With the new NBA season just around the corner, the Orlando Magic will be hoping to qualify for the playoffs for a third straight season having kept the roster largely the same.
This will not be easy. The Eastern Conference is growing stronger and stronger, particularly among the teams the Orlando Magic beat to a playoff spot last year.
All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook has joined the Washington Wizards. The Charlotte Hornets have added Gordon Hayward and LaMelo Ball. The Chicago Bulls have a young core of players with Billy Donovan now taking over as coach. The Atlanta Hawks had a busy free agency which included the signings of Danilo Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanovic.
With the Magic seemingly not wanting to rebuild, the playoffs have to be the aim. Orlando will at least have two new rookies on the roster in Chuma Okeke and Cole Anthony but with Jonathan Isaac out with a long-term injury, the challenge of reaching the postseason again is considerably harder.
The season does bring plenty of intrigue, however. There is a possibility for genuine internal improvement, particularly when it comes to the likes of Markelle Fultz, Aaron Gordon and the two new rookies.
Chances are, though, that Nikola Vucevic will again lead the team on offense. His performances in the past two seasons have been excellent, and he followed it up with a splendid playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks despite going down 4-1.
But with Isaac leading the team in several defensive categories last season, it will be up to his teammates to fill the void left by his injury.
Nikola Vucevic is the key to this team’s success, but there is also plenty of opportunities for others to contribute. Here is who could lead the Magic in each category per game this coming season:
Points: Nikola Vucevic
It is hard to look past Nikola Vucevic as the Orlando Magic’s leading scorer again.
Vucevic averaged 19.6 points per game last season, less than the 20.8 a game he averaged the previous year when he made the All-Star Game. But he was still comfortably the team’s main scoring threat.
For a team that lacks scorers, as evidenced by the Magic’s eighth-worst offensive rating in the league last season by scoring 107.9 points per 100 possessions, the team relies heavily on Vucevic’s scoring. Despite the game largely moving away from big men leading teams, Vucevic’s playmaking, post scoring and shooting is the biggest offensive weapon this team has.
He has also played at a consistent level. When his teammates look void of ideas, he was the guy to drive the team forward.
But there is a limit on how high this team can go with Vucevic as the team’s main scorer. His ideal position with his current skill set is as a second or third scorer on a contender, rather than leading a team looking to become one.
Questions over his future will only grow as time passes. But with the roster in its current format, it seems set that Vucevic will be the team’s leading scorer and focal point on offense once again.
While by far the most likely option, this is not a certainty. Evan Fournier had his best scoring season last year by averaging 18.5 points per game and actually edged Vucevic in total points scored last year by just six having played six more games.
His three-point shooting was vital to a team that seriously lacks in that area. But once again his postseason was disappointing. With Fournier set to become a free agent next summer and the possibility of a trade not out of the question, he will no doubt be looking to impress any potential suitors.
Markelle Fultz made important strides forward last season and is approaching a big year personally. He certainly has the potential to grow considerably as a scorer, particularly if his jump shot improves. But a leap from 12.1 points per game to around 20 is too big at this stage.
Aaron Gordon cannot be forgotten either.
Fans have been waiting for a big scoring season since he was drafted and while some have given up on it happening, the possibility still remains. He took a backward step on offense last season by averaging 14.4 points per game and will be desperate to put that right, though would have to do something pretty special to overtake Vucevic.