The Orlando Magic are teetering between the bottom and the top half of the Eastern Conference with the same roster as last season. It is time for some bold predictions for this year’s team.
The Orlando Magic had a quiet offseason. The major additions consisted of rookies Cole Anthony and Chuma Okeke and Dwayne Bacon. Veteran guard Evan Fournier exercised his $17 million player exception and Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac signed their respective rookie extensions with the team.
Barring any major injuries, the 2021 roster is set. And it feels similar to the 2020 roster.
Although the lack of change can draw criticism, continuity may be the Magic’s best friend.
The Magic ended last year’s regular season with a top-10 defensive rating but a less-than-desirable offensive rating (22nd). This is where consistency helps but also hurts the team.
Coach Steve Clifford, well known for his emphasis on defense, will most certainly be looking to maintain last year’s level of defense if not better. But in order to improve the team’s offense, change must come from within.
Clifford will look to his starting lineup to do the majority of the scoring. Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier both averaged 18-plus points per game last season while sixth man Terrence Ross and Aaron Gordon averaged around 14 points per game.
Due to the fact that the Magic do not have a go-to scorer like Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat, they will have to rely on a systemic approach to their offense.
Emphasizing pace and three-point opportunities will hopefully bring the Magic closer to an all-around threat on a night to night basis.
The Magic had four preseason games to work on an altered offense. Although the team finished with a record of 2-2, there were flashes of a sustainable offense.
That has zoomed to the front in the first four games. The Magic are 4-0 for the first time in franchise history with an offense that ranks fourth in the league at 114.3 points per 100 possessions.
Working through Vucevic and Fournier is a given but with Gordon flashing signs of improved shot mechanics and Fultz asserting himself on the court, the results could be enticing.
Understanding the Magic from an inside perspective is essential to understanding where the team stands compared to last season and also how it could possibly perform this coming season.
But understanding the Magic in the context of the Eastern Conference as a whole will allow for a more conclusive evaluation.
The Eastern Conference now seems more dangerous than ever. With the return of a healthy Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Brooklyn Nets seem to be sure locks for the playoffs. The former Eastern Conference champions, the Miami Heat, return with a healthy, well-rested and improved bench.
Although the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics lost key players in Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol and Gordon Hayward respectively, they are still dangerous opponents.
The Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers both got better with solid additions during the summer, some of which include Jrue Holiday to the Bucks and Seth Curry to the 76ers.
The Indiana Pacers remain mostly the same while the Washington Wizards could be looking to slide into the bottom half of the conference come playoff time.
And the Atlanta Hawks are the lone team joining the Orlando Magic as undefeated at this early stage of the season. They are certainly a threat with Trae Young building on his All-Star campaign last year.
The Eastern Conference is no longer as weak as it once was. But nor are the Magic. With all this in mind, here are three bold predictions for the Magic this season.