Monday's loss to the Heat was the first national exposure for the post-trade Orlando Magic. It came a little sooner than perhaps expected because the Heat are on that incredible win streak and the Heat flexed their muscles with that impressive 20-2 run in the third and fourth quarters that turned a two-point deficit into a rout.
This whole season, particularly the end of it, has been about getting Orlando's young players experience and letting them learn through experience after being brought along rather slowly at the early part of the season.
This entire season has been about how these guys grow.
We have talked a bunch about how they have done that with specific focus on the first round picks — Andrew Nicholson and Maurice Harkless (acquired by Philadelphia). Those two are very much part of the current cornerstones for this franchise moving forward.
Monday was largely the first time for them on a national stage, and both kind of fizzled out. Nicholson sprained his ankle in the first quarter and the Heat had obviously gameplanned for Harkless after his string of solid games before the game against the Heat. I did not watch the ESPN broadcast so I have not heard what Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy had to say about the Magic.
Ben Golliver Rob Mahoney of The Point Forward will have to give us that national perspective with his review of the rookies throughout the league.
The Orlando Magic have been a footnote in the NBA nationally since that 12-13 start fizzled out from the injuries.
At that point Andrew Nicholson was a social media darling for his YMCA-type post game. That perception appears to have stuck with him even though Nicholson has struggled (particularly on defense) since that strong start early in the season.
The Magic’s rotation was somewhat crowded earlier in the season, but various absences in the lineup — and the downward tilt of Orlando’s season — have opened opportunities for the most underrated rookie in this year’s class. Nicholson’s game is about as unsexy as it could possibly be, fueled largely by patient footwork and glitz-less set shots. But in that aesthetically neutral style is something legitimately exciting, as Nicholson, the 19th pick last year, has put together a solid scoring season in the post and as a pick-and-pop big man.
His offense is indeed the most developed part of his game and his post moves are far beyond that of a normal rookie, perhaps the product of staying at St. Bonaventure and really working on his game for long periods of time.
Nicholson still has his flaws. As
Golliver Mahoney points out, he gets outmuscled for post position at times and he still struggles defensively. Since Glen Davis got hurt, the power forward position has been a revolving door and Nicholson has not been able to firmly hold the spot because of these shortcomings. Tobias Harris quickly replaced him as a starter upon his arrival.
According to MySynergySports, Nicholson gives up 0.97 points per possession defensively including an astounding 1.27 points per possession in post plays and 1.13 points per possession on pick and rolls when guarding the roll man.
Nicholson certainly still has a lot to improve upon.
As for Harkless, it took a little longer for him to get things going this season, but he has really grown into himself and his role as the season goes on. That has been well chronicled.
It is taking the league a little longer though to figure out just what his ceiling might be. That is what makes him such an interesting and exciting prospect. He has already begun to make a name for himself defensively, and he is improving offensively.
Now we are just waiting for the rest of the league to catch up to his potential. Here is what
Golliver Mahoney wrote:
I like most of what I’ve seen from Harkless defensively, but he strikes me as a blank slate on offense. Magic coach Jacque Vaughn has had a solid first year, but what will he make of a wing player without much immediately redeemable offensive value (rebounding aside)?
It did take Harkless a while to find his footing. It is difficult to remember now that Harkless did not even take part in training camp this year because of a lingering sports hernia. Harkless though is a player that can contribute as a player with the ball in his hands or as a support player. He should be able to continue developing his shooting ability.
According to MySynergySports, Harkless is still developing as a one-on-one player, a role that has seemingly expanded for him of late particularly since Arron Afflalo went out. He is still most effective as a cutter, where he scores 1.18 points per possession and is a cutter on 18 percent of all plays that end with him having the ball (shots or turnovers), and as a rebounder, where he scores 1.04 points per possession.
There are still questions about Harkless, but his game should continue to grow.