STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Ten of the Magic's fifteen roster spots will be filled by players in their first, second, or third season. The Magic's youth defines the team this year – they are unconcerned with today, and almost blindly optimistic about their future. The few veterans that surround the team's young core seem intentionally selected to fuel their dreams of grandeur: co-captain Jameer Nelson enters his 10th year with the team and has once reached the Eastern Conference finals; Jason Maxiel played in several Eastern Conference finals; Arron Aflalo played in the NCAA Final Four and in multiple Eastern Conference finals; and co-captain Glenn Davis is a former NBA Champion. Even journeyman Ronnie Price has made the playoffs in four of his eight seasons, twice making it to the second round, and twice losing to the eventual NBA champions. This team is much more interested in developing its young talent than in winning games, but it remains unclear what that will do for the team's fantasy outlook. It will likely lead to lots of minutes for the young guys, but it may also result in some experiments where people are playing outside of their normal (and presumably more productive) positions. This team has too much talent and depth to be serious contenders in the Andrew Wiggin's lottery, but should find itself in the running for one of 2014's many consolation prizes.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Due in large part to injuries, Magic players became popular waiver adds late last season when the team had no interest in winning games and a shortened bench meant extra minutes for those left standing. The 2013-14 season figures to be a much different story. Less will be asked of Nelson and Davis, each of whom starts the season with a much stronger depth chart beneath them. That should mean slightly less minutes each night, but with the hope that such a reduction results in better overall health during the course of the entire season. In fact, the Magic boast a deeper depth chart at every position except center, where last year's breakout Nikola Vucevic should have the position virtually to himself.
The Magic's primary goal this season figures to be personnel development, and on a roster featuring 10 players with fewer than three seasons in the NBA, there are a lot of developing mouths to feed. With so much youth and potential for growth, expect this team to experiment with different lineups, and variable minutes allotments, throughout the season. This is great news for Magic fans with an eye towards the future, but bad news for fantasy managers, who prefer consistency and predictability.
Continuing the NBA's general trend away from firmly set traditional positions, the Magic's 2013-14 rotation is best understood when looked at from the specter of "guard", "wing" and "big". Nelson, rookie Victor Oladipo, and Afflalo will share the bulk of the minutes at guard. Moe Harkless and Tobias Harris will be the primary wings, while Davis and Vucevic lead the big man contingency. These seven players will eat up the almost all of the team's minutes this season, and all should see enough playing time to be fantasy-relevant in leagues of any size. All seven could reasonably average 30 minutes per game, but only Vucevic and Oladipo are safe bets for averages any higher than that.
After those seven, very few players have a shot at 20 minutes per game. E'Twaun Moore should come the closest, with Kyle O'Quinn as the most likely 9th man. Little is known about how much, if any, time will be given to veterans Price and Maxiell. Doron Lamb, DeQuan Jones, and Andrew Nicholson should see only scrub minutes, but given their youth and this team's long-term goals, that should be slightly more meaningful than it would be on most NBA teams.
Nikola Vucevic: One of 2012-13's most significant waiver additions is in line for an early 2013 draft pick. Last season's 2nd most prolific rebounder (Love and Varejao missed too many games to qualify) also averaged 13.1 points, 1.9 assists, and 1.0 block, along with an excellent field goal percentage. That was his second season in the NBA, and he is still only 22 years old. He has no legitimate backup, and will see as much court time as coach Jacque Vaughn thinks is healthy – certainly no fewer than last season's 33 minutes per game. He is a classic big man with the bonus of being young and improving. Draft him with confidence, and take him early in keeper leagues.
Glen Davis: Assuming he is healthy in time, Davis should serve as the starting power forward at the beginning of the season, while also seeing significant time as the Magic's primary backup center. Davis is an inefficient shooter for a big man, and is likely to see less court time while the Magic audition its younger, more durable assets. The minutes cut will decrease his value, but he will see enough time to remain on the fantasy radar as long as he is healthy, even in shallower leagues.
Tobias Harris: After accruing a few dozen "DNP-CD"s in Milwaukee, Harris became the steal of the trade deadline, averaging 8.5 rebounds and 17.3 points in more than 36 minutes for the injury-plagued Magic. Those minutes came while the Magic was without starters Davis and Afflalo, however, so expect them to decrease at least a little. After Oladipo, Harris is probably the player Magic fans are most excited about, and many fantasy managers should feel the same way. Even with fewer minutes, expect Harris – who bought his first legal drink this summer – to improve and produce. Only a slight improvement in his shooting numbers separates Harris from having the potential to contribute positively in every single fantasy category.
Maurice Harkless: Every news item about Harkless this summer has been positive, from his improving free-throw shooting (68 percent during the summer league, up from his 57 percent last season), to his improving outside shot (one reporter claims to have watched him sink 13 threes in a row), to his increasing muscle mass. But while the news has been undeniably positive, it's important to remember why he finished the season owned in fewer than 40 percent of leagues. It is good that his three-point shot is improving, but it could hardly have gotten any worse. Harkless provides an unusual array of production, primarily bringing steals, three-pointers and rebounds. Expect more minutes than the 26 he saw last year, but not too many more – the Magic are deep, and Harkless plays in some crowded positions. Harkless is likely to be one of those late-round picks that managers are glad to have.
Jason Maxiell: It is tough to know what to expect from Maxiell, but only managers in very deep leagues will bother trying to find out – last year, in almost 25 minutes per game in Detroit, he was inefficient as both a free-throw and field-goal shooter while averaging 5.7 rebounds, 6.9 points and 1.3 points. He is now 30 years old, and his best-case scenario is considerably fewer than 20 minutes per game as long as Davis is healthy. If either Kyle O'Quinn or Andrew Nicholson develops more than expected, Maxiell's minutes could all but disappear.
Kyle O'Quinn: O'Quinn should lead the also-ran forwards in playing time, as he performed better than expected last year, and was rewarded with a steadily increasing supply of minutes. He has limited skills as a shot-blocker or scorer, but is a surprisingly skilled as a passer – he averaged 3.8 assists per 48 minutes in March, and 4.6 per 48 minutes in April.
Andrew Nicholson: Unlike fellow rookie O'Quinn, Nicholson saw a decreasing diet of court time during the second half of last season. Simply put, Vaughn was hoping for better quality and better improvement than Nicholson was able to produce. He will continue to get opportunities, but unlike last year, now those opportunities should only come after O'Quinn has had his fair share.
Romero Osby: Osby is the heavy favorite for the final spot on the Magic's 15-man roster. Though Osby is unlikely to see much time for the Magic this year, he makes for an intriguing option in deep dynasty leagues. The 6-8 former Sooner was an accomplished rebounder as well as a very efficient shooter. By his senior year in college, he averaged better than 52 percent from field goal range and three-point range, and nearly 80 percent from the charity stripe. Reviewing his college career, however, what really catches one's eye is his steady improvement – as a freshman he was a 43 percent field-goal shooter, 28 percent three-point shooter, and a 67 percent free-throw shooter. Compare those numbers to the ones from his senior year – that is monumental growth. If he can continue that development, the Magic will gladly find some court time to reward him.
Hedo Turkoglu: If Turkoglu does not get cut before the season starts, the reasons are likely to be entirely managerial and financial. Even if Turk makes the final 15-man roster, he is unlikely to see scrub time, which Vaughn and the Magic would prefer go to young players with a future.
Jameer Nelson: Nelson posted arguably the best season of his nine-year career in 2012-13, bolstered by a career high in minutes, 35, that surpassed his previous best by more than 4 minutes per game. With the addition of Oladipo and Price to the roster, Nelson's load should return to a more natural level for the veteran in 2013-14. His raw totals will probably suffer from this, as those extra minutes led Nelson to career highs in rebounds, assists and steals. But this decrease brings with it two pieces of significantly good news: first, with a lighter load, Nelson's field goal efficiency should return to his historically decent percentages; second, fewer minutes per night should help Nelson – who has typically missed between five and 20 games per season – avoid injuries and stay on the court.
Victor Oladipo: When an interviewer asked what position he plays, Oladipo responded simply "I'm a guard", as though the distinction between a PG and a SG was both arbitrary and meaningless. This response is particularly meaningful because of the way it perfectly mirrored GM Rob Hennigan's answer to the same question. Under Hennigan's New Magic Order, this is as close to "he will see significant time at point guard" as we will see before games start. Defensively, Oladipo will match up with opposing teams' most significant threat at guard. At Indiana, Oladipo was a skilled and efficient scorer (.599, .441, .746), an excellent rebounder (6.3 per game) and completed 2.2 assists per game – all coming from the shooting guard position. Don't be surprised if last year's Co-National Defensive Player of the Year is among the league leaders in steals, and among the leaders at guard in rebounds and blocks, but also expect a significant number of turnovers. Statistically speaking, the biggest question mark is to what extent Oladipo's scoring and efficiency will translate to the next level. Since he should see tons of minutes, the remaining risk with Oladipo is the one common to all rookies: will he struggle making the jump from college to the pros, both in terms of the caliber of play and the longer, more strenuous season? Given his work ethic, however, even these may prove only temporary obstacles.
Arron Afflalo: Like Nelson, Afflalo also set a career high for minutes that enabled career highs in other categories. For Afflalo, those were rebounds, assists, and points. Like Nelson, Afflalo's raw totals for 2013-14 will be hurt by a significant reduction in minutes, but that might be where the similarities end. For Afflalo, the minutes reduction is likely to be less severe than for Nelson, and Afflalo's is more likely to bring with it enhanced field goal efficiency. For all the Magic's improved depth, they remain short on scorers, so when Afflalo is on the court, his primary occupation will be making buckets – especially when they try Oladipo at the point. Afflalo will remain a centerpiece of the Magic's rotation and a productive fantasy option, just don't expect a repeat of his 2012-13 campaign.
E'Twaun Moore: Moore is the clear backup point guard, and his quality play last year should earn him some meaningful minutes even while the three guards above him are healthy. If one of them goes down, as happened several times last season, Moore immediately becomes a heavily used part of the rotation.
Ronnie Price: Price was primarily brought to Orlando as an insurance policy – if the injury bug strikes again, the Magic can put out a respectable lineup and doesn't risk having to rely on Doron Lamb as the primary reserve at guard. As long as Nelson and Afflalo are healthy and Moore continues to improve, however, Price will see minimal court time. If injuries lead to an increased role (very possible), or if you are in a very deep league, take note of Price's strong rebounding and steals abilities – over the course of his career, he has averaged 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals per 48 minutes.
Doron Lamb: After being acquired as a part of the trade that also brought over Tobias Harris, Lamb averaged fewer than seven minutes per night until April. Once April Fool's Day hit, he suddenly saw a better-in-real-life-than-fantasy 22 minutes a night. From the fantasy perspective, only his three-point shooting was particularly strong. The additions of Oladipo and Price are likely to keep Lamb in a very limited role.
Tobias Harris: It is hard to call a player whose average draft position will probably be in the top 70 (or higher) a "sleeper", but A) Harris is still undervalued; B) people are already calling Oladipo a favorite for Rookie of the Year, so he's hardly a better option; and C) most of the other Magic players appear properly valued. Harris is crazy-young (12th youngest player in the league last season, says Wikipedia), and will be given tons of court time. This guy is only one step away from top 40 production.
Jameer Nelson: Nelson is a quality player who can put up solid fantasy numbers. Hennigan's long-term plan probably has Nelson remaining a member of the Magic (provided the finances work and no "can't-miss" deal comes along). But Nelson's value is over-inflated. The 10th year vet is coming off his best season ever and will see a major minutes reduction – possibly a decrease of as many as 10 minutes per game – to allow court time for the young prospects to develop, and to preserve the perennial injury risk's long-term health.