Scouting the Opposition: Orlando Magic

Sunday, November 18, 2012
By Micah Hart

For every home game this season, we’ll be gathering some intel on the opposing team from someone who knows them best — a team employee, a rival blogger, beat writer or broadcaster.

For the Hawks’ home game Monday night against the Magic, we reached out to Evan Dunlap, who writes about Orlando for the SBNation site Orlando Pinstriped Post, for his take on their team.

His answers are below: Year One of the post-Dwight era. Do you think the Magic have a plan in place for the future? Or will it take some time for the franchise to regroup after losing their superstar

Evan Dunlap: Orlando certainly has some intriguing pieces in place for the post-Dwight era, but it’s still waiting on that star player around whom to build the team. Those core pieces are, in no particular order, rookie combo forward Maurice Harkless, rookie power forward Andrew Nicholson, and second-year center Nikola Vučević.

Harkless, who’s just 19, has drawn comparisons to Josh Smith due to his athleticism and stat-sheet-stuffing ways, but J-Smoove is probably his ceiling and he’s a few years away from reaching his potential anyway. Nicholson’s got great back-to-basket moves and shooting touch for a young guy, and Vučević is already the team’s best rebounder.

But the Magic are still several pieces away from being a really competitive team again. They need to strike lottery gold sometime within the next few seasons. Arron Afflalo was the biggest name acquisition in the Dwight Howard trade. Does he project to be the team’s top offensive option going forward?

ED: Weirdly, it’s been Glen Davis, and not Afflalo, who’s become the Magic’s go-to scorer. But Afflalo ranks right behind Davis in shooting possessions used per game, so yes, it’s fair to say that he’s a key to their offense. One of Orlando’s problems in the post-Dwight era is that there’s nobody who commands a double-team, making life difficult for perimeter players like Afflalo and J.J. Redick, who have to get creative with their handles in order to get free in one-on-one situations.

Where Afflalo’s been a pleasant surprise is in transition. He pushes the ball ahead quickly and stays on the attack, resembling at times a downhill-running tailback. I knew he’d developed offensively from his first few seasons, when he was mostly a standstill shooter, but I had no idea he was so relentless in the open floor. The Magic added a lot of frontcourt depth through the draft this past offseason, bringing in Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson, and Kyle O’Quinn. What are the expectations for the Magic rookies this season?

ED: Orlando has made Harkless and Nicholson fixtures in the playing rotation, even as rookies, while O’Quinn has yet to play in any high-leverage situations, so it’s fair to say that the Magic have different expectations for O’Quinn. At the moment, Josh McRoberts is playing ahead of both Harkless and Nicholson at each forward position, but both of the rookies are still getting 10-plus minutes per game under normal circumstances.

Harkless is the real prize of the three, in my opinion, as he’s the youngest and has the highest upside. But Nicholson is no slouch either; he’s still learning to defend at the NBA level, but he leads the Magic in points per minute, and he’s doing so on reasonable efficiency. I’m not sure if he’s a long-term starter in the league, but he could carve out a pretty solid career as a scoring big man off the bench.

I’m not sure if O’Quinn will stick in the league, simply because he doesn’t have one overwhelming skill — shot-blocking, rebounding, low-post defense, a 17-foot jumper, anything — at this level. His willingness to play physically is probably his best asset at the moment. If Orlando clears its frontcourt logjam sometime this season, perhaps by dealing McRoberts or Al Harrington, then O’Quinn could become part of the regular rotation. As it stands, though, I’m not sure he’s a significant part of the Magic’s plans going forward. Jacque Vaughn has a terrific pedigree as a heady point guard from his playing days, and from his time as an assistant coach in San Antonio. What are the early reports on his style as he embarks on his first year as an NBA head coach?

ED: It’s tough to get a read exactly on Vaughn’s style through the eight regular-season games that he’s coached, but Orlando is playing slightly faster than it did under Stan Van Gundy, so the Magic are pushing the pace in ways they hadn’t in recent years. They’re also shooting significantly fewer three-pointers and significantly more long two-pointers. Hawks fans, having watched Josh Smith for the last nine years, probably don’t need anyone to remind them that the long two is the least efficient shot in the game. I’m curious to see if the Magic cut the long twos out as the season goes on, but given their personnel, I wouldn’t bank on it.

What’s striking about Vaughn is his demeanor on the sidelines; he’s very cool and keeps an even keel, even when protesting calls or non-calls. I recall Magic broadcaster David Steele saying during one telecast this season that Vaughn chooses to coach this way because he wants his players to see him as the same man on the court as off. Obviously the Magic are in a rebuilding phase – do you see them making a lot of deals to continue to re-shape the roster? Or will the team focus on free agency and the draft to add talent?

ED: I do think Orlando will explore the trade market during the season to continue stockpiling assets. Harrington is superfluous on this team, but until he’s healthy and played a few games — he’s missed all of training camp and the regular season to date after undergoing four knee operations over the summer — then the Magic aren’t going to get a lot of interest in him. McRoberts is another veteran who’s a bit redundant on this team, so moving him is a possibility as well. And though there are indications that the Magic and Redick would be open to a long-term deal when he becomes a free agent this summer, Orlando could trade him if a contender makes it a too-good-to-pass-up offer before the trading deadline.

Teams need not necessarily use cap space for free agents, which is important to remember: they can also use it to facilitate trades. In addition to the cap room the Magic might have at season’s end, they also have a hefty traded player exception from the Dwight Howard deal. If using the TPE will net Magic GM Rob Hennigan a young star, he’ll certainly make a deal.

The Hawks and Magic tip-off Monday night at 7:30 at Philips Arena.

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