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2015-16 Orlando Magic Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the 2015-16 Orlando Magic.

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The Orlando Magic posted another dreadful season last season, but that resulted in another high-level draft pick and a change at head coach. The Magic had talent last year and underachieved on every level. Coming into the 2015-16 NBA season, the Magic look like a team with all the pieces to compete. The question is can the Magic achieve on the court to their talent level or better yet, overachieve as new head coach Skiles’ teams have done every year he’s taken over a team?

Basketball Insiders previews the 2015-16 Orlando Magic.

Five Thoughts

At some point, a team has to quit stockpiling draft picks and start progressing and at some point, a young team needs to grow up and begin to mature. The 2015-16 season should be that year for the Orlando Magic. Scott Skiles is a no nonsense coach pushed his players in Milwaukee and Chicago and wasn’t renowned as someone who made many new friends. In all honesty, though, I think that is exactly what this Magic team needs. Nikola Vucevic is perhaps the most underrated player in the entire league and Victor Oladipo, in my opinion, has already proven himself to be a special, special talent. Tobias Harris being re-signed was a bit surprising to me, only because the Magic already seemed to have so many talented, young pieces, but clearly, they must have high expectations for him. Elfrid Payton seemed to progress beautifully over the course of last season and rookie Mario Hezonja should help make a difference from day one. Without naming each and every player on the roster, I will simply say that I expect the Magic to progress under Skiles and become a good basketball team. Unfortunately for them, they are seemingly putting things together at a time when the conference is getting tougher. Barring injuries, there is no chance that the Magic will be better than the HEAT, Hawks or Wizards in the Southeast Division, and if I were a betting man, I would probably take the Hornets to finish better than them as well. In the long run, I believe this is the year the Magic cease being a sure win on anyone’s schedule, but I still believe they are a year or two away from being ready to dance with the top dogs out East.

5th Place — Southeast Division

– Moke Hamilton

The Magic enter this season with playoff aspirations, as point guard Elfrid Payton recently reiterated on the Basketball Insiders’ podcast. While I believe that the Magic will make progress this season and show that they have one of the best up-and-coming cores in the NBA, I think they’re still a year away from making the playoffs in the improved Eastern Conference. With that said, I think that Scott Skiles will do an excellent job improving the team’s defense and building a winning culture. I also expect a breakout season from Victor Oladipo, who finished the 2014-15 season on a very strong note, and a solid year from Nikola Vucevic. Finally, I expect Payton and Aaron Gordon to shine in their sophomore seasons. This will be an exciting team to watch and they’ll be better this year.

5th Place — Southeast Division

– Alex Kennedy

It’s hard not to love the talent that Orlando Magic GM Rob Hennigan has put together, with players like Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris leading the charge for what is sure to be a very exciting Magic team this year. That said, it’s still hard to avoid putting them anywhere but at the bottom of the Southeast Division, due primarily to their lack of experience. Outside of Channing Frye and C.J. Watson, there aren’t a lot of guys on this roster with any sort of playoff experience. It’s a roster constructed of good youth, but it’s youth all the same. One of these years they’ll break on through; I’m just not sure this is the year.

5th Place — Southeast Division

– Joel Brigham

The Orlando Magic have assembled an intriguing batch of young players with a good level of upside, but the franchise is still seeking a star in order to seriously make a run for the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo are solid building blocks, but none of those guys are ready to carry a team into playoff contention. The Magic will continue to improve, but in order to reach that next level the team’s front office will have to pull the trigger and land a difference maker. Until then, the Magic will be on the outside looking in at the playoffs come April.

5th Place — Southeast Division

– Lang Greene

The Magic are an intriguing team to watch in the Eastern Conference, where there is room for newcomers in the playoffs. While they finished last in the Southeast Division last season with only 25 wins, they have a high ceiling of potential. The Magic boast one of the most underrated big men in the NBA. Nikola Vucevic averaged 19.3 points and 10.9 rebounds per game last season, which got overshadowed by the team’s record. Tobias Harris, a proven contributor, returns after inking a mega contract this summer. The Magic also feature an emerging backcourt of Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton. Aaron Gordon, who battled injuries last season, and rookie Mario Hezonja further boost their young talent. The Magic have the pieces in place to grow this season and in the future.

4th Place — Southeast Division

– Jessica Camerato

Top Of The List

Top Offensive Player: Nikola Vucevic

It was seven-foot big man Nikola Vucevic that emerged as the Magic’s top scorer last season. Vucevic paced the Magic with 19.3 points per game on 52 percent shooting from the field. His 19.3 points per game average was good for sixth-best among all players in the Eastern Conference last season. He’s been a double-double machine for the Magic as he recorded 45 double-doubles in 74 games played last season.

His biggest strength on the floor has become his jump shot. Vucevic attempted the bulk of his shots within five feet of the rim (451 attempts), but the midrange was his next favorite spot on the floor. He knocked down 47.4 percent of his shots (304 attempts) between 15-19 feet from the rim. His jumper can spread the floor a bit for the guards as Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo will often kick the ball out to him after penetrating into the paint. New head coach Scott Skiles will likely want Vucevic to continue to be a big part of the offense.

Top Defensive Player: Elfrid Payton

While we like Elfrid Payton here, we could have also gone with backup center Dewayne Dedmon. He’s emerged as the Magic’s best defensive player in the post, and as a result, led the team in blocks. He held opponents to 57.4 percent shooting less than five feet from the rim and 37.2 percent shooting between five and nine feet from the rim. But, because he’s unlikely to crack the starting lineup, we like Payton as the best defensive option on the team since he’ll be on the court for longer stretches.

After just one season in the league, Payton has emerged as a great perimeter defender and someone that just doesn’t wear down on defense. Payton recently told our own Alex Kennedy on a recent Insiders Podcast episode that he feels comfortable guarding just about every point guard in the league. He did mention that Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker was one of the toughest matchups he faced due to Walker’s speed and athleticism. As a rookie, Payton averaged 8.9 points, 6.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game. His 1.7 steals per game was good for fifth-best in the Eastern Conference, and after the All-Star break, he increased that number to 2.1 steals per game. Payton stands to benefit perhaps the most with Skiles taking over as head coach. Skiles has always had great defensive teams, which makes it likely that a player like Payton could continue to improve.

Top Playmaker: Victor Oladipo

Many are expecting Victor Oladipo to come out this season right where he left off last season. It was after the All-Star break that Oladipo caught fire, and averaged 20.3 points per game. During this time, we saw Oladipo turn in a career-high 38-point performance against the Phoenix Suns. There was also a stretch of five games in which only Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook averaged more points per game than he did.

It’s becoming clear that Oladipo has become one of the leaders on the team after just two seasons in the league. During this time, he’s played at both guard positions and can be the team’s primary ball handler and can also play off of the ball as well. Whether it’s creating fast break opportunities off of steals, finding the open man on offense or his ability to drive in the lane for an easy basket, Oladipo has solidified his place on the team as best playmaker.

Top Clutch Player: Tobias Harris

During his two and half season stay in Orlando, it’s clear that Tobias Harris has become the Magic’s most clutch player. Since arriving in Orlando at the trade deadline in 2013, Harris has hit three game-winning shots, which is more than any Magic player in the past two decades. Last season, the entire league saw 39 total game-winning shots during the regular season and Harris had two of them.

His first game-winner came on a last-second dunk against the Oklahoma City Thunder two seasons ago, and his two last season came against the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks. Harris shot 50 percent (20-of-40) from the field last season in the final five minutes of games when the Magic were either ahead by five points or behind by five points, per NBA Stats. He finished the year by shooting 2-of-4 in situations where the Magic were trailing by one possession or were tied. Great players are often defined as those that want the ball in late-game situations and are not afraid to take the last-second shot and Harris has already demonstrated that. Look for Harris to get the ball down the stretch for the Magic next season.

The Unheralded Player: Dewayne Dedmon

Dewayne Dedmon is perhaps the best player on the Magic that no one is talking about. He’s a player that works as hard as anyone on the team and is a guy that brings intense energy onto the court. He’s often one of the first players you see on the court in pre-game warm-ups and often the player that’s out there the longest. He’s much more than his averages of 3.7 points and five rebounds might indicate.

As mentioned earlier, he’s the Magic’s best defensive player in the post as he’s allowing opponents to shoot 57.4 percent less than five feet from the rim (better than DeAndre Jordan) and just 37.2 percent between five and nine feet of the rim. He’s shown spurts at times of what he might give you in an increased role as he recorded an 11-point, 16-rebound and two-block performance against the Boston Celtics on March 8. In 11 starts, he raised his averages to five points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. As one of the better defensive guys on the team, Dedmon could see an increased role under Skiles this season.

Best New Addition: Mario Hezonja

Although he’s yet to play in a single NBA game, it would seem that Mario Hezonja has the most swagger on the team. He’s been known as an extremely confident player during his time playing professionally overseas, and we’ve already started to see that translate during his short time with the Magic so far.

If Hezonja’s play during Summer League is any indication as to what we’ll see from him during his rookie campaign, then we should be in for a treat this season. He’s demonstrated that he can shoot the three-point shot, he can find open teammates with great passing and he can also put the ball on the floor and drive. We also saw Hezonja throw down a number of highlight-reel dunks. His teammates are all raving about what they’ve seen from him so far and are all excited to see what he can do this season.

– Cody Taylor

Who We Like

1. Evan Fournier

Injuries limited Evan Fournier to just 58 games played last season, but he became a key contributor in the offense in his first season in Orlando. Fournier joined the Magic last year on draft day after the Magic traded Arron Afflalo and a second-round pick to the Denver Nuggets. Fournier averaged just 8.4 points per game the season before joining Orlando and many were questioning what type of player the Magic would receive. But, it’s become clear that the Magic like Fournier and what he brings to the team. He averaged a career-high 12 points per game last season and shot 37.8 percent from three-point range, which was second on the team behind Channing Frye’s 39 percent. Shooting and floor-spacing have become an integral part in today’s NBA, which is what Fournier provides for Orlando. Fournier has solidified himself as Oladipo’s backup at shooting guard as he is an exceptional ball handler, can shoot the ball and can penetrate into the paint. Fournier’s ability to stay healthy this season will play a large part in how successful the Magic can be.

2. Scott Skiles

The hiring of Scott Skiles signaled to everyone that the Magic want to begin winning, and now. Skiles was perhaps the most-established head coaching candidate available and the team ultimately chose experience over youth. Of course, it’s been widely publicized by now that Skiles comes in as a tough-minded coach that is going to demand a lot out of his players. His attitude comes from his playing days, which has a lot of the players on the team excited for what he’ll bring to the locker room. The team will gain a coach known to be a defensive guru as none of his teams have finished below 17th in the league in defensive efficiency during his 13 years as a head coach. It seems as though the Magic will stand to benefit greatly on defense as they’ve yet to finish higher than 17 in defensive efficiency since trading away Dwight Howard three years ago. Skiles’ teams have historically performed well during his first year as head coach, which could help the Magic’s chances of returning to the playoffs this season.

3. Aaron Gordon

Looking back at last year’s draft class, a lot of players ended up suffering injuries and thus turned in incomplete rookie seasons. Aaron Gordon was among those that missed part of the season with an injury, as a bone fracture in his left foot kept the fourth overall pick out for 32 games early in the season. He showed during his rookie campaign that he’s going to be a player that will provide a ton of energy on the floor and has the tools to be a great defensive player. He showed that he can defend both forward positions and even held his own against some of the bigger forwards in the league. His performances in the Orlando Summer League have many excited to see him in his sophomore year. He spent much of the summer working to improve his shot and that work seemed to pay off during the Summer League. He converted on just 27 percent of his three-point shots last season, but converted on 50 percent (6-of-12) of those shots in Summer League. He finished second at the Orlando Summer League among all scorers after averaging 21.7 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.3 steals in three outings. Summer League performances are often taken with a grain of salt, but his performances this summer has many excited for what he can do this season.

4. C.J. Watson

The Magic were interested in bringing in a proven veteran to play behind Elfrid Payton and opted to bring in Watson through free agency. The team was said to have been interested in Watson for a while now, and were finally able to sign him. Watson is an eight-year veteran that will come in and be asked to run the second unit. He won’t be asked to do too much, but has been around for a long time and knows what his role will be. He has plenty of playoff experience after stops with Chicago, Brooklyn and Indiana, and can be a guy that will help mentor the team’s young core. Watson said at his introductory press conference that most of his new teammates reached out to welcome him to the team once news broke that he’d be heading to Orlando, so it seems like he’ll fit in great with the culture the team is building.

5. Rob Hennigan

It finally seems like general manager Rob Hennigan has the Magic poised for an improved year. It’s been three years since Hennigan was hired to rebuild the Magic after the Dwight Howard era ended. Along the way, Hennigan has collected a lot of assets and young players to make up the team as it is today. While it’s fair to say that his job of building the roster is far from complete, his work to this point to give the Magic one of the league’s best up-and-coming rosters hasn’t gone unnoticed. The team’s youth believe in Hennigan and the job he’s done to this point, so it appears as though everyone has bought into the new culture.

– Cody Taylor

Strengths

If you haven’t noticed, the team’s biggest strength is its defense. It’s been talked about in nearly every step up until this point, and it’s going to continue to be talked about. The team has a number of defensive-minded players in Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon and Dewayne Dedmon to name a few, and with incoming head coach Scott Skiles specializing in defense, it should come as no surprise that the defense should see the biggest improvement right away. The team finished 25th in defensive efficiency last season, and should see a healthy bump up in Skiles’ first year.

– Cody Taylor

Weaknesses

Put simply, if the Magic want to see improvement, the offense must be better. That seems like a fairly obvious statement, but the team’s offense has been really bad during their rebuilding effort. The offense has finished near the bottom of the league in offensive efficiency during the past three seasons after finishing 27th, 29th and 27th, respectively. After a couple of drafts of focusing on drafting defensive-minded players, the team addressed the offense this summer and drafted offensive-minded players in Mario Hezonja and Tyler Harvey (although he’s yet to sign his deal). Hezonja seems like a great fit with the Magic’s current system and will be a player that can score in a variety of ways. Meanwhile, Harvey led all scorers last season in Division I at Eastern Washington.

– Cody Taylor

The Burning Question

Can the Magic return to the playoffs under new head coach Scott Skiles?

After looking at this team on paper, it would certainly seem like the Magic can be in contention for a playoff berth. The race for the playoffs in the Eastern Conference seems to have six teams locked in, with the final two spots up for grabs. The problem for the Magic is there could be as many as six teams fighting for the last two playoff spots so the room for error will be extremely tight. The Magic still have a lot of young players on the team who are bound to make mistakes, which could make them one of the teams on the outside looking in for the playoffs. But Skiles has historically performed very well in his first year as head coach, so his presence and impact could be just what Orlando needs to return to the playoff picture.

– Cody Taylor

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