Assists per game: Elfrid Payton (6.5)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Dewayne Dedmon (.560)
  • Free Throw Percentage:  Channing Frye (.890)       
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Channing Frye (.393)     
  • Steals per game: Elfrid Payton (1.7)
  • Blocked Shots per game: Dewayne Dedmon (0.8)

SDH’s Hero to Honor: +Nikola Vucevic

It seems that Orlando always has had the "Magic Touch," when it comes to acquiring superstar centers first starting with +Shaquille O'Neal, then +Dwight Howard, and finally the newest addition to the family, Nikola Vucevic--a player who no one would have considered a starting caliber center, let alone an All Star who can have a team built around him.  Nonetheless, that is what happened as this young Serbian big man, who was not picked in the top ten off his draft class and was callously discarded by the +Philadelphia 76ers so they can get their hands on a gimpy +Andrew Bynum, who ended up not playing one game with the team. In fact one can go as far to say that Vucevic's game has shown more polish, fundamentally sound, and far more effective than Howard ever was, despite having the absolute advantage on him in athleticism, physical strength and abilities--that goes especially from the free throw line where Niko connected on .750 of his attempts compared to just .530 for Howard.  His selection to the Eastern Conference All Star team was the sole shining spot for a franchise that underwent another loss riddled season and a fan base that has not seen the post season in three years, but perhaps Niko will be the one that will bring them back to respectability once again.  All he needs is a solid and experienced supporting cast as well as a coach that can take his game to the next level, but the roster does not seem as too shabby as it consists on the deepest treasure trove of young talent currently in the NBA and all they just need is time and the right coach to guide them.      

SDH’s Face to Forget: Aaron Gordon

Add Aaron Gordon to the long list of prospective studs turned duds in a draft that was supposedly high in expected talent, but rather low in the actual end result; however, the Magic deserve a bulk of the blame for selecting this long, wiry, slight build, athletically pogo-stick in the first place.  To start off, the Magic already had a wealth of young, athletic, and talente at the power forward--players who in fact were far more polished, physically suitable and experienced than this 19 year old upstart whose only true strengths were his length, speed, athleticism and nothing else.  His actual basketball skills were almost nonexistent as he spent most of his time running and jumping up and down the floor while at the same time, he was physically outmatched on the defensive end making less of a strength and more of a liability on the court.  He certainly proved how outclassed he was physically when he got injured after the first ten games of the season and then spent nearly two months sidelined on the bench in street clothes as a spectator instead of actually contributing.       

Watching the +Orlando Magic  play is like watching a tiny orange sapling grow into a massive tree--it will probably take forever before it fully matures and bears fruit, but just simply witnessing its growth and development as it is nurtured over time gives as much, if not more enjoyment that waiting for the finished product. Such an analogy is the perfect representation of a team that rich in youth, talent, size and depth that is a joy to watch because you know that someday this talented group of youngsters will sooner or later burst out of the ground and start branching out; however, at the same time, it is rather frustrating watching the team suffer the growing pains that come with youth and inexperience.  Once again the Magic have finished with a losing record for the third straight season showing just a five game improvement over that period of time thus making those who watch and follow the team rather antsy as they yearn so much for a major breakthrough to happen, only to left unfulfilled once again; however, they must remember that it has been only three years since their team parted ways with its one time star, +Dwight Howard, that left three of the four teams in that deal--namely, the +Los Angeles Lakers+Philadelphia 76ers and +Denver Nuggets--in complete ruins.  Not only did the Magic manage to survive the flux that would have destroyed any lesser team, but it also found a way to thrive through discovering and developing talent that were otherwise ignored, unappreciated and thus cast away, then molding it into a work of art leaving those who had originally threw them out shocked and dumb-founded that they possessed such treasures.  It is important to remember, that the majority of Orlando's players were not even at the top of their respective draft classes either falling late in the first round or even as far as late in the second save for two of them-- +Victor Oladipo who was selected second overall in 2013 and Aaron Gordon, who was selected fourth overall last year thus making the Orlando Magic arguably the best team in spotting and nurturing the talent that they acquire.

Those players whose former teams had simply given up on them due to inability to find them playing time or simply had been ignored as they were buried under the bench found a new breath of life upon arriving in Central Florida with the two most notable being big man +Nikola Vucevic, who had earned himself an All Star nod, and swing man Tobias Harris, who probably could have also earned an All Star nod had he not been injured.  Before getting hurt, Harris simply exploded out of the gates leading the Magic in scoring with 18 points per game while grabbing nearly eight boards per game in the first two months of the season and although injuries in the month of January significantly dropped his production to 11.9 points and 4.8 rebounds, he still managed to bounce back finishing the season averaging 17.1 points and 6.3 boards per game.  Had it not been for his teammate's equally explosive coming out party, Harris would have probably received greater exposure and probably would have earned the league Most Improved Player Award if Niko had not taken all of the spotlight; however, Harris is certainly not complaining as he will certainly be quite a sought after commodity in the free agent market this summer.  Who would have thought a a player who was selected 19th overall four years ago and callously discarded by the +Milwaukee Bucks--a team that in by no ways was a contender by any stretch of the imagination--would ascend to a point where even they would reconsider signing him for a max contract?  The same can be said for a little known Serbian big man coming out of the +University of Southern California who the Sixers nabbed with the 14th pick from the same draft class who many scouts and analysts expected to be, at best, a solid backup center for the course of his NBA career.

Nonetheless, both these unexpected and unnoticed diamonds in the rough shined bright as ever thus showing that there is more to the "magic" in Orlando than just its namesake and what is even more jaw dropping about this team is that losing such a quality player in Harris would not even phase this team as they will be someone else waiting in the wings to take his place.  +Maurice Harkless was another one of those players who the Sixers considered as disposable discarding him along with Vucevic to the Magic in that massively apocalyptic Dwight Howard trade three years ago that would leave three teams in ruins; however, even he has manged to make the front office in Philly even more foolish than giving up Vucevic because at least it got a chance to see Niko play.  Philly did not even give Harkless the chance immediately trading him upon drafting him and watched as he thrived the next two seasons coming off the bench and posting nearly eight points and four boards per game in just 25 minutes of playing time while shooting over .460 from the field and a respectable .323 from beyond the arc. Unfortunately, after two solid seasons his production had significantly diminished this season as a result of struggling with injuries playing in just 45 games; however considering how young he is at just 22 and from what he had done in his previous seasons, Harkless has definitely shown that he is certainly a player to watch out for in the years to come.  If, heaven forbid, the Magic fail to retain Harris signing him to an extension this summer, Harkless along with two or three other players can easily fill in the massive void that he would most definitely leave behind and not many other NBA teams can easily say that.

As having Vucevic and Harris exploding for career seasons was not enough, This team would prove even more ironic as the Orlando Magic would once again be blessed with any hidden gem--this time once again at the hands of a team that was burned earlier in dealing with them in the first place.  Three years ago, the Denver Nuggets sent +Arron Afflalo to the Magic in that ill fated Dwight Howard trade and ended up becoming the team best player leading it in scoring while proving the Magic with a go to player with All Star potential; so they decided to bring him back trading another player they found expendable--a French shooting guard who they selected 20th overall in the NBA NBA Draft named Evan Fournier whom the Nuggets considered a long term project at best.  Unfortunately, they would get burned once again as Afflalo failed to reproduce his performance in Orlando as he fell under a severe shooting slump, never got back his stride and was subsequently traded once again to the +Portland Trail Blazers where as the player Denver whom they casually discarded would blossom in Central Florida thus making them look like fools once again.  At just 22 years old, Fournier immediately found his game in Orlando opening the season replacing the injured Victor Oladipo in the team's starting lineup and simply caught fire as he exploded pumping in 15.4 points per games while shooting a rather efficient .414 from the three point territory.  Although his numbers would taper thanks to the Oladipo's return plus sitting out 24 games due to injury, Evan Fournier still finished the season with a rather respectable 12.0 points in under 29 minutes per game while shooting an efficient .440 percent from the field and .378 from beyond the arc thus making many wonder whether or not there is truly something "Magical" happening in Orlando.

Everyone knows the old saying that lightning almost never strikes the exact same spot, but that is the exact opposite when it comes to the Magic as it keeps striking the city of Orlando at the same spot every season with new blessings arriving every season making every sports fan wonder if there is actually some sort of mystical energy or supernatural force surrounding this city.  What makes this phenomenon even more baffling that despite all the treasures that has been showered upon them, the team has yet to capitalize or profit from them as it still remains at the bottom of the standings and has returned to the lottery for the past four season which make fans and those who follow the Magic even more frustrated to see this team flounder in spite of its inexplicably good fortune; however, it must be remembered that even the most precious gems need time to be processed and polished before it is able to yield its full value.  Sadly, that is the case with the Magic--the team has been simply receiving more treasure than they can possibly know what to do with, so the team's coaching staff has to first figure out how to best utilize all the talent at its disposal before they can get anywhere near to using it to finally win games and become a contender.  Head Coach Jacque Vaughn found that out the hard way when he was fired mid-season despite managing to get a rather raw and inexperienced group of youngster to buy into playing a very disciplined and efficient style of basketball during his tenure; however, that is sadly the nature of the beast and unless the Magic's front office to acquire some spell or potion to quickly change the direction of the team, Vaughn's successor will have the same problem.  Hopefully, everything will finally come together next year for the Magic because it is simply just a shame to see possibly one of the deepest treasure troves of talent possibly in NBA history to fall apart simply because that people were too impatient to take the time and witness something beautiful to sprout from the ground and bear fruit in its own time.