2014-15 Record: 25-57
F Mario Hezonja, G Tyler Harvey, G C.J. Watson, F Jason Smith, G Shabazz Napier, coach Scott Skiles
F Kyle O’Quinn, G Luke Ridnour, G Ben Gordon, F Mo Harkless
Projected 2015-16 Lineup
PG Elfrid Payton SG Victor Oladipo SF Tobias Harris PF Aaron Gordon C Nikola Vucevic
I’m very excited about this Magic team, but I don’t think they’ll have quite enough juice to actually make the playoffs. Between Vucevic and Oladipo, they’ve been one of the more thrilling teams to watch for a couple of seasons, and they’ve now added a potential superstar in Hezonja (more on him later). Really the only valuable guy they lost was Kyle O’Quinn, but Jason Smith and Hezonja should be able to make up for those missed minutes fairly well.
I still don’t like Payton and Oladipo together in the backcourt. I think Payton could be a really solid NBA player, but the fit just doesn’t vibe for me. Both players are best when they have the ball in their hands and can control the offense. Payton is essentially useless off the ball at this point in his career, though I wouldn’t be surprised if his shot is improved over the course of the 2015-16 campaign. I think Watson and Oladipo will work really well together, as Watson has the ability to space the floor and do things off the ball that Payton isn’t capable of yet. That obviously hurts the defense, but with this lineup, the defense is already going to be suspect.
That said, I do think Skiles should do wonders for improving the overall team defense. The Magic were 28th in FG% allowed last year, only finishing ahead of the Lakers and Timberwolves. Skiles has a rep for being a hardnosed defensive coach, and while he’s no Thibodeau, there is merit to that. Pairing him with a bunch of young players should definitely help them reach the next level, but I just think it’s going to take more than one year to get there.
X-Factor: Mario Hezonja
I actually like a lineup where Hezonja starts and Harris comes off the bench, but I don’t think that’s likely to happen, at least not for the majority of the season. But this guy is crazy good. And crazy exciting.
If he’s doing good things for this team all year, he could move into the starting lineup. And he could make a case for rookie of the year.
I don’t need to write more. Just go watch him play.
Most To Prove: Tobias Harris
If Hezonja does move into the starting lineup, that likely means Harris is coming off the bench. The problem with that is he just got paid. We’re seeing more big moneymakers off the bench (Tristan Thompson, maybe Enes Kanter) but that still seems like a disappointment in the eyes of many fans. Harris isn’t quite big enough to play the four on defense and he’s not quite quick enough to stick with top wings. His offense will come, but he has to prove he isn’t a defensive liability for his game to really have value.
Why They’re Worth Watching:
This team is going to be exciting to watch mostly because of Super Mario, but Oladipo always provides thrills as well and Skiles should provide some hardnosed defensive coaching to help the picture come into focus.
Best Case – 44 wins
Hezonja for Rookie of the Year, Aaron Gordon takes big steps forward, and Vucevic proves he’s the real deal as a superstar center.
Worst Case – 27 wins
This may not even be the worst case, as it would allow for another year of development and another solid draft pick.