Today we are going to take a look at the squad for our team as it stands at this moment.
Let’s start this dive into Magic basketball with one of the most recent announcements made by the team.
Our 2019 Draft pick Chuma Okeke is to be “red shirted” for the season.
For those that are unaware he was selected by the team with an existing tear to his left knee ACL which required surgery to repair. We knew he wouldn’t be available for much of the season due to this rehabilitation but as with other injuries to players the Magic have taken the decision to not rush the rehab process.
By “red shirting” him, Chuma now does not sign his rookie contract with the Magic until the start of the 2020/21 season. In what is seen as a positive move for both Chuma & the team he has been assigned to our G-League affiliate; the Lakeland Magic.
This means that the 21 year old power forward has time to heal his injury fully with the Magic’s medical team, then gain valuable professional experience in the G-League before he signs his rookie contract in the off season & be ready for Summer League 2020.
As a final point on Okeke, had it not been for the injury he was likely to be taken as a top 10 pick. We picked him up at 16. With the right rehabilitation our Front Office could have picked up a future star.
This decision has freed up a further roster spot on the Magic. As yet there is no real suggestion whether we move for experience on a veteran minimum contract, look to youth or sign someone from training camp. We have 13 contracted players, teams usually run at 14 or 15 plus the allowed number of two-way contracts.
As I write our squad stands like this:
Point Guard: DJ Augustin, Markelle Fultz, Michael Carter-Williams
Shooting Guard: Evan Fournier, Wes Iwundu, Melvin Frazier Jr
Small Forward: Jonathan Isaac, Terence Ross
Power Forward: Aaron Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu
Centre: Nikola Vucevic, Mo Bamba, Khem Birch
We also have 2 players on Two-Way Contracts with the Lakeland Magic being Josh Magette (Guard) & Amile Jefferson (Forward).
It seems like a constant narrative around the Magic in the press & on social media that we are lacking at the guard position & how we top heavy on the forward & centre positions. As you examine that position I can see the point but as a fan who watches us all our games (mostly on NBA League Pass) I have to question how accurate it is.
Firstly; & I know I’m going to take some flak about this but I think DJ is underrated. He isn’t Dame Lillard (yes I’d love him to be!), or Curry, or Harden, or Westbrook, or any of the other star guards out there. I completely agree.
What DJ brings is a decent points per game (11.7 last season) particularly from his ability at driving to the basket or drawing the foul & has a good awareness around his team mates (5.3 assist per game last season). His ego doesn’t need to be the star player, he is happy being a team player. On his night DJ can be very difficult for opponents…don’t pretend any of you have forgotten Game 1 in Toronto!
A New Hope
We also have to look at the investment the Magic have made in Markelle Fultz by picking up his option. This significant financial commitment has been made on the basis of what Fultz is showing as he has rehabbed the shoulder injury that has seen him miss the majority of time since being drafted as the number 1 pick by the Philadelphia 76er’s in the 2017.
As he enters his 3rd season in the NBA he has only featured in a total of 33 games so far but I do not believe that our experienced front office would not have made this investment if they didn’t believe Fultz can be have a positive contribution on the team.
Then finally at the point guard position there is the former Rookie of the Year; Michael Carter-Williams. We all know the positive impact he made to our team as we took him on during the playoff push. He is still playing to prove he has a value in the NBA, being signed on a 1 year contract.
So we have an experienced veteran, a former number 1 draft pick & a former Rookie of the Year. Surely there has to be something to build from there?
There is also lot of flexibility within our squad as players have bought into the position-less basketball that the modern NBA & Coach Clifford plays.
As an example Jonathan Isaac can play at both forward positions. Aaron Gordon was showing signs of confidence playing almost as a guard at times last season. That flexibility of role allows us to use some interesting lineups within our core rotations.
Last season saw Steve Clifford use a regular 9 or 10 players. He says that is still his ideal. I feel we have 12 legitimate options within the presently contracted 13.
Run It Back
The Magic have declared their intentions to “run-it-back” this year after finally breaking our absence from the postseason. This has drawn quite a bit of negative attention in some quarters. Others like Zach Lowe see us as being in the conversation for the 3rd seed in the East.
Our goal is clearly to return to the postseason & prove that our appearance in the playoffs in April was not a fluke.
At times to even consider us a playoff team let alone a high seed is ridiculous to some. I do have to question why?
Look back at last season & it shouldn’t be. We finished with a record of 42-40. Finally a winning record! And it could have been better if so many big leads hadn’t been thrown away. What if we had actually turned up in some of the so called “easy” games?
South East Division
It is easy to overlook that we raised a banner for winning the South Eastern Division. I won’t argue that is going to be harder to achieve in 2019-20 as the Miami Heat have clearly improved but that is a conversation for another time.
Down the stretch of Season 18-19 we went 22-9 in the final 31 games & our defence was something to behold from January onwards. Many people outside of Magic fans felt we would be swept by the Raptors in the playoffs. As it was we took game 1 & probably should have won game 3 against a team who went on to be the NBA champions.
So is it unrealistic to see us winning say 47 games? I do think it is achievable & here is why. Going into this new season we have something we have rarely had in many a year…continuity. The squad has a young core, it is packed with potential & has good experience. That experience is now of the playoffs & equally of value is the experience of overcoming adversity as our mid-season slump meant few people gave us any chance of making the playoffs.
The players also have to feel positive from the vote of confidence given by the management to allow them the opportunity to push us further forward. Look at the potential in the squad & you see why we could make the playoffs again but with home court advantage.
It will be extremely hard but is achievable. We will need to compete with the Bucks, Raptors, Celtics, Heat & 76ers effectively to be in this fight.
The Magic Keys
Who can help push us to a position we have not graced for many seasons?
There is as mentioned earlier the 21 year old Markelle Fultz. He is still a big unknown & seen by some as a bust. If he comes back from the issues he’s had to reach even 75% of his draft potential then we have a huge asset. I strongly believe he will be a huge weapon for us.
Significantly as I write the the Magic have tweeted out videos of Fultz at the training centre, showing him shooting & stating that he has no restrictions for training camp.
Aaron Gordon at 24 years old could take a further huge step forward. He certainly progressed last year under Steve Clifford’s direction. AG began to mature into the player we want him to be. His defence was superb, even in the playoffs where he had to guard nightly the tour-de-force that Kawhi Leonard was.
Having been snubbed by the US team for the recent World Cup he has spent the summer working on his game again, including time with the legend Kobe Bryant. Gordon had stated he wanted to work on his post game. He looks fit & his shot looks good.
Aaron has to find the balance in searching for his own shot, being a facilitator & bringing his defensive game. If he can it is not unreasonable to see a breakout season, finally becoming an All-Star or making it to the Defensive Player of the Year conversation.
Aaron’s game growth is the element that could define what our team accomplish.
The Minister Of Defence
Jonathan Isaac, as he prepares for his 3rd NBA season is someone who is invaluable to the team. His rookie season was cut short by injury. After his omission from the All-Star Rising Stars game last season JI raised his game, seemingly taking it as a personal affront. Could we see the 21 year old have an impact in the way Siakam did for the Raptors?
Could he be in the conversation at the end of the season as Most Improved Player or Defensive Player of the Year?
Mo & Wes
Mo Bamba at 21 years old is about to enter his second season. He saw his rookie season ended early by injury. As with Isaac & Fultz he has been given time to recover, work on his strength & game. Wes Iwundu is 24 years old, beginning his 3rd season & was a regular into the rotation early last season, often being the first player Coach Clifford brought off the bench in games.
Our veteran presence is in the shape of Nikola Vucevic & Terence Ross both aged 28, Evan Fournier & Khem Birch who are both 26. There is also Michael Carter-Williams is 27, Al-Farouq Aminu is 29 & DJ Augustin is 31 years old. When you look at this group you see players of experience. Experience of years, of the NBA, of adversity, of the playoffs & of international tournament basketball. Outside of Khem Birch all have between 6 & 11 years of NBA experience.
Vooch & Ross both earned themselves new contracts on the back of last season’s performances. I honestly feel we overpaid both, Vooch particularly. Does anyone genuinely expect to see Vooch progress further? Being honest if he maintains his levels from last season or drops back slightly I can live with that. T.Ross is so much of a fan favourite through his spirit & enthusiasm for our team. Throw in his “Human Torch” reputation for lighting up from the 3 point range & he can do no wrong with us.
Evan’s Contract Year
Evan Fournier was on fire in the FIBA Basketball World Cup for France. We all want to see him bring that form back to the Magic & lift his numbers from last season.
As with DJ & I’ve said this before I don’t subscribe to the anti-Fournier view some Magic fans hold. I won’t disagree he took something of a downturn last year. He has been injury prone in his time with us. I will say I think we have a right to see him provide us with more than he did last term, but for me even in a down season his figures were relatively solid.
Evan is never shy when it comes to a clutch situation. He is always willing to take that responsibility & is probably our most consistent performer in that moment.
I will say again that I have concerns about his consistency at the free throw line, especially for a player with a decent shot & who does draw fouls with his drives to the basket. If he can pick up by an average of 2 points per game, reaching 17 ppg which was his average for seasons 2016/17 & 2017/18 that could be a huge help in us picking up those additional wins.
The summer saw us move on from role players Jarell Martin, Jerian Grant & Timofey Mozgov. Definitely not the issues that some of the bigger teams have suffered with huge moves. It is a fact that Mozgov never even took to the court for us.
To reach the postseason this squad has to compete every night. We have some solid foundations built & this season is about building upwards. With training camp just around the corner that building work will begin in earnest. It won’t be easy but it is achievable.
Until next time my friends when we will take a look at the Eastern Conference.