The Orlando Magic enter the 2016-17 NBA season in a different position than much of the league. While other teams (including the Wizards in the East and most notably, Golden State out west,) have focused on building solid backcourts, the Magic are loaded up front. With the offseason additions of center Bismack Biyombo (free agency) and Serge Ibaka (trade), the Magic now find themselves with multiple possibilities for starters in the frontcourt. Also, coming off of a 2015-16 season that brought a 35-47 record and a fourth straight season with no postseason, Orlando will certainly be looking to improve.
Roster Breakdown: Starting Lineup
PG: Elfrid Payton (3rd season)
Arguably the weakest point of this team in terms of potential starters, the Magic will likely look to continue to deploy Payton as their starting point guard once again this season. A good distributor of the ball, Payton will most likely continue to grow in the Magic offense.
Potential Bucks Matchup: Matthew Dellavedova
SG: Evan Fournier (5th season)
Coming off of a season where he averaged a career high in points (15.4 PPG,) as well as rebounds, assists and steals, the Magic rewarded Fournier with a five-year, $85 million contract extension this offseason. One of the most consistent sharp shooters in basketball (T-7 in 3-point % out of players with 300+ attempts,) Fournier will hope to prove to the Magic that their investment was justified.
Potential Bucks Matchup: Giannis Antetokoumnpo
SF: Jeff Green (12th season)
A player who has not played a full year since the 2013-14 season and is now on his 3rd team in just four years, Jeff Green is looking to find his old self. Following a year where he averaged 10.9 points per game in just 27 games for the LA Clippers, Green finds himself as the Day 1 starter in Orlando, a place which may help him realize his full potential, something that has eluded him throughout his career.
Potential Bucks Matchup: Jabari Parker
PF: Serge Ibaka (8th season)
This is where things really begin to become interesting for Orlando. Acquired through a draft day trade with the Thunder that saw Victor Oladipo and former Buck Ersan Ilyasova find their way to OKC, Ibaka finds himself in a major position battle for the first time in his career. With dunk contest runner-up Aaron Gordon also slated at power forward, it will be interesting to see the direction the Magic go in at this position. For now, I give the edge to Ibaka.
Potential Bucks Matchup: Greg Monroe
C: Nikola Vucevic (6th season)
Another frontcourt position with two solid options for Orlando, don’t be shocked if the Magic go with newly acquired Bismack Biyombo in this spot come the end of October. However, I have given the nod to Vucevic for one reason: experience. While Biyombo showed some great potential in last year’s playoffs for Toronto, helping lead them to the conference finals, Vucevic has had more time in the offense and had a solid 2015-16 campaign. Averaging 18.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and a career-high 1.1 blocks per game, last season may just be enough to give Vucevic the starting nod in the middle, at least for the time being.
Potential Bucks Matchup: Miles Plumlee
Key Guard Reserve: Mario Hezonja (2nd season)
While he only averaged 6.1 points in 17.6 minutes per contest in his rookie year, Hezonja will look to show himself to be a valuable asset off the bench for the Magic in his sophomore season. Bringing even greater athleticism to a bench unit that could also deploy both Aaron Gordon and Bismack Biyombo, Hezonja also possesses an above-average shooting touch, shooting 43.3% from the field last season. Look for “Super Mario” to be among the most improved players on Orlando’s squad this year.
Key Frontcourt Reserves: Aaron Gordon (3rd season)/Bismack Biyombo (6th season)
Chances are, one or both of these guys will be playing off the bench to start off 2016-17 for the Magic. While they would both play solid minutes, each brings something different to the table: Gordon brings youth and athleticism, while Biyombo brings playoff experience and defense. Together, they could form one of, if not the, deadliest second-team frontcourts in the NBA.
Orlando’s biggest strength would have to be its frontcourt, specifically power forward and center. All four men at those positions (Ibaka, Gordon, Vucevic, Biyombo) are more than capable of doing a solid job as a starter or coming off the bench. That kind of frontcourt versatility could play right into the Magic’s hands and give other teams around the NBA fits.
As mentioned before, Orlando’s biggest weakness is likely at the point guard postion. While Elfrid Payton is capable of a 12 point and 8 assist type season, that may not be enough scoring production from the point guard spot in today’s NBA. In addition, the lack of a big-name star hurts them in terms of providing freedom for other players.
In a conference as wide open as the East, a number of teams are possibilities to grab one of the eight playoff spots. However, the Magic are likely not one of them. While they do have a solid amount of young talent at their disposal, they are in the boat of missing just a couple of key pieces to be in the conference playoff race. In addition, they play in one of the strongest top-to-bottom divisions in basketball. While an improvement over last year could be possible, a playoff spot does not seem to be in the cards.
Projected conference finish: 11th/12th
Projected division finish: 5th
High wins: 38
Low wins: 33