Finding Orlando Magic’s next scorer will not be so easy

Aaron Gordon and the Orlando Magic were on the attack to defeat the Houston Rockets. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Aaron Gordon and the Orlando Magic were on the attack to defeat the Houston Rockets. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /
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The Orlando Magic have established themselves as a playoff team, but there are still clear needs to fill. The biggest is scoring and answers are not evident.

There are still a ton of questions for the Orlando Magic to answer before the 2020 season ends. The team still wants to make the playoffs and can still gain a lot from however the season closes.

Nobody will pretend though that the Magic’s conclusion to 2020 will change much in the offseason — outside of Mohamed Bamba looking and playing like a completely different person physically.

The team is happy to be back in playoff position, confirming the 2019 season was not a fluke. But the Magic rightfully want more. The season was viewed as something of a disappointment, despite several injuries, because the team did not threaten to do more.

The gap between the Orlando Magic at eighth and the Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers might be six games. But it feels like a wider gulf to span.

The Magic are still young. This is no time to panic and tear everything down. The team should be pleased to have its playoff spot established. The team can continue to grow and it still has the ability to get better internally.

But there is no standing still in the NBA. This season made clear the faults within the team.

The Magic struggled in areas that were expected and others that were not. The Magic’s attempt to bring back virtually the entirety of its team from last year paid off in maintaining their playoff positioning, but little more.

It is hard to see the team being satisfied with doing that again. Change seems inevitable for the team in some way or form.

It is easy to put the focus on the biggest glaring need. The thing that is keeping the Magic from really taking the next step.

Orlando needs a more consistent perimeter scorer. The team has been at the bottom of the league in offense for most of the year, settling in at No. 24 in offensive rating with 107.5 points per 100 possessions. Yes, the team found a spark in the 10 games after the All-Star Break, but it is hard to say how long that would last.

It is at least a hint the Magic could find their way and manufacture some offense. But consistency has been the biggest struggle offensively.

The offseason’s biggest need is to find a scorer. That would lock much of the roster in place it would seem.

Orlando Magic’s old guard running its course

Finding that scorer is going to be exceedingly tough. Making it tougher of course is the uncertainty surrounding this year’s offseason. But that is the path that lays in front of the Orlando Magic.

Orlando will enter this offseason without much cap room to work with. They are likely only going to have the $9 million mid-level exception to play with in free agency. That is hardly enough to go after a big player on the free-agent market.

Not that this free-agent market is likely to have any scorers for the Magic to chase.

In all likelihood, the Magic’s first big free-agent decision will get made for them. With so much uncertainty over this summer’s salary cap and so few teams with real cap room, Evan Fournier is likely to opt in for the final year of his contract.

Evan Fournier has been the Magic’s most consistent player this year. He is also one of the few knock-down shooters on the team, averaging 18.8 points per game on a 56.4-percent effective field goal percentage and 40.6 percent from beyond the arc.

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Still, he along with Nikola Vucevic (the team’s leading scorer at 19.5 points per game thanks to a late-season surge), draw most fans’ ire. For all their ability to score, they are not great creators for themselves. The Magic do well to get the two shots in comfortable positions, but they are not isolation players or go-to scorers.

Both Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic deserve to be commended for the efforts they have put in to keep the Magic’s struggling offense afloat at times. But as the two highest-usage players on the team, there certainly feels like a cap on what this team can do as constructed.

Orlando Magic’s hope for internal development

The greatest hope for the Orlando Magic is they can internally develop their next scorer. But nobody at this point has shown a proclivity to take that step up.

Aaron Gordon struggled throughout the season with his shooting. His 3-point shooting dipped to 30.1 percent this year. The Magic have started to find a better way to use him, unlocking some playmaking ability. But Aaron Gordon is not at his best when he is trying to create offense for himself in isolation.

The Magic still hope for internal development to solve this problem. It is still the best and fastest way to resolve this issue.

But if Gordon cannot be that offensive creator, there are few options on the team to get there.

Jonathan Isaac is probably the most promising young player on the team. But he has not shown much offensive proclivity yet. He is averaging a career-best 12.0 points per game on a 50.9-percent effective field goal percentage. But his usage rate remains around replacement levels — 18.3 percent.

Orlando simply does not run a lot of offense for him — the team was starting to before his injury in January. He gets most of his offense in transition and spot-ups. According to NBA.com’s stats database, Jonathan Isaac has only 11 total isolation plays this year (at 1.00 points per possession, however).

The question of whether he can play with Gordon is one that is coming to a head at some point. It is possible they can, but there is still a strong argument that Isaac would shine by losing Gordon from the lineup.

That is a decision on the horizon.

Markelle Fultz too could be a player who can carry a larger offensive load. Certainly, he has the talent with the way he played in college to earn the top pick.

This year, he has done his best to fit in with the team. The Magic have brought him along slowly, but even then he has burst through for more. Markelle Fultz is averaging 12.1 points per game on a 49.6-percent effective field goal percentage.

Fultz’s development will remain one to watch.

Orlando Magic must turn elsewhere

So it is easy then to see how eyes to find that scorer can turn elsewhere. Without free agency as a tool to add any player of significance, the Magic are going to have to fish for trades.

A popular option among fans has been to try to trade up for a top pick in this year’s draft. That is certainly a usual avenue to find high-level players.

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But this year’s draft is largely considered underwhelming for top-end talent. There are a few intriguing scorers like Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball or Killian Hayes. While they all have skills that make them intriguing, none are considered runaway stars.

If the Magic believe one of these players — or another player like Deni Avdija, Tyrese Haliburton or Isaac Okoro — are worth trading up for, they absolutely should chase them. But this is widely considered not to be a draft with any great pure scorers.

This is described as a draft that nobody wants the first pick. The Magic drafting at No. 15 (most likely) could easily get some quality player for their rotation in this draft.

Testing the uncertain trade market

The Orlando Magic should then expect to be active in the trade market.

It is hard to say at this point who might become available. That only adds to the difficulty of trying to predict where the Magic might chase their next scorer.

For the kind of scorer the Magic want to find, teams will almost certainly ask for Jonathan Isaac. But he is off-limits and untouchable for the Magic.

Then, it will almost certainly cost Aaron Gordon (or Nikola Vucevic, but more likely Gordon) and possibly their draft pick or future draft capital.

That may not be such a big loss depending on the player the Magic are chasing. But it is still very unclear who that might be.

The Magic were connected to DeMar DeRozan at one point during the season — that rumor might have been a bit overstated — but with the odds that he too will opt into the final year of his contract, he is a scorer that could become available on the market (Evan Fournier is also likely to opt into the final year of his deal).

Bradley Beal is already a player many believe will come onto the market. And teams are reportedly already discussing ways to acquire him. But that is not entirely clear whether the Washington Wizards will trade him. Or what kind of haul they expect in return.

Predicting what teams will want to do in the offseason is nearly impossible to do at this point. The Playoffs will do a lot to help teams figure out how they want to map their futures. With so few free agents available, teams very well might get restless and make decisions to shift their rosters.

Orlando Magic’s change may be addition by subtraction

But the reality might be the Orlando Magic’s big move this summer might be to make an addition by subtraction to try to give one of those young players a chance to shine — a push to the front, so to speak.

There may not be a whole lot of other options for the Magic other than to do this unless they want to run things back a third year (also a distinct possibility).

The Magic are going to have to get creative for sure if they want to advance. They might have to push some chips into the table and take their first real gamble under president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman.

Remaking this roster is going to be no easy task. Finding that last piece the Magic need is not going to be easy. There is no clear path forward at the moment.

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Ultimately, the Magic will need to be creative to solve these problems and make the right decisions developing the players within their roster.