(Photo by Willie J. Allen Jr./Associated Press)
We’ve heard this song before. The Magic were 8-4 at the beginning of last season and were 8-13 just three weeks later. Their starting point guard is DJ Augustin, they drafted a center with the sixth pick in the NBA Draft when they already had multiple big men, and they haven’t touched the playoffs since Dwight Howard was on the roster. They traded away talented players like Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo before they had the chance to grow, and the franchise hasn’t exactly had a direction since Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy’s departures. But, there’s something.
In an Eastern Conference full of sub-par, under .500 teams, the Magic are 9-9 with wins against the Lakers, Sixers, Spurs, and Celtics. There are a few components making this teamwork, so let’s take a look at them
DJ Augustin is having his best season in years:
I looked this up the other day because I was curious as to how Augustin was looking in comparison to his decent seasons in Charlotte. Augustin is currently averaging 10.7 points and 5.1 assists per game, on his best career shooting numbers from beyond the arc. That’s his best scoring numbers since 2013-14. Obviously, the year is still young, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t looked impressive. He’s currently at a 115 defensive rating, the lowest of his career, but his 129 offensive rating is the highest of his career.
Evan Fournier is starting to move the ball:
Fournier has always been an effective scorer, and this season is not any different. The difference is, though, that his usage percentage is at a career high, just like his assist totals. As he gets more involved in the offense while on the floor, he’s starting to distribute the ball effectively. The Magic lack guard talent, so Fournier playing a combo-guard style game is definitely helping his team.
Terrence Ross is a solid sixth man:
Terrence Ross is nearing the age that most players call their prime. Terrence Ross is making big plays and scoring at an efficient clip off the bench. Ross’s reputation as a player with nuclear athleticism in Toronto hasn’t carried over, especially after suffering a leg injury last season, but his play has evolved to reflect that. He’s accepted his bench role and is doing it quite well behind Evan Fournier. Was he worth the eighth overall pick in 2012? No, definitely not. Is he hitting game winners to spoil Jimmy Butler’s debut for the Sixers? Well, yeah.
Aaron Gordon is worth the paycheck:
After signing Gordon to a 4-year/$84 million contract, he has produced at that sort of level. His numbers are consistent with last year’s production, and he’s only missed one game of his first 20. Right now, his eFG% is up .048, which is a good sign of a rising basketball IQ and the ability to score a bit more efficiently. He’s taking a third of his shots from behind the arc so far this year, and shooting at a 37.7% clip, which is the best of his career.
Nikola Vucevic is taking the lead:
20 points, 11 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. 40% from three on 2.5 attempts per game, 55% from the field. Nikola Vucevic is playing the best basketball of his career through 20 games. He’s got an impressive 105 defensive rating and 118 offensive rating and has looked like a potential all-star in the Eastern Conference. His PER has taken a dramatic leap this year, looking at 26.4 this season versus 19.7 last season. He’s in his contract year, but the Magic should definitely look to keep him, despite all the bigs on the roster. Vucevic is fresh off an Eastern Conference Player of the Week award, the first Magic player to win this award since 2014.
There’s something a little different with this Magic team. If the injury bug doesn’t bite them, it seems like they’ve started to form something interesting. With several point guards looking to be on the move in the coming weeks, don’t count the Magic out of the sweepstakes. With a real starting-caliber point guard, that team could be dangerous.