NBA Team Previews: Orlando Magic

NBA Team Previews: Orlando Magic

This article is part of our NBA Team Previews series.

MagicSTATE OF THE FRANCHISE
A team constructed on youth, defense, and athleticism, the Orlando Magic enter year three of their rebuild, otherwise known as the Post-Dwightmare era. They won a franchise-low four road games last season and possess the worst winning percentage in the NBA over the past two seasons combined. Gone are Magic staples Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo, along with tertiary pieces E'Twaun Moore, Ronnie Price, and Doron Lamb, all of whom accounted for 65 percent of the team's three-pointers and 54.7 percent of the team's assists last season. General manager Rob Hennigan claimed Willie Green off waivers, signed Channing Frye and Ben Gordon to generous offers, snagged Luke Ridnour off the scrap heap, and traded for Evan Fournier. Throw in rookies Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, and Devyn Marble, add some broth, a potato, and baby, you've got a stew going.

PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Coach Jacque Vaughn deployed 22 starting lineups last season and 28 unique starting lineups the season prior. Trades and injuries aside, his lineups have been extremely inconsistent, leaving him poised to supplant Larry Drew as fantasy owners' least favorite coach. Elfrid Payton is expected to garner meaningful minutes (28-32) at point guard, even if the Magic decide to bring him off the bench to begin the year, cultivating their rookie slowly. Luke Ridnour will be relegated to mop-up duty, and Peyton Siva expects to spend a majority of his season in the D-League. Victor Oladipo will absorb significant backcourt minutes (32-36), manning both guard spots. Newly acquired Evan Fournier (16-20 mpg) is the early front-runner to be the secondary ball-handler, leaving Ben Gordon, Devyn Marble, and Willie Green fighting for scraps. Maurice Harkless and Tobias Harris enter the preseason locked in a position battle, with Harkless likely to see more minutes (26-30) at small forward and Harris (26-30 mpg) occasionally spelling Channing Frye as backup power forward. Rookie Aaron Gordon, given his offensive deficiencies and Orlando's forward depth, will likely be capped around 18 minutes. Frye, the highest paid Orlando Magician after signing a four-year, $32 million contract is the impetus behind the backcourt logjam but will claim the starting power forward minutes (28-30). For the second consecutive season, Andrew Nicholson's role and minutes are in flux. Nikola Vucevic will hoard the lion's share of the center minutes (30-34), with Kyle O'Quinn (12-16 mpg) in the on-deck circle, and Dewayne Dedmon in the hole, playing any minutes Frye doesn't pilfer.

PLAYER OUTLOOKS

Centers

Nikola Vucevic: The 23-year-old center averaged 14.2 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 steals, and 0.8 blocks in 32 minutes per game over the course of 57 games last season. Vucevic had a streak of sad sack injuries: spraining his ankle tripping over a cameraman, suffering his second concussion in the span of 10 months, and missing the final two weeks with an Achilles injury. Playing two fewer minutes per game last season, his stats across the board showed little statistical improvement with the exception of an eight-percent increase at the free-throw line, classifying him as one of only 15 centers to shoot better than 50 percent from the field and 75 percent from the free-throw line last season. He augmented his reputation as a prolific rebounder, possessing the 10th best rebounding rate last season (27.6 percent), finishing eighth in rebounds per game, and registering 36 double-doubles in only 57 games (tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference). Vucevic is close to automatic outside of 16 feet (44 percent mid-range), a three-percent improvement from his previous season. The one flaw in his game remains his defense, where he allowed opponents to shoot 56 percent at the rim, manifesting itself into a mediocre block rate. Rest assured, a healthy Vucevic translates well in any fantasy format.

Kyle O'Quinn: O'Quinn is entering his third season in the NBA. Last season, he averaged 6.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.6 steals, and 1.3 blocks in 17 minutes per game through 69 games. The 24-year-old center shot 50 percent from the field and 69 percent from the free-throw line. What began as a lost season quickly turned into a contract-saving campaign, with O'Quinn becoming a staple in the starting lineup after the trade deadline, aided by the departure of Glen Davis and injury-absence of Nikola Vucevic. O'Quinn turned in career-highs across the board and led the Magic in blocks and defensive rating (101.8). His 88 total blocks left him tied for 24th in the league last season, and he held opponents to 46-percent shooting at the rim (eighth best among 71 players with at least four opportunities per game and 60 games played). Offensively, O'Quinn owns a quality mid-range game (42 percent from the field on 177 attempts last season) and is an adept passer for a center. Standing in his way are minute consumers Nikola Vucevic and Channing Frye.

Dewayne Dedmon: During his rookie campaign - spread across three organizations and concluding in Orlando - Dedmon averaged 3.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 0.2 assists, 0.2 steals, and 0.7 blocks in 13 minutes per game through 31 games played. The 25-year-old center shot 46 percent from the field and 66 percent from the free-throw line. Dedmon spent the majority of his rookie season in the D-League and ended the regular season on a low note, starting the final six games but only converting 30 percent of his shots, a product of no longer facing second units regularly. Even with his relatively high block numbers, a rim deterrent he was not, allowing opponents to shoot 61 percent at the rim last season (second worst to Reggie Evans among non-guards with at least two chances per game). Dedmon claims to have gained eight pounds of muscle this offseason but is not on most fantasy radars as his offensive struggles and spot behind Nikola Vucevic and Kyle O'Quinn on the depth chart curtail expectations heading into the season.

Forwards

Channing Frye: After sitting out the 2012-13 season due to an enlarged heart, Frye averaged 11.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.7 steals, and 0.8 blocks in 28 minutes per game through 82 games last season. The 31-year-old shot 43 percent on 9.5 field goal attempts and 82 percent on 1.2 free-throw attempts. Frye was the unheralded linchpin of the Suns' offense. Consider this: Goran Dragic shot 47 percent from three last season when he shared the court with Frye, a number that plummeted to 29 percent with Frye on the bench. Even more alarming, Dragic shot 32 percent from deep two seasons ago when Frye missed the entire season. Dragic also saw a decrease of three-point assists per 100 possessions without Frye on the court last season. The duo of Frye and Dragic led the NBA in points per pick-and-roll possessions (1.3), and the Suns' offense was eight points better per 100 possessions with Frye on the court. He finished second to Kevin Love in total power forward three-pointers (160) and ninth among all forwards, finishing 30 three-pointers behind Love and 29 ahead of the next nominal power forward (Dirk Nowitzki), finishing with 2.0 three-pointers per game. His duty as a pick-and-pop maestro pulls him away from the basket, contributing to his porous rebounding rate. Though he stands 6-11 and claims center eligibility in several fantasy formats, you can treat Frye like a small forward based on his statistical production.

Tobias Harris: Harris will enter his fourth NBA season at the ripe age of 22. He played last season at "about 75 percent" after a preseason high-ankle sprain forced him to miss 21 of the teams' first 22 games. Harris averaged 14.6 points and 7.0 rebounds in 30 minutes per game while shooting 46 percent from the floor and 81 percent from the free-throw line. A position change, combined with a minutes reduction, ensured a decline in his production across the board as Harris was unable to live up to his post-trade 27-game output from when he first joined the Magic at the trade deadline in 2012-13. In actuality, his per-36-minute stats were nearly identical each season, with a noticeable dip in blocks as he played more minutes at small forward when a healthy and rostered Glen Davis was playing power forward. Harris did see his field goal percentage increase roughly three percent every month last season, coinciding with improved rhythm and his stint as a reserve the final two months of the season. The addition of his cousin Channing Frye mucks up the frontcourt minutes, and Harris's inability to knock down three-pointers consistently (25 percent last year) may slot him into Orlando's sixth man role.

Maurice Harkless: The 21-year-old is entering his third NBA season. During his sophomore campaign, Harkless averaged 7.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.2 steals, and 0.6 blocks in 24 minutes per game through 80 games played. He shot 46 percent from the field, 59 percent from the free-throw line and improved considerably to be an above-average three-point shooter, converting 38 percent from beyond the arc for the season and 40 percent post-All-Star break. Playing two fewer minutes per game, the rest of his numbers plateaued or saw trivial decline. Even with the minutes limitation, Harkless finished 34th in total steals (97). Sadly, it was his second consecutive season shooting less than 60 percent from the free-throw line, and even though half his shot attempts were in the restricted area, Harkless fell four percent shy (56 percent) of the league average in that zone. The addition of Channing Frye at power forward creates a position battle at starting small forward between Harkless and Tobias Harris. With Harkless possessing two traits his counterpart lacks - quality perimeter defense and outside shooting - coach Jacque Vaughn may anoint the St. John's alumnus Opening Night starter at small forward.

Aaron Gordon: The second youngest player in the league and fourth selection in June's NBA draft, during his one and only college season, Gordon averaged 12.3 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.8 steals, and 1.0 block in 31 minutes per game with the Arizona Wildcats through 38 games. He shot worse from the free-throw line (42 percent) than from the field (50 percent) and held opponents to 34-percent shooting as the primary defender in college while recording an NCAA-best 3.3 defensive win shares. Gordon is a tremendous athlete and superb wing defender capable of guarding four positions. He's also a competent dribbler and passer, often leading fast breaks after crashing the defensive glass. Even with all those glowing attributes, he's still raw offensively. Shooting remains Gordon's worst flaw. He converted just 48 percent of his 23 free-throws during summer league, missed all 10 three-pointers, and connected on just 35 percent of his field goal attempts. Gordon claimed that he was a better fit at small forward during summer league, but his minutes will be few and far between with the depth the Magic have at both small forward and power forward this season. He's still a project offensively, one the Magic have the luxury of developing slowly.

Andrew Nicholson: The longest tenured Magic became an afterthought by the end of last season. The 24-year-old Canadian averaged 5.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.2 steals, and 0.3 blocks in 15 minutes per game over the course of 76 contests. He regressed during his sophomore season, attempting to incorporate a three-point shot to supplement his advanced post game. Nicholson shot 89 three-pointers after failing to attempt any his rookie season, but the experiment didn't pay off as he only converted 32 percent from deep and saw a 10-percent drop in field goal percentage. He displayed lapses on the defensive end and lost his spot in the frontcourt rotation. The addition of Channing Frye and rookie Aaron Gordon jeopardizes Nicholson's minutes this time around. He spent this summer competing in an 11-game exhibition circuit with Team Canada, where he converted 40 percent from deep and 52 percent overall to the tune of 10.6 points per game. He posted even better numbers last summer with Team Canada, a transformation that didn't translate to the NBA, meaning expectations should be muted this season.

Guards

Victor Oladipo: Oladipo finished in second place in Rookie of the Year voting, averaging 13.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.6 steals, and 0.5 blocks in 31 minutes per game through 80 games last season. He converted 42 percent of his 11.7 field goal attempts and 78 percent of his 4.0 free-throw attempts per game. Oladipo led all rookies in total minutes (2,486) and turnovers (256), which was the seventh-worst mark among all players last season. The 22-year-old guard assuaged his turnover woes by finishing ninth in total steals (129) and held opponents to a crackerjack 46-percent shooting at the rim. With the departure of Jameer Nelson (Orlando's all-time assist leader) and Arron Afflalo, Oladipo's usage rate and minutes are expected to spike, likely exacerbating his ball-handling follies. The addition of rookie Elfrid Payton alleviates primary playmaking duties, while the Channing Frye signing gives Orlando a legitimate floor spacer, in all probability increasing Oladipo's efficiency around the basket. As last season progressed, he demonstrated improved range, converting 38 percent of his three-pointers and 44 percent of his shots from the floor after the All-Star break. Oladipo heads into his sophomore season a reported 20 pounds lighter, ready to accept the role as unquestioned team leader.

Elfrid Payton: Payton joins the league after being the 10th selection in June's NBA draft. During his final season at Louisiana-Lafayette, the junior guard averaged 19.2 points, 5.9 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 2.2 steals, and 0.6 blocks in 36 minutes per game over the course of 35 games. The Lefty Driesell Award winner (Defensive POY) shot 51 percent on 13.3 field goal attempts and 61 percent on 8.6 free-throw attempts per game. He was second in all of Division I basketball in free-throw attempts (302), assists (208), and steals (80). More egregiously, he led the NCAA in turnovers (127) and was only able to convert 26 percent of his three-point attempts. While Luke Ridnour signed during the free agency period, all signs point towards Payton accruing substantial minutes as one of the primary Magic point guards. Payton led the Orlando Pro Summer League with an impressive 7.0 assists in just under 26 minutes per game but also finished first in turnovers (4.0 per game). There are a lot of holes in the rookie's game, but he has tantalizing potential, especially for head-to-head leagues. Payton has a slender frame, is ineffective catching and shooting the ball, and lacks an off-the-dribble jumper. His shooting woes also work against him at the free-throw line, making him a dangerous play in nine-category rotisserie leagues.

Evan Fournier: The 21-year-old Frenchman enters his third NBA season on his second team in three years. During his second season, he averaged 8.4 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.5 assists in 20 minutes per game through 76 games played. Fournier built upon his rookie season, tallying career-highs in almost every category. He converted 38 percent of his three-pointers and joins the Magic with the second most three-pointers from last season, behind Channing Frye. The central cargo in the Arron Afflalo trade is set on expanding his offensive role in the wake of Jameer Nelson's exit. A diligent spot-up shooter with the Denver Nuggets, he expects to play more on the ball and initiate the offense at times. The 6-6 wing is in the conversation for opening day starter as he looks to replicate a poor man's Manu Ginobili.

Ben Gordon: The newly-signed veteran, entering his eleventh season on his fourth NBA squad, averaged 5.2 points, 1.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.5 steals, and 0.1 blocks in 15 minutes per game through 19 games last season. The former Sixth Man of the Year compiled career-lows across the board (both averages and totals). Plenty of former Bobcats have resurrected their careers post-exile (Boris Diaw, Tyson Chandler, and Shaun Livingston most notably), but Gordon will have to contend with new editions Willie Green, Devyn Marble, Luke Ridnour, and Evan Fournier for backcourt minutes. As recently as two seasons ago, Gordon shot 39 percent from deep and 51 percent on 76 corner three-pointers (second to Stephen Curry among players with at least 50 attempts). Gordon boasts a prolific scoring resume, carrying with him a 40-percent mark from beyond the arc, but at 31 years old, his best years are likely in the rear view mirror.

Luke Ridnour: The oldest Magic player begins year 12 with his fifth NBA franchise. Last year was less than stellar, as Ridnour accumulated a career-low point total (5.0 points per game) in conjunction with career-lows in field goal (39 percent) and free-throw percentage (17-of-26 attempts). Prior to last season, he furnished a career 87-percent free-throw mark, falling victim to small sample size during his 61 games split between the Milwaukee Bucks and Charlotte Bobcats. Ridnour is an established caretaker, averaging 1.7 turnovers throughout his career. At this point in his career, he's a minus defender by virtue of age and lack of athleticism. Ridnour is a pass-first point guard sporting a quality mid-range game, doubling as a serviceable pick-and-roll artist and steady, reliable floor manager who projects as Elfrid Payton's primary backup at point guard.

Devyn Marble: Marble began his NBA journey as the 56th pick in June's draft. In his final season at Iowa, the senior guard averaged 17.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.8 steals, and 0.2 blocks in 30 minutes per game through 33 games. The All-Big Ten First Team selection shot 42 percent from the floor on 13.2 attempts and 71 percent from the free-throw line on 6.0 attempts per game. Marble was the primary ball-handler and played both guard positions during his college stint but wants to transition to small forward in the NBA. In five summer league games, the second-round selection averaged 9.4 points, a team-high 6.2 rebounds, and 1.2 assists in 21 minutes per game. His outside touch is still a work in progress, but he revealed an improved rebound rate concealed by his college role. He'll have quite a few players to leapfrog in the depth chart, including fellow rookie Aaron Gordon and the other piece that came to the Magic in the Arron Afflalo trade, Evan Fournier. Marble will likely find himself shuffling between the D-League and the Association during his inaugural season.

Willie Green: The 33-year-old guard became an afterthought in the Clippers' backcourt rotation last season after starting 60 games the year prior. Green suffered through a career-low scoring campaign (5.0 points per game), marred by his first sub-40 percent shooting performance in nine seasons. It was just two years ago that he shot 43 percent from three (tied for 10th with Mike Dunleavy), owning the corner three at a 48-percent clip. Green's valuable trait, other than exemplary locker room presence, is his ability to move without the ball, roaming through screens, keeping his defender occupied. The Magic, Green's fifth team in 11 seasons, are deep at shooting guard, even with the departure of Arron Afflalo, making minutes difficult to come by.

Peyton Siva: Joining his second NBA team in as many seasons, Siva spent more than half his rookie year in the D-League, not garnering substantial NBA minutes until the final two weeks of the regular season. The Orlando Magic, currently rostering one more than the allowable 15 players, are expected to waive Siva after the preseason, and barring any unexpected claim on the 23-year-old second round pick, sign him to their D-League affiliate. Even with their thin depth at point guard, the Magic can equip Victor Oladipo and Evan Fournier as primary ball-handlers, making Siva a long-term investment not likely to contribute meaningful minutes outside of defensive nudnik.

SLEEPER

Evan Fournier: During his introductory press conference, after the Magic acquired him via trade, Fournier stated, "I look forward to handling the ball a lot more in Orlando, because that's what I used to do in France, and that's what I'm very good at." During France's nine FIBA exhibition matches this summer, Fournier was relegated to his prescribed role as off-ball floor spacer, receiving sparse playing time in which to showcase his skills. More of the same followed during group play, but in the knockout round, Fournier played quality crunch time minutes and wasn't afraid to hoist pressure-packed threes. His offensive versatility allows him to play three positions, and his shot selection jives with modern analytics (the mid-range shot accounted for just under 13 percent of his 544 attempts last season). Given the opportunity, Fournier is a breakout candidate ready to shock the fantasy community.

BUST

Elfrid Payton: Historically, lottery selected point guards not drafted first overall tend to struggle their first season. Exceptions like Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, Michael Carter-Williams, and Ricky Rubio buck the trend, and in Rubio's case, he stayed overseas for two years before joining the Timberwolves. The player Payton draws most comparisons to, Rajon Rondo, was limited to 23 minutes his rookie season and unownable in standard 12-team leagues. Another hurdle is coach Jacque Vaughn's reticence to start Victor Oladipo last season, most notably at the beginning of the season, once Glen Davis returned from injury, and after the trade deadline. On paper, Payton is their only legitimate point guard, but the coaching staff may have already tipped their hand during summer league, not starting him next to Oladipo until the final game.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
J.J. Calle
J.J. Calle is a fantasy basketball prognosticator with mesmerizing hair who also aggregates obscure stats. Allegiances reside with the New York Knicks, New York Mets, Houston Texans, Penn State Nittany Lions, St. John's Red Storm, and Gael Monfils.
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