Orlando Magic Daily Roundtable: Way too early impressions
The NBA season is a week old and the Orlando Magic have some pretty big questions already. As questions rage already, the OMD staff endeavors to answer.
The Orlando Magic season is off and running.
The team is 1-3 and showing some signs for concern. But they are partially the concern of a team needing some time to come together. Then again, maybe they are not.
Orlando has trailed by 15 points in each of the team’s four games so far this season. The team has looked lifeless on offense at times and a step slow on defense too. The Magic are still figuring a lot of things out.
The statistics do not help matters.
The Magic are 26th in the league in offensive rating (96.3 points per 100 possessions) and 26th in the league in defensive rating (106.9 points allowed per 100 possessions). Those are rankings and numbers of a team that is heading to the Lottery, not the Playoffs.
It is a small sample size, but that is not a good place to start. Doubt is at an all-time high.
Tuesday showed some signs of progress — if only small steps of such. The Magic played their best defensive quarter of the season in holding the Philadelphia 76ers to 14 points and eking out a 103-101 win.
Wins are wins, no matter how a team gets them.
The Magic hope that win builds some momentum for the home stand against the Sacramento Kings and Washington Wizards, two winnable games (at least by record). The Magic have a lot of work to do and a lot of focus to put on themselves.
It is still very early though. Very very early. The Magic have every chance still to come together and put together a great season. The team has every confidence that it can and it will.
The first week though created some major concern for the team. Those Playoff dreams at times this past week seemed like a long shot more than an achievable goal.
After this first week, there are some big questions to ask and try to answer as the season gets under way. The Orlando Magic Daily staff came together to begin answering these early questions as the season continues.
Eds. Note: Many of the answers given were submitted before Tuesday’s win.
What is the biggest concern from the first week of the Orlando Magic season?
Vincent McMillan (@vmvincemj): The biggest concern I have are the points given up in the paint. Right now Orlando is ranked 29th in the league giving up 55.3 points per game in the paint. The only team with a worse ranking is the Los Angeles Lakers with 57.3 points given up. The interior defense was supposed to be the anchor of this defense and the team as a whole. At least that is what I thought. Bringing in two of the best rim protectors in the league that also have the ability to switch assignments on the perimeter, the Magic should be better than this.
Zach Palmer (@FmrTankCommandr): My biggest concern for the Magic right now is that I do not see consistently good effort from most of the players. Listen, I expected the Magic to struggle out of the gate, but these three games have taken it a bit further than I imagined. Serge Ibaka looks lethargic. Evan Fournier is not competing well on defense. And nobody wants to track down a long rebound. I think the fact Mario Hezonja has played with the best energy out of anybody so far, but is still struggling sums up the kind of funk the Magic are in right now.
Alvaro Grullon (@AlGrullonNBA): Without a doubt the biggest concern through three games has been the interior defense. The defense overall has simply not been as good as advertised. This team was built to be a defensive team and to protect the rim, but so far the team has not done anything to stop penetration and easy scoring inside the paint. While the defense did look a bit better in the second half of Saturday night’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, I cannot give them a pass based on how poor their overall defensive performance has been early on in the season.
Philip Rossman-Reich (@omagicdaily): The biggest concern is the defense. This was supposed to be the team’s bedrock and its identity. Instead it is causing a lot more problems than it is solving. And it is not merely a matter of carryover culture. Serge Ibaka looks a step slow (perhaps lingering effects of his knee injury) the rotation seems completely out of whack. A lot of players just look in the wrong spot — both positionally and schematically. It should get better. But the flashes of strong defense need to get better. And Ibaka needs to become the anchor the Magic invested for.
What is the biggest positive from the first week of the Orlando Magic season?
McMillan: Elfrid Payton’s confidence and Frank Vogel’s trust in Payton. It was reported Elfrid Payton worked on his shooting this offseason and it is starting to show in his willingness to shoot. In previous years when defenders played off of him, Payton was reluctant to shoot the ball. This season Vogel has given him the green light to shoot the ball knowing he has to get comfortable with it in game situations for it to be a weapon. Going back to preseason, Payton took a bulk of the shots to close out the game including a 3-pointer to tie it up and a drive to go ahead in the final game against the New Orleans Pelicans. Vogel is letting Payton play to his strengths by allowing him to penetrate and create for others, if the team can find their shooting touch this offense will take off with Payton playing this aggressive style.
Palmer: Aaron Gordon’s perimeter defense has been absolutely incredible. He has matched up with Justise Winslow, Markieff Morris and LeBron James, and he has done about as good of a job as he possibly could on any of them. Aaron Gordon has the lateral quickness, basketball smarts and now the strength to effectively defend just about any wing player in the NBA.
Grullon: The biggest positive from the first week of the Orlando Magic season has been Aaron Gordon. I had my concerns and doubts about Gordon’s ability to adapt to the small forward position. But through three games he has done a solid job on both ends of the floor. I would like to see Gordon shoot the ball more and be a bit more aggressive, but that will come with more confidence. On defense he has been terrific with opponents shooting 25 percent from the field when they are being guarded by Gordon (through three games). Opponents have a -18.6 field goal percentage difference between their average field goal percentage and the field goal percentage they average when they are being defended by Gordon.
Rossman-Reich: It is starting to look like Elfrid Payton is rounding back to his rookie year form. At least on offense. His defense is still inconsistent. But he made that big play against the 76ers to set up the victory. The Magic are a much better team when Payton is playing at a high level. His ability to get into the paint and create for others has been invaluable. And he has shown much more confidence in his shot. This is the Elfrid Payton the Magic have wanted to see for a long, long time.
After this first week of the season, how should the Magic manage their big-man rotation?
McMillan: As I mentioned earlier, the points in the paint are killing the Magic. If the team wants to be a defensive force I think Bismack Biyombo should be inserted into the starting lineup to set the tone from the outset of games with Nikola Vucevic coming off the bench. With Nikola Vucevic coming off the bench, he would be able to replace Bismack Biyombo or Serge Ibaka to bring in an offensive punch. Both Jeff Green and Aaron Gordon should only be placed at the power forward position when paired with Nikola Vucevic or Serge Ibaka. The reason being, both Aaron Gordon and Jeff Green are at their best when attacking the rim. Ibaka and Vucevic can take their defender away from the rim a bit and allow Green and Gordon to work in the post.
Palmer: I have been harping on this since Biyombo was signed, but I believe the Magic should start Bismack Biyombo next to Serge Ibaka. The tricky part is what to do off the bench. I do not particularly like Jeff Green playing power forward off the bench. I think it hurts the defense and rebounding a lot. If Vogel can find a way to stagger Gordon and Green so that Gordon can come in and play next to Vucevic off the pine. It should spark the offense against second units.
Grullon: The Magic will have to continue to learn on the fly as they try to find a good rotation for Vucevic, Ibaka and Biyombo. Vucevic has been the most consistent out of the three early on. But the opposition is also scoring at will in the paint, which is not a good sign. Vucevic is needed with the starting lineup to provide some scoring, so for now I would keep him there. I would like to see Vogel continue to use Ibaka and Vucevic in the starting lineup and give plenty of minutes to Biyombo off the bench. Biyombo finally made his presence felt in the second half of Saturday’s game against the Cavaliers and it was obvious how his presence can make an impact on the defensive end.
Rossman-Reich: This is still a very difficult question. And really the answer may not be changing the starting lineup at all. It may simply be finding better combinations to maximize what these players do well. Nikola Vucevic always needs a rim protector on the floor with him — preferably Serge Ibaka. Bismack Biyombo needs to be in lineups where he is grounded in the paint, his playing power forward and guarding the perimeter is not working and eliminating his best skill. And the team needs to have the option for smaller lineups. The answer is probably starting Biyombo and having Vucevic anchor the bench.
Which experiment the Magic were running this year are you ready to abandon or scale back?
McMillan: Nothing. It is early in the season, and they are still figuring things out. I would actually like to see more experiments. I would like to see Mario Hezonja bring the ball up as the point guard in a huge lineup of Hezonja, Gordon, Green, Ibaka and Biyombo/Vucevic. Or maybe a small lineup of shooters with D.J. Augustin, C.J. Wilcox, Evan Fournier, Mario Hezonja and Serge Ibaka.
Palmer: I am going to go with two things the Magic should not try anymore. The first and most important is STOP playing Bismack Biyombo at the power forward spot. I do not care if he can defend 4s, the offense should never have to suffer through that. The second I do not like seeing is Elfrid Payton playing alongside D.J. Augustin. I do not get it. Payton is useless off the ball. And Augustin is at his best when he has got the ball. There are defensive reasons as well but I would rather see C.J. Wilcox or Mario Hezonja next to Augustin.
Grullon: The nine-man rotation needs to go. Vogel needs to be a bit more flexible with his rotation and give guys like C.J. Wilcox, Damjan Rudez and C.J. Watson some minutes, especially when the offense is struggling. Early on in the season the offense has struggled considerably, yet there are three players sitting in the bench who can shoot the ball well and have not been given an opportunity. I am not saying these players need to be playing a defined role with the team and a set number of minutes per game. But when the offense is stagnant and there is nothing working on offense, put one of them in to change it up a bit and stretch out the floor.
Rossman-Reich: I think the Magic need to scale back some of the big lineups they use and be willing to go small. Orlando touted its versatility on the defensive end, but they have not used it at all. Every lineup they have used has had at least two of their three big men in the lineup. That means very little of Aaron Gordon at the 4 and even Jeff Green at the 4. The Magic need to be willing to play Ibaka at center with Gordon or Green next to him. They need to do the same with Biyombo too. When matchups dictate to go small, the Magic need to be willing to go small.
What needs do the Orlando Magic need to fill early in the season that they can actually fill before February?
McMillan: The shooting has to get better. The Magic might get some help soon once Jodie Meeks is ready to go.
Palmer: Does chemistry count? That is what the Magic need right now. These guys look lost together on the court. Nobody knows each other’s tendencies, the ball does not move, guys are not willing to pass and the communication on defense has been poor. If there is one area where the Magic need to improve it’s chemistry.
Grullon: This team needs a player who can be a threat to score consistently. Evan Fournier has had his moments and is a threat to shoot from the outside. But he has not proven he can do it consistently. Payton has had some good start to games, but for some reason he then becomes invisible on offense and the Magic offense deteriorates as a result. Ibaka has been wildly inconsistent in the first three games. The expectation was for Ibaka to assume a larger role on the offensive end with the Magic, but early on he has not been a player that has shown the ability to carry this team on the offensive end.
The Magic need to go out in the trade market and try to acquire a player that can be a threat to shoot the ball and also to drive it to the hoop without hesitation. It will not be easy to acquire a player with this set of skills, but with the collection of assets that the Magic have available, they should be able to make a strong offer for a player that can make a difference right away.
Rossman-Reich: They need to figure out how to space the floor better. That is task No. 1. Defenses are already packing the paint and closing out driving lanes to dare the Magic to shoot. That means either Frank Vogel needs to balance the rotation to get shooting in both the starting and reserve units or the Magic need to go out and acquire starter-quality shooting. Maybe they can get it, maybe they cannot. But this is the biggest need I see. The floor spacing just has to improve.
What do you think? Leave your answers in the comments below or tweet them at us @omagicdaily.
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