The Orlando Magic have been in a similar situation each of the past two seasons. They have finished around the .500 mark, won their first playoff game and then been eliminated shortly after that by a higher seeded team. This season they are looking to take the next step forward and become a real factor in the improving Eastern Conference. The Magic’s hot start in this young NBA season has shown the promise this team could have if they can keep their key players available. Balance and defense have been the keys to Orlando beginning this campaign 5-2 through two weeks.
The Magic’s Hot Start Keyed by Defense and Balance
Obviously it’s a small sample size with only seven games played, but Orlando has been one of the top defensive teams in the NBA thus far. They are ranked 10th in points allowed and sixth in defensive rating. They have also been excellent on the glass. The Magic lead the league in offensive boards, and are third in total rebounds. This team is forcing 16 turnovers a game as well. Combining the work on the offensive glass and in creating turnovers, the Magic are thriving on extra possessions. Defense is a sustainable quantity in the NBA, and will allow this team to have a chance in each game.
Under The Radar
The NBA is a star driven league, but sometimes even stars can be undervalued. That is the case with Orlando’s center piece Nikola Vucevic. He has been excellent during the Magic’s hot start, averaging a double-double. The veteran center is the quintessential new school NBA big man. He shot just 26 total threes in his first five seasons, but has developed into a quality outside threat the last few years. He is shooting a blistering 47% through the first seven games. While he has developed his range, Vucevic is still a force in the paint as well. His efficiency and versatility on offense have made him one of the better big men in the NBA. He is the focal point of this Magic team.
There are always certain players or stories that even neutral fans will root for. The resurgence of Markelle Fultz is one of those stories. He went from and elite college player and pro prospect to someone searching for his shot, his confidence, and a chance to play. He has gotten that chance in Orlando, where he started 60 games a season ago. The former number one overall pick was given up on by the 76ers, but has found himself again in central Florida. Fultz has gotten his confidence back.
He is playing well to start the season, and has regained the aggressiveness that made him such an intriguing prospect a few years back. He is second in the league in drives per game, and has drastically improved his free throw shooting. This kid went through so much with injuries and the doubting of his abilities during his time in Philadelphia. It’s good to see him persevere and begin to live up to his potential. Fultz is averaging career highs in minutes, points, and assist on the young season.
Balanced; As All Things Should Be
The Magic have five players scoring in double figures this season. Terrence Ross is just behind Vucevic for the team lead at just under 21 points a night. The veteran wing has explosiveness to his game. He can get hot in a hurry and put up a lot of points in a hurry when he does. Ross can also fill a highlight reel with his ability to attack the basket.
Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon are the other two guys in double figures for this squad. The former is another versatile veteran the Magic have to help stabilize the roster. He can play either guard spot and is a dependable defender. Gordon is extremely talented, but his consistency has always been an issue. He posted his first double-double of the season with a 23 point 11 rebound performance in a win over Cleveland. If that version of Gordon shows up more often, this team will be hard to beat.
The Next Step For The Magic’s Hot Start
The Magic have solidified them as a playoff team in the East the last few seasons. Now they need to take the next step and actually become a factor in the postseason. With the unusual circumstances of this campaign, a balanced defensive minded team can have a chance each and every night. Orlando needs a more consistent performance during the regular season, so they can get a more favorable match-up in the playoffs. That is of course a long way off. For now this team needs to work on improving each night and staying healthy.