The Orlando Magic haven’t made a playoff appearance since the 2011-12 season, which was Dwight Howard’s last year with the team. Since the Howard trade, the franchise has done everything possible to rebuild.
With the upcoming season approaching, it’s difficult to predict where the Magic will finish. Orlando has a young, talented starting five who should have more chemistry with an added year of playing together, plus a new head coach in Scott Skiles who’s known for getting young teams to play well.
The core lineup of Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic and new first-round pick Mario Hezonja is a group all under the age of 25 and has the potential to be a sleeper team in the Eastern Conference.
But for Orlando to end its postseason drought, it needs someone to step into the superstar role. That player is Oladipo, who emerged as the team’s leading scorer in his second season.
Oladipo put up 17.9 points per game and also played a team-high 35.7 minutes per game while starting in 71 of his 72 appearances in 2014-15. He has the natural athleticism and upside to eventually become one of the league’s top offensive shooting guards.
The former Indiana standout showed glimpses of a potential NBA star in his second season. He received exposure during the NBA Dunk Contest as one of the game’s most exciting young dunkers, while showcasing the same personality that’s already made him a fan-favorite in Orlando:
The Maryland native is also competing for a spot on USA Basketball’s 2016 Summer Olympics roster, while he also has the option to play for Nigeria due to his parents’ heritage, according to Magic beat writer John Denton.
Oladipo has all the makings of a rising NBA superstar. He’s young, talented and marketable as a likable presence both on and off the court.
But for the Magic to make the leap into the playoffs, Oladipo will have to reach consistent superstardom. Orlando’s greatest weakness was its inability to put teams away late, which is unsurprising with a young team.
Oladipo needs to be the go-to option in the fourth quarter for the Magic. He’s already improved his shooting ability and shot selection, but must continue his development in his third season.
While Orlando’s starting five excels in several areas, it lacks a consistent scoring threat. The addition of Hezonja helps, but the rookie sharpshooter will need time to develop to NBA competition.
Oladipo is the prime candidate to lead the Magic back to the playoffs. In his second season, the shooting guard saw a 4.1 growth in points per game, improved his shooting percentage by 1.7 percent and his free throw percentage by 3.9 percent.
It’s likely that Oladipo, who’s credited for having an excellent work ethic, will continue his progress in his third season. This year will give a better example of what fans can expect out of the guard as he begins to enter the prime of his career.
While some might overlook Orlando as a potential playoff team, the squad possesses enough young talent to be a surprise in the Eastern Conference. Both of these factors are possible in a conference that’s wide open for the bottom three playoff seeds.
But Oladipo needs to have a big season for the franchise to break through it glass ceiling in 2015-16.