What’s the Plan? is a weekly series where we look at the long-term outlooks for teams that aren’t immediately contending for a championship. This week we look at the Orlando Magic, a young team that needs to find out how good their young players really are.
When looking at the Orlando Magic, it’s hard to find any glaring holes that need to be filled right away. They’re not a contender yet, not even close, but all of their players are young enough that it’d be unreasonable to look to replace them at this time. The most likely hole they have is at the forward positions, especially if they let Tobias Harris leave in restricted free agency.
If the Magic match an offer sheet Harris signs with another team, they’d then be looking to fill the power-forward position. Aaron Gordon wasn’t great in his rookie year, and while it hardly makes sense to give up on a player with only one year of experience under his belt, it never hurts to have more talent as Gordon develops. The same thing can be said about Elfrid Payton, although he was much more impressive than Gordon, finishing fourth in Rookie of the Year voting. Payton is still a work in progress because of his horrible jumper, but nobody expected his jumper to be any good as a rookie, and he has plenty of time to improve.
This is pretty much the theme for the Magic right now; no one’s been so good as to think that they’re a guaranteed building block for a championship contender, but it’s still too early to say that they won’t become really good NBA players. Victor Oladipo has shown star potential on both ends of the floor and looks like a keeper, but many players on the team need and deserve more time before a reasonable assessment can be made about them.
Nikola Vucevic is another good example of this. Vucevic hasn’t been the defensive stalwart many teams want from their starting center, but his offensive production has been good, and when you’re climbing up from the bottom of the league, you take what you can get. He’s a 24-year-old seven-footer whose offense has continually improved every year playing in the NBA, going from 5.5 points per game his rookie year to 13.1 to 14.2 to 19.3 this past season. There’s a bunch of upside with Vucevic, and if new head coach Scott Skiles can coach him up on the defensive end, that would really help Orlando moving forward.
The Magic are a very young team with a long way to go before they can consider championship contention, but being young also means they have plenty of time before they have to make any serious decisions about their roster. The Harris decision is obviously a big one, and if they re-sign Harris and Gordon can make the starting lineup as a power forward, the Magic would have a starting lineup next year whose oldest member would be the 24 year-old Vucevic (he turns 25 on Oct. 24).
If youth is a good thing in the NBA, Orlando should be happy it has a lot of it. Meanwhile, the Magic can wait to see which young players develop into quality starters and use the draft and free agency to replace the ones who don’t. Skiles has shown the ability to put his imprint on young teams, so the hope is he’s the right coach to help this team full of youngsters improve.