Orlando Magic 2017 Season Review: A season of miscalculated risks

Apr 4, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Iman Shumpert (4) and Orlando Magic center Bismack Biyombo (11) battle for a rebound during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 4, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Iman Shumpert (4) and Orlando Magic center Bismack Biyombo (11) battle for a rebound during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic made several gambles throughout the 2017 season hoping to take that next step. Any positive was born from recognizing the mistakes.

From the very beginning of the season, the Orlando Magic’s bet to make the Playoffs was very clear.

They loaded up on defensive talent and believed this was their ticket to the postseason: Become elite on one end of the floor and they would find success. Everything the team built was based on this gamble.

And that was what the Magic’s season really was — a series of gambles.

They believed their defense would be among the league’s best, buoying a struggling offense and providing a path to some success. They believed Aaron Gordon could shift to small forward, his versatility on defense would allow for versatility on offense. They believed veterans off the bench would provide the leadership needed for their young players to grow. They believed Serge Ibaka was ready to step up and could take on a larger role. They hoped Mario Hezonja was able to step up and play a role off the bench, making good on the investment the team made in him.

And the risks that failed went on and on. Each one seemingly going wrong as the team went on to a 29-53 record. It is hard to find a silver lining.

This week, Orlando Magic Daily has dutifully spent its time recapping the Magic’s season. As we have done for the last several years, we try to profile something that went right and something that went wrong each day of the week after the season ends.

Admittedly in a 29-win season, it is hard to find things that went right. Especially in a season where the team fell short of every expectation they had.

The Magic were supposed to have an elite defense and finished in the bottom 10 in the league. They were supposed to compete for a Playoff spot and failed to put together consecutive wins from Christmas until March.

The season was, by all accounts, a disaster.

Orlando pushed in a lot of chips to the center of the table — beginning with the Tobias Harris trade and continuing on with the trade of Victor Oladipo — and came out with nothing. The team seems to be backed into a corner with few ways forward.

Finding the positives this year were tough. And they all seemed to be some silver lining to a mistake or bad bet the Magic made this year.

Take Aaron Gordon for example.

Gordon started the year as the versatile bundle of potential getting pigeon-holed as a small forward. It was a gamble for sure and the Magic needed to have Gordon on the floor. They believed he could make the transition. And the experiment showed its momentary successes.

But it became increasingly clear when the Magic moved him back to power forward after the All-Star Break that he is truly a power forward in today’s NBA. Gordon averaged 16.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game after the All-Star Break. This feels like the baseline for Gordon’s future contributions and what he can become.

Gordon showed lots of potential throughout the season at both positions. But at small forward, it was clear he had a lot of disadvantages. And certainly, the Magic’s roster construction got in the way of his development at that position.

Gordon works better in a more open, spread-out style. At least the Magic know that now — not that it was not a path they could have gone down before.

Similarly, that open style seemed to fit Elfrid Payton more. Elfrid Payton, with his struggles hitting jumpers, struggled to get himself going with the clogged lane. He was unable to attack the paint as effectively with Ibaka and Nikola Vucevic in the lane, even with their ability to pop out for mid-range jumpers. Teams clogged the paint and dared Payton to shoot.

That did not change after the All-Star Break — his scoring average remained roughly the same from 12.5 to 13.5 points per game. But the change in his game after the All-Star Break was clearly apparent.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Payton’s shooting went from 45.7 percent to 50.8 percent as he took significantly fewer jumpers and 3-point shots after the break. Payton’s assists shot up from 5.7 to 8.4 assists per game. He became more involved on the glass on his way to five triple-doubles, all after the break.

Where the first half of the season saw Payton struggling to find his place and establish himself as the team’s point guard of the future, the second half saw Payton at his absolute best.

This was the story of the season in so many ways. The Magic experienced limited success, but only after suffering through a misstep, failed experiment or mistake to get there. It was all too late.

Orlando played better after the All-Star Break, finding an offensive identity that never took to begin the season, but it came after the initial plan failed.

Coach Frank Vogel said after the season the team had to explore the original plan. The team had to see if it worked and they could not venture too far away from it or go searching for something that worked and keep the team engaged.

His delay in changing the team’s style or trying something new remains one of his weaknesses as a coach. But, as he did with the Indiana Pacers, he stayed positive and kept spirits up. He ultimately helped several players improve, even if it seemed in the wrong position.

Of course, after the All-Star Break, the Magic completely changed their style anyway. They became a completely different team, playing a completely different style almost overnight.

And it at least cuts a path forward. Orlando should aspire to be this kind of a spread-it-out team and fit players into that style.

That might be the biggest lesson from the failure that was the 2017 season. Through each failure the Magic had this season, they found something to carry forward and build on for next season. Through the ashes of this season comes a guide for how to make the most of their roster for next year.

Obviously, Rob Hennigan paid for his mistakes with his job. He will not be the one drawing from these lessons and moving forward. A new general manager will come in and pick up the pieces, imprinting his vision on the future for this team.

Next: What Went Right: Lessons for the future

What was clear this season was the Magic made a lot of mistakes. Their gambles did not pay off — even the ones that seemed a sure thing. This was a season of chances and risk. Orlando’s gambles did not work out and the season turned into a failure.