The 2020 Orlando Magic are actually much improved

Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon missed opportunities that led to a frustrating Orlando Magic loss. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon missed opportunities that led to a frustrating Orlando Magic loss. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic have struggled to meet heightened expectations this season. But they are still a better team than they were during last year’s playoff run

The goal of the 2020 season for the Orlando Magic was always to take a step forward from the team’s 2019 playoff appearance.

However, the Orlando Magic were on their way to roughly finish around the same spot and a likely rematch with the Toronto Raptors in the first round again.

That is a frustrating reality that suggests the team has stagnated some. The team has not improved or met expectations. There appear to be big decisions on the horizon for the Magic to help foster growth internally in the roster and take that necessary next step.

Even before the season resumes, the Magic should have done a careful analysis of their team to this point and should have some understanding of where they want to go next.

The team may not be where everyone hoped it would be. But the team is undoubtedly better, even if the team’s record and results seem virtually the same.

The talent on the 2020 roster is better. They now have the playoffs to prove it.

While there are some similarities between the two rosters, the improvements are obvious.

Even without significant roster changes, the team saw positive internal growth — from Evan Fournier having a bounce-back season to Jonathan Isaac having a career year before the injury.

After struggling last year with his shot in averaging 15.5 points per game on a 50.9-percent effective field goal percentage, Evan Fournier has turned things around. But he has been the most efficient and consistent player this season, posting a career-best 18.8 points per game and a 56.4 percent effective field goal percentage (his best since becoming a regular rotation player).

Before his injury in January, Jonathan Isaac was showing tremendous growth offensively, averaging 12.0 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game and 4.0 “stocks” per game. More importantly, Isaac had established himself as one of the best defensive players in the league. He was on track to earn his first all-defensive team nod.

Magic fans are at least hopeful he can return.

Even more, Mohamed Bamba seemed to be earning more minutes with his play improving. He was becoming a defensive presence and rim protector. Since the All-Star Break, Mohamed Bamba has averaged 1.4 blocks per game in only 12 minutes per game.

The additions of Markelle Fultz and James Ennis have also helped the Magic this season.

Markelle Fultz has been an unexpected surprise for the Magic. He quickly took over the starting spot and has carried Orlando multiple times, closing out games while managing the team’s offense and controlling the pace.

As he has gained confidence, the Magic have gotten significantly better.

James Ennis has provided a threat from beyond the arc. Although he is shooting 30 percent from three, he is a 35.4-percent career three-point shooter. He has built a reputation and it has helped to spread the floor.

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Like everyone else, he was gaining his offensive rhythm as he got more comfortable with the Magic. Players were eager to welcome him back after he recovered from testing positive for COVID-19.

But the biggest difference between the two teams is that this year’s team has more shooters.

Last season, the bench unit of Michael Carter-Williams (16 percent), Terrence Ross, Wesley Iwundu (36 percent on one attempt per game and fell to 31 percent this season) and Khem Birch had no consistent shooting other than Terrence Ross.

However, if Jonathan Isaac is available to play, the bench unit of Michael Carter-Williams, D.J. Augustin, Terrence Ross, James Ennis and Mohamed Bamba have four capable shooters.

This season D.J. Augustin has shot 35 percent from three. Then Ross shot 36 percent from three and Bamba is shooting 36 percent from beyond the arc. This allows for the Magic to have shooters on the floor which this team has needed for several years.

A big reason the 2019 Magic made the playoffs is they got incredibly lucky with the injury bug. Bamba was the only player who missed significant time, which some argue that Orlando played better without the rookie. The next player that missed the most time was Isaac with seven games.

This season Orlando took a 180 turn and had multiple players miss significant time.

Isaac has missed 33 games. Both Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic missed time at the same time as Gordon has missed seven games, and Vucevic missed 11 games respectively. Another example is Augustin as he missed 16 games compared to his one missed game from last season.

Orlando has rarely had a fully healthy roster during its 65 games this season.

The fact the Magic still remained in the Playoff hunt and in control of their own destiny despite these injuries is a sign of maturity and poise that only could come from postseason experience.

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Orlando has taken a step back defensively from last season, however.

They ranked eighth in defensive rating last season and fell to 10th this season. It is a relatively small drop off from allowing 107.6 points per 100 possessions to allowing 108.7 this season. But it is significant for a team with such a small margin for error.

"“Last year, we were much more balanced,” Clifford said after practice Friday. “We were playing at a level last year that was so sustainable. We played terrific defense and we were 11th or 12th in offense. When you are top 10 in one and top 15 in the other, you are going to give yourself a chance to win every night.”"

It is hard to get into a defensive rhythm when so many players are leaving and entering the lineup due to injury. There is a matter of playing together and being able to practice every day and stay sharp.

Clifford said he believed the team was starting to turn a corner. Finally, with a sustained run of health, the team’s offense was starting to soar and the team was playing at a much faster and confident pace.

While the defense slipped considerably with the team’s offense playing well, Clifford said he saw signs of the team righting its defense. The Magic might have been in line for a similar to the postseason if not for the league’s hiatus.

The return of the season will give the Magic a second chance to get off to the start they could not back in October.

Overall with the addition of Fultz, shooters, and playoff experience, the Magic are a better team than they were last season. The Magic will have their chance to have a better post-season this year and will likely play the Raptors again.

Next. Michael Carter-Williams' transformation gives Orlando Magic an edge. dark

The Magic exceeded expectations last season. Now it is time for this year’s team to meet their expectations.