What Have We Learned?

We are approaching the one month point in the young NBA season and the first marker of evaluation has now been reached. The elusive 10 game mark was in Orlando’s home game vs Cleveland on the 5th November and now stands as the appropriate point to review the first few weeks of this campaign and try to gleam what we’ve learned in the process. 

Patience Required

For any long suffering fans that expected a new coach and revamped roster to turn the Magic into overnight contenders in the East, then you’ll be sadly disappointed. Most reasonable and rational fans who have followed the team over the past few years accepted that this season would likely be the first of another more comprehensive re-tooling. Despite being in what feels like an indefinite state of rebuilding, this year has that sense that the front office are getting to grips with what they have (and haven’t) got, and along with their new coach Steve Clifford, are looking to set the culture and foundation for the franchise in the years to come. 

So through the first 10 games we’ve seen that there is no quick fix here. Problems persist still with the roster, the effort (at times) and the development and progress of players, but this was always going to be the case. There has been positives to build on, and negatives to frustrate us, but all 29 other NBA fan bases will likely feel the same at this stage. While off season rust is worked through and rotations are still being worked on, there is no merit in drawing final conclusions at this stage. But what we can say for the Magic, is that this whole thing will take time and the continued patience will be important.

Intensity Is The Key

A reoccurring theme through the early season has been the lack of consistent effort, particularly on the defensive end through 48 minutes. There have been good quarters and good halves, but putting together a full 48 minute of intense defensive effort has been missing in action. This isn’t new for this team and was something Frank Vogel struggled to achieve in his 2 years as head coach. The staff and players make all the right noises about putting in consistent effort, but putting that into practice has been a different matter. The first 10 games of this season have been no different. The Magic have spells of intensity where everyone is engaged and active, leading to stops, deflections, blocks and ultimately transition points. This has happened in stand out road wins against Boston and through 3 quarters vs San Antonio. The first half vs Cleveland also looked like maybe we were starting to get this thing going. But then, as has been the normal, there is a let up and a let down. The truth of the matter is that until we can be consistent in our defensive intensity then it’s always going to be tough to become a play off team. Until now we’ve been consistently inconsistent. That will likely be the top of the to do list for Coach Clifford.

Mo Bamba Is The Real Deal

For those that doubted the motor or long term upside of the Magic’s number 6 pick, Bamba number 5 has shown enough through 10 games to suggest he is the real deal and has the potential to be a real difference maker. 

He leads the team in blocks in just 20 minutes per game and has shown an ability to crash the offensive glass and finish around the rim. There have been glimpses of his shooting stroke and 3 point range that could elevate him to be an elite big in the modern NBA. 

We know he needs to add bulk and has struggled for defensive position at times, but all that was to be expected. 

He has been getting modest playing time so far, largely down to the stellar play of Vooch, but that will likely change as the season unfolds. There’ll be bumps in the road for sure – but so far so good for the Magic’s latest big man.

Scoring Is Hard

When evaluating the Magic’s roster after their off season moves, most fans and experts agreed that points were likely going to be hard to come by for this team. The first 10 games have justified those concerns.

With no bona fide star or go-to scorer, the Magic currently sit 30th in PPG. Some shooting slumps for the likes of Evan Fournier, Jonathan Simmons and DJ Augustin have contributed to this and when that changes we could see an uptick. However, we aren’t likely to get to far out of the bottom 5 on PPG with this roster. Again, this is no surprise. It just re emphasises the importance of our continued defensive effort. If we can elevate our defence to a top 10 level (currently 20th in defensive rating) then it lessens the strain on our offense and could provide the platform to a moderately successful season. The current roster is armed with tools to succeed at the defensive end and it’s now Coach Clifford’s job to put the schemes and rotations in place to make it happen. 

Jonathan Isaac – TBC

The narrative on last years first round pick remains largely unchanged at this stage. Following an injury plagued rookie season, much emphasis has been placed on Isaac’s development and progress this year with fans eager to see what they had. The first 2 weeks showed signs of huge potential and promise. He’s a difference maker defensively and has an uncanny ability to get deflections in the paint. Following a break out performance on the road in Boston that saw the 2017 number 5 pick get 18 points and 12 rebounds, as well as a clutch go ahead jumper to ice the game, hope was (and is) high that he could be making that jump. Fast forward a week or so and another bad landing and Isaac has missed time due to a right ankle sprain with no definitive time table for his return. There’s no doubt that Isaac will be nursed back with kid gloves by the Magic trainers who will be desperate not to risk or rush a major long term asset in the name of short term need. As a whole this situation is largely as you were. 

What’s Best For AG?

There’s no doubt that the Magic fan base is desperate for a star. In fact I think most Magic fans are as desperate for Aaron Gordon to be that star as they are just a star in general. 

In truth AG hasn’t quite set the ground alight through the first month, and although he’s been OK – he has yet to make the leap at this stage. Interestingly enough he is being paired in the front court with Jonathan Isaac, with both splitting time at the SF and PF positions. Frank Vogel famously tried to make AG play as Paul George 2.0 in his first season as head coach, using Gordon in an unfamiliar small forward role. This move was largely deemed to be unsuccessful. 2 years on and the experiment is back on, at least to an extent. As much as anything its been about trying to get Gorgon and Isaac minutes on the floor together. With both set to be major parts of the teams’ future it was an issue that had (and has) to be dealt with. Although it is far too early to determine this as a success or failure, AG has yet to truly flourish. That being said, Gordon has had arguably his best 2 performances in the teams last 2 victories. The caveat? Jonathan Isaac didn’t play. Coincidence or not, AG will be looking to build on his last 2 performances and continue to build up that offensive efficiency which will be so pivotal in him taking the next step. 

Overall, I think the first 10 games have played out largely as most fans would have expected. The team have had one of the toughest schedules in the league and so a 4-6 record seems about right. Impressive road wins at Boston and San Antonio were unexpected but showed a glimpse as to what this team can do. While home performances have been disappointing on the whole and will need to be improved in order to make progress on last season. 

Rotations will likely be tweaked and form will come and go, but there are positives for sure. We should be more likely to get better than worse and at this stage –  and that’s progress.

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