With a young and talented roster, the Orlando Magic have the beginnings of what could be an up-and-coming Eastern Conference playoff contender. The trouble, though, is that it is unclear whether the roster, as currently constructed, is anything more than the beginnings of what could be. With plenty of cap space and young players up for extensions now and in the near future, GM Rob Hennigan should have plenty of opportunities to add to or modify the Magic’s young core to help the team reach its full potential.
As the third youngest team in the league last year, Orlando showed flashes of brilliance to go with the growing pains expected of such a young team, especially after head coach Jacque Vaughn was fired midseason. New coach Scott Skiles is known as a defensive-minded coach that has traditionally gotten the most out of young rosters, even if he has worn out his welcome after just a few seasons. At this stage of Orlando’s development, his hiring makes sense as a way to establish the culture GM Rob Hennigan envisions for the team.
At the moment, it appears Orlando is set with its backcourt of the future in Payton and Oladipo and upfront with Vucevic manning the middle. Payton proved his pre-draft detractors correct by shooting a paltry 26% from 3-point range en route to a True Shooting Percentage of just 45.6%. But he also proved that he is able to contribute in a myriad of ways beyond just shooting, showing his elite potential as both a defender and passer. Oladipo continued his development as a high-level defender and an improving outside shooter. He still is best suited as a player slashing and cutting to the hoop, as defenses still feel free to sag off and dare him to shoot.
Nikola Vucevic is a borderline All-Star at the center position, capable of drawing double teams on offense with his efficient scoring both in the midrange and on the block, and gobbling up rebounds at an elite level. Locked up through the 2018-2019 season on a guaranteed contract that tops out at $12.75 million in its final year, Vucevic’s contract already looks like a bargain and will look downright criminal after the cap jumps following next season. What Vucevic lacks, however, is an ability to protect the rim at a high level, with a block rate closer to that of the league’s elite wing defenders than to the game’s top-tier centers.
The next decision for Hennigan will be what to do with Tobias Harris, a restricted free agent expected to command a salary at around $13 million per season. With this summer’s top free agent targets (Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard, etc.) likely to return to their former teams, second-tier free agents like Harris may be the beneficiaries of big-market organizations like the Lakers and Knicks expected to be active and having cap room to spare, especially in light of . Earlier this spring, Hennigan told season ticket holders that he intends to bring Harris back “no matter” the cost. But while he has improved his outside shooting, he still shoots barely above the league average from 3-point range, and does not stand out in any other areas beyond scoring, as his passing, rebounding, and defense are merely adequate.
With his athleticism, Aaron Gordon is also a core piece that can play either forward position. Similarly, Tobias Harris, should he be retained, is also a combo forward that can guard small forwards in certain matchups. There is a difference between being a versatile forward and being a “tweener,” and both Harris and Gordon seem to straddle that line (though to make any definitive statements regarding Gordon given his age and injury-riddled rookie season seems incredibly premature). For a team with two non-threatening shooters as its backcourt of the future, Orlando may be better served giving minutes to sharpshooters in the frontcourt that can provide better spacing.
Channing Frye was supposed to be that floor-spacer when he signed his 4-year, $32 million deal last offseason. One year into that contract, however, the Magic appear to already regret that contract, as Frye played under 20 minutes per game after the All-Star break and has had his name come up in trade rumors this offseason.
With young, high-upside players in the backcourt, in the middle, and possibly in the combo forward roles, what the Magic lack is a second wing capable of playing the shooting guard and small forward positions. And unless Oladipo maximizes his potential, they also lack the elite talent that most teams need to become anything more than first round speed bumps for the NBA’s truly elite teams.
At 6’6″ (and a half) with a 6’10 wingspan, Justise Winslow has merely average length to play the small forward position. Despite not standing out physically, though, Winslow figures to be a difference-maker on the defensive end, where he is quick enough to switch onto guards and has sufficient strength and length to guard some power forwards. His ability to play as a smallball 4 was evident at Duke, where he spent much of the second half of the season playing next to Jahlil Okafor on the front line as a matchup nightmare for most college 4s. As an undersized 4, Winslow was able to hold up on the glass while using his physical attributes and instincts to create turnovers and even protect the rim.
Offensively, Winslow was a revelation as an elite 3-point shooter in his lone season at Duke, hitting 41% on almost 3 attempts per game. As has often been stated, however, there are concerns that he is not the outside shooter that his numbers suggest given his 64% free throw percentage and his shooting numbers on 2-point jumpers (with other lottery-level small forward prospects’ NCAA numbers for comparison purposes):
Where Winslow does excel is in transition, where he can use his speed to get out on the break and his strength to finish through contact at the rim. He also uses these attributes in the halfcourt setting to work as a slasher capable of attacking closeouts and making plays in the paint. Whether he will have a similar ability to attack and get all the way to the rim against NBA-level wing athletes rather than overmatched college frontcourt players remains to be seen. Winslow has shown some ability as a creator off the dribble, evidenced by his high AST% and free throw rate, but his in-between game is behind that of his draft peers (though that is a skill that continues to be marginalized in today’s NBA).
Taking Winslow with their fifth overall pick would be consistent with the Magic’s recent selections, as he is capable of being a standout defensive player who also has a somewhat raw offensive skillset. If he can continue to build on his offensive success at Duke, Winslow could fill both of the Magic’s draft needs of a small forward with All-Star potential.
Kristaps Porzingis’ stock has soared in recent weeks, making it unclear whether he will even be available at the 5th overall selection. With his length, athleticism, and shooting stroke it is easy to see why.
At only 19 years old, Porzingis excelled this past year in probably the second most challenging league in the world, showing a soft shooting touch and the ability to work as a weak side rim protector given his length and athleticism. His combination of raw physical ability and basketball skills have some saying he has the most potential of any player in the draft.
The biggest concern with Porzingis is his strength and frame, which leads to issues on both sides if the floor. As a power forward, Porzingis has a difficult time finishing through contact and will struggle to establish position in the post. This will likely relegate him to a role as a spot-up shooter during his first couple of years.
Porzingis’ lack of strength will be most noticeable on the defensive end, where he will continue to struggle against more physical power forwards, which helps explain his low rebounding numbers. He also may lack the lateral agility to defend smaller players out on the perimeter. With his length and athleticism, though, he projects to be an elite weak side rim protector.
Porzingis would be an ideal fit for Orlando, where his lack of rebounding could be somewhat hidden next to an elite rebounder in Nikola Vucevic. Porzingis’ shot blocking ability would also make up for Vucevic’s weakness in protecting the paint. On offense the Magic desperately need shooting from their frontcourt and that will be Porzingis’ most easily translatable skill. With his upside, Orlando would have to be thrilled if he fell to them at the 5th pick.
At this stage of Orlando’s rebuilding process, the Magic more closely resemble an island of misfit toys than they do a championship-contending roster. An elite talent, along with continued development from its young players, could transform the Magic from a fringe playoff team to a team that would be in the mix to come out of the Eastern Conference. Justise Winslow and Kristaps Porzingis, assuming either are available, could be Orlando’s missing link.