Who is due for a repeat?
Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford said throughout training camp last year as everyone tried to play up continuity as a sure sign the team would make an improvement that every year is a new year. Things that happen in one season do not necessarily carry over. Chemistry and fundamentals have to be rebuilt.
That goes double for this year as every team goes through an abbreviated training camp. Teams are going to be figuring things out on the fly. And especially a team like the Magic that relies on rhythm and consistency rather than raw talent will need to find their center quickly.
The cynical thought when the Magic made the playoffs in 2019 was to brush off some of the career performances the team got from Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross and chalk it up to the contract year phenomenon. Plenty did that too for Evan Fournier as he entered a potential free agency in 2021.
That is not quite what happened for the former two.
Yes, both Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross saw decreases in their production from 2019 to 2020. Vucevic went from 20.8 points per game, 12.0 rebounds per game and a 54.9-percent effective field goal percentage in 2019 to 19.6 points per game, 10.9 rebounds per game and a 52.5-percent effective field goal percentage in 2020.
But throw out the early part of the season and when he was still recovering from his injury and Vucevic’s numbers actually look much better. From Jan. 1 to the end of the season (including the seeding round), Vucevic averaged 20.4 points per game, 11.0 rebounds per game and a 53.5-percent effective field goal percentage. This was over 40 games total.
Those numbers are not quite his All-Star numbers from 2019, but they are pretty close. And Vucevic added his playoff performance as a boost and further proof that 2019 was not a fluke.
Clifford said after the playoffs that the postseason should have proved to Vucevic he has another level his game can reach. The task now is to make that stretch his normal.
Ross too saw small declines from his 2019 numbers, but started to bounce back especially before the league went on hiatus.
Ross went from averaging 15.1 points per game with a 53.4-percent effective field goal percentage in 2019 to 14.7 points per game with a 50.8-percent effective field goal percentage. But from Jan. 1 until the season went on hiatus, Ross averaged 16.7 points per game with a 52.5-percent effective field goal percentage.
Putting up these numbers in half a season is different than doing it for a full season. But it certainly suggests there seasons were not as bad as some might suggest. Or that this could be something of a new normal for them.
The Magic are certainly asking what happens if all the pieces come back together. If Evan Fournier has the same kind of small step back that Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross had and they take that small step forward again, the Magic’s offense will have a stronger base to work from. And what if Aaron Gordon bounces back from an injury-filled 2020 season that saw his numbers dip across the board.
The Magic are relying on their veterans to return them to the playoffs. And they quietly might have proven capable of getting them to the door. If not all the way through and to the second floor.