Forging the Future: What the Orlando Magic should do with Nikola Vucevic

TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 23: Nikola Vucevic #9 of the Orlando Magic talks at the press conference after Game Five of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs against the Toronto Raptors on April 23, 2019 at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 23: Nikola Vucevic #9 of the Orlando Magic talks at the press conference after Game Five of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs against the Toronto Raptors on April 23, 2019 at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers
PHILADELPHIA, PA – MARCH 05: Aaron Gordon #00 of the Orlando Magic attempts a layup past Tobias Harris #33, Mike Scott #1, and Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers in the fourth quarter at the Wells Fargo Center on March 5, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 76ers defeated the Magic 114-106. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Adjusting without Vucevic

Certainly, plenty of fans argue the Orlando Magic will flounder without Nikola Vucevic on offense. That certainly is a possible outcome but it not the only outcome.

But it is not like the Magic were killing the league offensively — ranking 23rd in the league in offensive rating. Vucevic kept it going, but Orlando still found points elsewhere.

Coming into this season, Steve Clifford identified Nikola Vucevic as the best offensive player on the team. Because of that, he installed an offensive system that revolved around Vucevic and his strengths. That all made a lot of sense at the time.

But as the season progressed, some things happened.

The most important was probably Aaron Gordon’s success as a pick and roll ball handler.

Shockingly, Gordon as a ball handler was the most effective half-court option for the Magic versus the Raptors. During the regular season, Gordon posted 0.77 points per possession as the pick and roll ball handler on just 2.0 possessions per game. He bumped it up to 0.87 points per possession on 4.6 possessions per game during the playoffs.

The second really crucial development was Jonathan Isaac becoming a reliable 3-point shooter, making 37 percent from February on.

If Isaac was able to shoot a similar percentage next year the idea of Orlando being able to run an up-tempo, 4-out, pick-and-roll offense is promising.

At the end of the day, you can expect Clifford will tailor an offense around the strengths of his players. If Vucevic is not on the team, do not expect an offense that looks anything like it did this season and that could be a good thing. The team will adjust and they have young players who can grow into bigger offensive roles.

The decision on Vucevic was made tougher than previously imagined. He played well enough and the team’s success certainly has added new variables to the equation.

The answer should still be the same. Ultimately Vucevic is not part of the team’s long-term future. The Magic need to let him go.

Next. What Went Wrong: Evan Fournier's shooting. dark

Vucevic, with all his positive attributes, can certainly contribute positively to a NBA team. But with the future the Magic are trying to forge — an athletic, uptempo, defensive-minded team — Vucevic must be the sacrifice that brings forth the future, even if the transition might be painful.